Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 92

We live noble lives so that history will remember us... then they'll make movies about us that we'll never get to see. :(

What is your favorite film about an historical figure?

Panelist: T-Rav

It's not a "film," strictly speaking, but the best presentation of a historical figure I have seen has come from HBO's John Adams miniseries. It's a lesson in how to do these things right: Work closely with a scholar who knows his stuff, balance the personal and the public sides evenly, don't gloss over the flaws but show things from the subject's point of view as closely and sympathetically as possible. Few regular-length films have accomplished all this, with the Thomas More study A Man for All Seasons being one of the exceptions.

Panelist: Floyd

Patton, hands down. I've read the biography (by Ladislas Farago) on which Francis Ford Coppola based his screenplay and Coppola did a great job of capturing the essence of the man and George C. Scott should get a lifetime Oscar achievement based solely on that performance. Yes it's a hagiography of sorts and they even manage to throw in some anti-Establishment themes to hit the times in which it was released (1970). The real Patton was a complicated man and the film captured that perfectly in my book.

Panelist: ScottDS

At this point, probably HBO's epic John Adams miniseries. Of course, it's a miniseries so it has time to breathe. As far as films, maybe Schindler's List, though it's hardly a movie I'd want to watch every day (which one would presumably want to do with a "favorite.")

Panelist: AndrewPrice

The Doors. More than any other film, this one feels to me like you really are watching the life of the protagonist – Jim Morrison. Not only does Val Kilmer do an incredible job as Morrison, but the film is very entertaining and has a heck of a soundtrack. Runner up is also musical: Amadeus.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

“The Story of Will Rogers” made in 1952. Actually his son Will Rogers, Jr. played his dad and it was just charming and enlightening. Some of Rogers’ favorite routines about the government were wonderful and certainly timely for any age.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I would say off the top of my head, my favorite film in this category is A Man for all Seasons. This 1966 film adapted from Robert Bolt's play was about Sir Thomas More played on stage and screen by the great actor Paul Scofield. The film and Scofield won the academy award for Best Picture and Best Actor that year. The film certainly does not have the benefit of film techniques developed in the nearly 50 years since, but I thought the acting was superb, AND it gave me more insight into a historical character I did not know that much about when I first saw it. It was also Basil highly praised for the creative use of lighting to deliver a desired mood.

I was tempted to mention Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp. Costner is much maligned, but I thought this film was a reasonable and full portrait of one of the great larger than life figures of the old west. The film was long, but it held my attention.

Comments? Thoughts?


Tennessee Jed said...

I really like all the choices. here. Probably didn't consider John Adams sue to it's mini-series status which gives it a bit of an advantage. Still, it was a wonderful and faithful adaption of the book.

Andrew's choice is, perhaps, most interesting, since musician bio pic.'s normally suck. I saw the doorsat my college in the fall of ...... hmmmnn '67. I didn't like the film quite as much as Andrew, but agree Val did a nice job.

Patton was and always will be a classic, and George C. Scott may have been the best bit of casting ever. Great choice, Floyd. And how can one not love Wil Rogers, Bev?

BevfromNYC said...

I love the choices too! John Adams is probably my all time favorite biography and David McCullough my favorite historian. It was the first biography that I have read that once I finished the last page, I stared to read again. He really brought the time and these men and women to life warts and all and made them accessible. I was struck at how they were no different from politicians today. The miniseries was well done, but could never live up to the book.

I remember seeing Patton in the movie theater. I was too young to really appreciate it, but I remember that they raised the ticket prices from 50cents to 75cents!

PikeBishop said...

One thing I have noticed about "Patton" is that it walks the razor's edge and cuts right down the middle of the views of an increasingly divided American public over the whole idea of war and heroes way back in 1970.

Conservatives looked at it and said, "This guy was the greatest American tactician since Stonewall Jackson!"

Liberals looked at it and said, "This guy was a total nut."

Coppola's script was brilliant in showing both sides without drawing a conclusion either way.

Tennessee Jed said...

Pike, I'll admit to never studying actual events vs. the movie, and it has been a while since I screened it, but I must admit to never having felt like there was any politics being played at all. Patton was known as a lead from in front, aggressive, general who had a habit of putting his foot in his mouth even if what he said was the truth. It may be one of those films where the viewer can pull from the facts whatever they wish

T-Rav said...

Jed, I may be one of the few people who liked Costner's Wyatt Earp better than Tombstone. Can't really say why; it just worked better for me.

I haven't seen Patton (or at least more than a few minutes of it), but I know enough about his real life to know that any filmmaker would have his work cut out for him. Coppola probably did the best he could.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

It's funny you mention that. I have yet to see Wyatt Earp but I just used Tombstone for another debate answer that I sent to Andrew.

Patton is definitely worth watching. I saw it years ago and was probably too young to really appreciate it.

I believe Coppola was one of two writers on the film but they didn't work together. They only met for the first time when they collected their Academy Awards on Oscar night!

Outlaw13 said...

