950 Intermission: Recording History in Film

New Year’s Eve 23:30

This time round our series “950: Remembering 1066” takes an intermission as we transition from one year to the next within a single weekend. In some strange way this seems significant, the new year breaking up a weekend as it does. It all doesn’t necessarily feel any different from Saturday to Sunday, but it does give us some down time to contemplate life and events—our own and others’—within the past and yet to come. The people of 1066 were pushed into this contemplative arena as well by forces other than calendaring, and they surely found themselves reflecting on the closing year as time marched them toward and into 1067.

What were they thinking? Worried, certainly. What would the future bring for their children as the great upheaval settled into a system they didn’t as yet know how to navigate? How dramatically would their lives change and how great the hardships? What would they experience as new events and demands began to define their lives? Would they recognize the terrorism or government interference of today as similar in any way to their new world as state-supported domination retaliated against their resistance or perceived injuries to the new regime? How would former combatants transition back into civilian life after their experiences? And what about the instances and areas in which life began to normalize and people even found success in their enterprises?

Also: did these individuals ever contemplate what this myriad of experiences would look like for those yet to come? Certainly, they were aware of the significance of their current events; did they believe people 1,000 years on would still be discussing them?

I frequently say that fondness of a tale is built into human DNA: people love to be told stories. This of course is witnessed in the yarns that stretch over millennia, tales still being passed down today as bedtime stories, books, in works of art, cinematic output and other fashion. Many, many of these accounts depict real events, directing individuals as to yet another method of recording history, in some instances preserving points of view that might otherwise be lost.

We still do this today, this recordkeeping of experience by wrapping them into narratives, events of our own time as well as others, and the public eats them up because also built into our being is the desire for continuity: discovering where we came from, how some episodes influence others and the means in which this translates into something larger. Tales of the Conquest itself satisfy this yearning as they provide a link for those who populated the era with another form of continuity in which they are assured people won’t one day forget they lived and died.

I also frequently touch on how despite the vast differences between our peoples, some things are universal in time, and therein lies a great similarity: no one wishes to be forgotten. In our own time events have occurred, subsequently to be documented for posterity, though at times I also wonder what our ancestors might make of these episodes in time and lives.

Today we take a brief, casual look at a few films that fall within the realm of this discussion. All depict significant affairs still within living history (though one increasingly not), and all have influenced society, even if on various levels and facets of how we experience life. There is no reason to believe such variety didn’t exist in 1066, even if it wouldn’t have been exactly parallel to today’s assortment of experience. The previously chronicled are few, though some brave creative types have made excursions into the past, gathered information to return with and woven it all together into a tale fit to be told a modern audience.

Indeed, what about an ancient audience?

*********

argo
Click image for IMDb bio page

Argo (2012) Rated R, 130 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

IMDb Score: 7.7/10

As Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution is revving up, a crowd of protesters, ostensibly students, breaks into the American embassy in Tehran and take captive its employees. However, six from a satellite building escape to the Canadian ambassador’s house, their launching pad to escape via a daring method in which they disguise themselves as a film scout crew to be led safely out of the country by Tony Mendez, exfil agent extraordinaire. The slightest error could reveal them, resulting in instant death at the hands of a fanatical regime bent on retaliation.

Argo is example of a film in which we know the outcome, but getting there is the real story. Ben Affleck’s brooding role as Mendez struck me in the heart before I realized who played the character. Alternating between Washington and Tehran, the movie contains a fair number of historical inaccuracies (which director Affleck openly acknowledges), though these contribute to the story and tension within as the drama lifts us up a bit beyond the rather ordinary fashion in which the real-life events occurred—that is under an umbrella of intense fear and anxiety, though by necessity internal, which would not translate well to the screen. Realistically portraying both societies in the 1970s (music, fashion, constant smoking), we also get a glimpse into operations in which lives are tossed about like chess pieces and loyalties drive some to defy authority. Emotional and captivating, Argo raises the American spirit and illustrates cooperation between nations and provides a heartfelt cinematic thank you to our Canadian neighbors.

Though visitors from 1066 might not be able to appreciate the self-deprecating jokes about Tinseltown (“So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in”), they would likely identify with our nation’s fight for our kinsmen and the lengths undertaken to restore their freedom.

The Great Escape (1963) Rated PG, 173 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 93%

IMDb Score: 8.3/10

Set in one of Germany’s World War II POW camps, a merger of their stalag and oflag, combining officers as well as NCOs and non-coms, The Great Escape tells the story of a group of repeat escapees brought under the watchful eye, from various camps, to Stalag Luft III in the Reich’s hopes the camp’s maximum security would deter the prisoners’ stated aims of harassing the enemy and making their way home. Starring such luminaries as Sir Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and James Garner, the film uses humor and drama to tell its tale as the men get underway in creating three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry, to provide their way out and via various routes, flee through Europe to get back to their bases. With varying degrees of success and some startling ups and downs, we see the largest prison breakout ever attempted through to its end and the consequences and hardships of war.

