Playing with the Past

A few days ago I wrote a post about recent movies that play around with original texts. I was partly inspired after seeing American Hustle and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as they are both playing with something from before. I’d been delighted with the cautionary statement at the start of American Hustle that “some of this actually happened” and suggested it might be good to do this more often with movies that fiddle with the past and/or with iconic texts like Tolkien’s (saying at the start that “this is inspired by the original book” rather than submerging it, if it is there at all, at end of the credits).  Having seen a lot of dismay about Saving Mr. Banks in this regard I mentioned that as well. I also pointed to several articles where more is explored regarding the fictionalizing of Travers’ and Disney’s past as far as the creation of the Mary Poppins movie is concerned.

Yesterday I finally saw Saving Mr. Banks and ended up enjoying it while also seeing how much history was altered to fit a particular fictional story arc.  My enjoyment was very personal –the Mary Poppins movie meant a lot to me as a child. It came out while we lived in Germany and I, a massive Julie Andrews fan (still affronted that she had been snubbed by the My Fair Lady movie folk), had good reason to fear I would not get to see it. Not only did movies not go as far and wide as they do today, but in 1964 there were no DVDs, video stores, or tons of movies on television. Once a movie was no longer in theaters you were pretty much out of luck. Fortunately, my family spent the Christmas holidays in Amsterdam where I was thrilled to discover the movie showing in a gorgeous theater. What joy and what relief. (I also, by the way, enjoyed Travers’ book — that they were completely different didn’t matter to me at all.) And so my viewing yesterday was completely colored by my memories. Of being with my parents who are no longer around, my little sister, and about a very different time in my life.

My unexpectedly emotional response to the movie made me think once again about how much we are influenced by our own experiences when responding aesthetically. Because of this, it made me again feel so strongly that we need to be straight and honest all the more when we artistically fiddle with the past whether it is about the creation of a children’s movie or a crazy scam to entrap politicians.  In both cases the fair and honest statement to begin with is “some of this actually happened.”  Too bad they only did this with the Abscam adult movie and not the one about the kid author.

I admit I’m obsessed with this because of my own book. I tried and tried and tried to make it nonfiction and when it became fictionalized it was very important to me to make that as clear as possible. Why can’t movie makers do that too?


Filed under Africa is My Home, Movies

2 responses to “Playing with the Past

  1. I’m with you on that question, Monica. If people who create things aren’t clear, they are kind of like salesman with snake oil, duping people and reaping enormous benefits. What is more frightening is the choices people make around such things. When I shared a video that provides evidence that Phil Robertson is performing a backwoods identity in the “reality” show (Duck Dynasty), the response was not outrage at being duped. The response was about what a good Christian he is and how I’m being politically correct in pointing to his remarks about marginalized populations.


  2. This is a lovely post. I just saw Saving Mr. Banks and part of me wanted it to be strictly true to how things actually happened. But then it would have looked a lot like a documentary wouldn’t it? It’s nice to let go of that and enjoy the way the story was told. Whether or not the movie makers are upfront, it is a fun challenge to try to pick out the fiction from the fact. Thanks for the post!


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