"Patton" was and is an awesome film. The subject of the film as Floyd points out was a very complicated person. He was a great tactician, and a visionary of sorts but like all people not without flaws. My father a WWII vet loved that movie and watched it whenever it came on TV.

As a companion piece I would recommend "To Hell and Back" the movie covering the WWII career of Audie Murphy, starring himself. If anything the movie understated his accomplishments.

I would rather poke my eyes out with a sharp stick than watch "Wyatt Earp" again...way too long. "Tombstone" is one of the best westerns evah.

Anonymous said...

I see I'm not the only John Adams fan around here. :-) I've added the book to my Amazon wishlist - it's definitely something I'd like to read one day, but I have to finish Edmund Morris' TR trilogy first.

Too bad HBO couldn't bring in the same group of filmmakers and actors to do miniseries on the rest of the Founding Fathers - it could be a yearly thing!

I've never seen The Doors or the Will Rogers movie...

...and as I mentioned above, Patton is probably a movie I should see again.

Tennessee Jed said...

Rav - You and I are the only two :)

AndrewPrice said...

I'm going to be in and out today as I'm traveling. I enjoyed Patton, though it feels a little slow to me. I also read his biography which kind of makes him out as a nut.

I'm with Outlaw on Wyatt Earp, it just doesn't work for me. I do love Tombstone though.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I remember movies being a dollar, but not lower than that. Then they went to two something and three something and the dollar theaters appeared.

T-Rav said...

Hmmm....guess I'm off Outlaw's Christmas card list, then. ;-)

Scott, you should see it, even if you don't end up liking it. At the very least, you can evaluate Dennis Quaid vs. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

I don't know, maybe I just like it better than Tombstone because I saw it first.

Outlaw13 said...

T-Rav I don't base my like or dislike of a person on their movie reviews. :)

Andrew, the views of Patton vary depending on which bio you read of him. He was a "character" of that there is no doubt. The units he lead had remarkable combat records so the proof is in the pudding as they say. There's an awesome new book out called "The Guns at Last Light" which paints a pretty balanced picture of him. By the way it's about the war in Europe from D Day until VE day so it's not totally about him.

Tennessee Jed said...

.... and remember, Andrew has a barely supressed inner-hatred of Cosner (l.o.l.)

Kristina said...

I love Patton, Man for All Seasons, Tombstone. to add one more beyond the metoobies: Young Mr. Lincoln with Henry Fonda

Tennessee Jed said...

Kristina - Young Mr. Lincoln was a thorougly enjoyable film about an iconic figure!

Kenn Christenson said...

Obviously, "Patton" would be my first choice. And, although not about a prominent historical figure, "Glory" is an awesome film - from beginning to end.

Also have to have to say, "Sergeant York" has been a favorite of mine, since my dad introduced me to the film when I was a kid.

Dave Olson said...

Well if John Adams is up for consideration, then I have to stand up and scream Band of Brothers. The first two hours could have been made into a movie all of its own, and it would have been 100x better than Saving Private Ryan. The scene in the church with the choir (episode 7) makes me weep every time. I would have followed Major Dick Winters into hell.

Amadeus is a strong runner-up, although it has so many inaccuracies and contains so much hero-worship it's almost a fantasy.

Tennessee Jed said...

Dave, I've always felt honored that Winter's autographed my DVD case. My sister-in-law was his nurse at the hospital in Lebanon, Pa.

T-Rav said...

Jed, that's awesome. :-)

Have to agree, Band of Brothers is pretty darn good.

Kit said...

I'll second the aforementioned Patton and John Adams. not much to be said that has not been said.

Here are some other:
Downfall, about Hitler's last 10 days, remains one of the best movies I have ever seen. Bruno Ganz portrays a man who is insane yet magnetic enough that people continue to follow him in delusion.
Trailer: LINK

Gathering Storm. Albert Finney gives a performance so good that it has nearly ruined other movies that depict Churchill (even in supporting rols) because I nearly always end up going "Its not Albert Finney". The movie, depicting Churchill in the 1930s when his political career was in the pits and he was trying to warn Britain about Hitler's Germany.

Lincoln. So-so story but Daniel Day-Lewis knocks it out of the park with his performance. Tommy Lee Jones is also a lot of fun to watch as Thaddeus Stevens.

There are more.

shawn said...

Patton would be at the top of my list, but since everyone else has made the case for what a brilliant film it is, I will just add my number two film: Braveheart. Without a doubt (in my opinion anyways) Mel Gibson's finest hour.

Anonymous said...

This is a hard one... Going over peoples picks...

John Adams was great, but it has the benifit of being a mini series, if we go that way I'd pick Band Of Brothers over it as the story of Dick Winters.

I really liked Patton, it is a story about a really great, flawed complex character done really well. Outlaw I also thought of To Hell And Back.

T-Rav, Wyatt Earp is a better movie about his life than Tombstone which is more of an action / western movie based around one part of his life. Saying that I'd pick Tombstone over Wyatt Earp to watch anytime, I enjoyed it a lot
more but after finishing Wyatt Earp I felt like I knew more about the man.

If I was going musical figures I'd pick La Bamba over the Doors, time and place when I saw it and I was never that big of a fan of the Doors.