Even William the Conquerer was limited in his linguistic ability: he attempted to learn English but found the language too difficult and abandoned his endeavor. Therefore a common Englishman of 1066 might be surprised at how many languages an ordinary WWII soldier—airman, actually, though that concept would need explaining—could speak, as The Great Escape includes characters speaking English, German, Spanish and French, with a smattering of Russian. He would certainly approve of the myriad of nationalities rallying together to save the free world from Hitler’s marching forces. And their methods for cover up, tunnel construction and post-escape materials production? The average traveler from 1066 would see all that as we today still do: major masterpieces of escape-planning genius.

great-escape
Click image for IMDb bio page

The Great Escape has thrilled me from the time I was small and to this day not only does it continue to do, but its brilliance has made its mark on a new generation. As war stories go, its mastery lies in truth telling without overdoing gore, revealing the immense imagination of the historical figures it portrays as well as the actors’ repertoire of devices for portraying them. Simultaneously poignant and wry, the movie contains one of the best chase and stunt scenes put to film. From the first moment they arrive at the camp, the prisoners attempt escape, and they never stop enthralling us.

As Sedgwick (Coburn) and Danny (Bronson) attempt to blend in and plan escape from a group of Russian prisoners marching out for hard labor, Sedgwick attempts to better fit in. “Danny, do you speak Russian?” he asks.

“A little, but only one sentence.”

Well, let me have it, mate.”

“Ya vas lyublyu.”

“Ya vas ….”

“Lyublyu.”

“Lyublyu? Ya vas lyublyu. What’s it mean?”

“I love you.”

“’I love you’? What bloody good is that?”

“I dunno, I wasn’t going to use it myself.”

The Social Network (2010) Rated PG-13, 121 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

IMDb Score: 7.7/10

“OK, you’re probably going to become a very successful computer person. But you’re gonna go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

social-network
Click image for IMDb bio page

Real-life events of a different sort, this historical film maps out the manner in which a bored, trolling, invasive and highly intelligent Harvard student works a social network idea that later massively alters the landscape of society as individuals use it to transmit political and other information, including that withheld by the mainstream media. The Social Network, though, focuses on the beginnings of Mark Zuckerberg’s empire and the treachery manifest in its core. Moving between the Facebook co-founder’s college days and a lawsuit initiated by those who accuse him of intellectual theft, the picture progresses linearly through the litigation and unwraps details that reveal much more than many people even today know about the most utilized social network online.

Before I watched The Social Network I knew very little about the lawsuit and accusations against Zuckerberg. I was aware of his jackassery, but the script portrays it openly, and Jesse Eisenberg’s unusual voice and inflection—slightly annoying to the uninitiated—contributes to this impression. As Eisenberg’s character continues to learn loads about his trade but very little regarding how to relate to people, we develop a dislike for Zuckerberg, but also somewhat pity him, for he comes off as lonely as he morphs into the original internet troll. Containing high end drama, the script also utilizes shock value within its characters’ conflicts.


Zuckerberg: I’m not a bad guy.

Marylin Delpy: I know that. When there’s emotional testimony, I assume 85% of it is exaggeration.

Zuckerberg: And the other fifteen?

Delpy: Perjury. Creation myths need a Devil.


The passion with which the actors—particularly Andrew Garfield’s character, Eduardo—portray their roles captures in fullest full viewer attention, taking the movie beyond the technical, crafting even Zuckerberg into an individual with something to lose, despite our dislike for him. The cast expertly leads us through what might have been complicated layers of events, instead entertaining and informing us, including those of us in the audience not native to this time and therefore unfamiliar with the internet phenomenon. Our 1066 visitors would indeed issue a very large “Ah,” knowing as they would that deceit lurks within human nature and the fight to subdue it—which some fail—exists in any era. Some small technical details might escape them, though I don’t think this would lose them the story, which I do believe would quite intrigue their curiosity as to how others live, and even prompt perception of supporting characters in the roles of good and evil and the examination of moral ideals. Even as a secular performance the film would be recognizable and our travelers might be tempted to quip in reminder that “nothing is new under the sun,” though concede that cast in differing shadows it is gripping indeed.

*********

Written by Lisl and Turtle Zlitni

*********

One thought on “950 Intermission: Recording History in Film

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s