I thought about picking some old War movies but they are more about the event than a specific person so I thought I'd go outside the box and pick Once Upon A Time in China staring Jet Li as Chinese folk hero Wong Fe-hung, one of my favourtie martial arts movies.


Floyd R. Turbo said...

A couple more... The Passion of the Christ

since w are going HBO here... From the Earth to the Moon about the 1960s space program is fantastic.

Dave Olson said...

Ditto on "From The Earth To The Moon". I love that each episode starts with an intro from Tom Hanks walking through a series of separate carved stones, and as he ends his narration, all the stones come together as a single sculpture when viewed at the correct perspective. (And Rita Wilson, already gorgeous, never looked better than she did in her black-and-white scenes.) (OK, I take that back, she looked magnificent in Auto Focus in her see-through nightie.)

The King's Speech was good enough to flip my opinion of The Family from apathy to semi-royalist. Still a loyal American and devoted Republican (in every sense of the word), but the Windsors went from a living tourist attraction to actual human beings with Colin Firth's bravura performance.

AndrewPrice said...

Nice choices folks. :)

KRS said...

Since miniseries are included, I'll nominate two from the 1980s based off the book by James Thomas Flexner, entitled, "George Washington, The Indespensible Man." The series are, (1) "George Washington" and (2) "George Washington: Forging of a Nation."
Barry Bostwick provides the most engaging portrayal of Washington I have ever seen. Sponsored solely by GM, the two series are terrific in every critical area (tho' I do remember seeing a water fountain in the background of one seen - it was the '80s, yo!). Most importantly, you understand exactly why Washington's men were so incredibly loyal and also why he is indeed the "Indispensible Man." After seeing the series, I read the book and for the first time ever, came to understand that, "the Father of Our Country" was not just a compliment, but a statement of fact. So much of who we are, or believe ourselves to be, flow directly from this man's character. Awesome.

Btw, regarding Patton, I read somewhere (though I cannot provide the reference - oldtimer's disease) that, of all the WWII generals, Patton gave up the fewest casualties per mile gained.

Not bad, for "Old Blood and Guts."

P.S. I have never seen these miniseries on DVD. Shame!

tryanmax said...

My favorite is for reasons of irony. Warren Beatty set out to make a love letter to American Communist John Reed with the film Reds, but to me the film paints a portrait of a foolish idealist.

For pure entertainment, I enjoy Good Morning, Vietnam despite Robin Williams' almost, but not entirely inaccurate portrayal of Adrian Cronauer.

As to the inspiring, it's hard to top Temple Grandin. It must be highly accurate because Grandin references the movie in almost all of her talks now as a means of relating her experiences.

Rustbelt said...

Late to the party, but what the heck...

To throw my two cents into the 'Wyatt Earp'/'Tombstone' debate, I'll say the former film gives a better depiction, but is way too long for film purposes; the latter is just a cartoonish actioner set in the Wild West that is actually quite fun. What really sets them apart for me is Doc Holliday. Dennis Quaid was great in the former, delivering his lines as a world-weary, grizzled, loyal, and bad-to-the-bone tough guy you definitely want on your side. Val Kilmer was...well, a cartoon character. (I'll call him the Daffy Duck of westerns.) BTW, tuberculosis is called 'consumption' because it wastes you away in addition to making you cough. Kilmer looks like he has the flu. Can we at least get the diseases right?

And on an ode to the wiseguys...

'Goodfellas' for its depiction of the mob, but mostly for the depiction of Joe Pesci as Tommy DeSimone. According to the late Henry Hill (the only mobster whose real name was used in the film), Pesci may not have looked like him (DeSimone was a foot-and-a-half taller and built like a linebacker), but he got the wiseguy's mannerisms and psychotic personality down perfectly. So much for noble gangsters.

Also, 'The Untouchables.' No, not for DeNiro. According to historians, Kevin Costner comes the closest to the real-life Elliott Ness. Ness himself was more of a frontier sheriff than a Treasury Agent. (A far cry from Robert Stack's desk-bound boss in the 50's TV show.) Costner captures that attitude perfectly. As for DeNiro, well...except for the fat suit, he really doesn't look like Capone. Plus, Scarface knew when to show his trademark temper and when not to. (His mentor, Frankie Yale, made sure of that.) DeNiro comes off as another cartoon. The only thing missing from his study is the Acme Catalog.

Future viewing: I haven't seen the 1996 HBO film 'Gotti' yet, but I've heard that Armand Assante is excellent as the 'Teflon Don.' I'll have to let you guys when I think after I finally see it.

PikeBishop said...

KRS: Loved Bostwick in that "Washington miniseries, and you also have to give props to Patty Duke, who played Martha. In real life Martha was probably 5 feet in heels and she was the shortest actress to ever play the first First Lady. And her tugging him down to her level to talk or kiss him was probably very accurate.

PikeBishop said...

Rustbelt: I once saw an interview with Henry Hill about Tommy and he praised Pesci's performance, but noted that the real Tommy was "meaner." Yikes! Now that's scary.

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