March 21, 2013

"Is it okay to make a fiction film, "inspired by actual persons in a trial" — but not even "based on a true story"?

HBO's movie with Al Pacino as Phil Spector says "it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome."
Of course, filmmakers — particularly one as talented as writer-director David Mamet — are entitled to artistic license. But the problem here is that the movie blends fact and fiction into a misinformation smoothie. Characters bear the actual names of participants, dialogue is lifted directly from trial transcripts, and Al Pacino nails Spector's shuffle and rasp. But when the movie jets off to the land of make believe — as it often does — there's no red flashing light to warn the audience....
In lieu of examining Spector's actual case and what it says about the American legal system, the film prefers to meditate on what HBO calls "the nature of celebrity" and how it contributed to the supposed framing of Spector. There are long stretches in which former pals, lawyers and the defendant himself muse on the larger reasons for the injustice.

"It's called envy," Pacino-as-Spector says. "Extraordinary accomplishments … transform the grateful into an audience and the envious into a mob."
I respect Mamet enough to withhold judgment until I see the film. I'll get back to you on the subject. But since a real woman was killed, and I think — in real life — we know Spector killed her, there's at least some disrespect entailed in portraying Spector as innocent and railroaded.

A work of fiction can explore an alternate history: What if Elvis didn't die, but went into hiding? What if... whatever all that crazy stuff is in the movie "JFK" happened? It could be just junk, feeding fantasies of what we wish had really happened or what would be thrilling to discover had happened, but it could be a serious work of art. I'm trying to think of how it could be great fiction. I'm projecting on to David Mamet what I want to be true of David Mamet and perhaps it's a serious contemplation of what we/Mamet project onto Phil Spector, the truth of what we want to be true.

23 comments:

AllenS said...

Don't believe anything that comes out of Hollywood.

virgil xenophon said...

"Fake but accurate.."

edutcher said...

Since HBO has pretty much the same agenda as Black Rock, Mamet or not, can we say, "Faker, but accurater"?

Ann Althouse said...

What if Elvis didn't die, but went into hiding?

Jay: You do know Elvis is dead, right?

Kay: No, Elvis is not dead. He just went home.

Paco Wové said...

"neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome."

So why use actual names, then? Just make it a work of fiction, based in some way on real events. Like most works of fiction.

Weird.

bagoh20 said...

It seems lazy, selfish, and irresponsible. If you are going to make something up then do it with vigor. These film makers would not appreciate this being done with there own names and identities. Why take such effort to misinform people now and far into the future? So much bad outcome and unnecessarily. Can't they do any better than this? To have such skill and talent at hand and aim it so low is just lame.

edutcher said...

Or could we call it, "The Passion Of The Spector"?

Lem said...

a misinformation smoothie..

Sugary drink... not good for you.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I don't know that even David Mamet has enough talent to convince people that Phil Spector is a celebrity, in any meaningful sense.

Nonapod said...

Seems like a bad idea. When it comes to contemporary stories, I have no problem with telling a purely fictional story or a mostly non-fictional story with a few fictional embellishments for entertainment purposes. But I do have a problem with telling a story that is a generous blend of fiction and fact when it involves a recent homicide and a lot of people who are still alive.

SJ said...

Does similar criticism apply to Death of a President?

Except that isn't lifted from a real-world scenario. But it does use a real President as a character.

What about Inherit the Wind?

I've been given to understand that the film (and the play it was based on) was rather loose with the historical record.

Chip S. said...

This is a transparent ruse.

Talk shows will now be booking people who want to "set the record straight", thereby generating buzz for what would o/w be a relatively uninteresting story.

Chuck Currie said...

"Extraordinary accomplishments … transform the grateful into an audience and the envious into a mob."

Nice reflection on the envious liberal / progressive ethos and Mamet's awakening.

Cheers

Chuck Currie said...

"Extraordinary accomplishments … transform the grateful into an audience and the envious into a mob."

Nice reflection on the envious liberal / progressive ethos and Mamet's awakening.

Cheers

whoresoftheinternet said...

Hollywood tries to make propaganda, then tries to pretend it's not propaganda.

Remember, these are the same assholes who use lie-filled documentaries (by Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, etc.) and lie-filled movies (The Crucible, Inherit the Wind, Casino Jack, JFK) as arguments. These are the same people who think Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are "deep" thinkers with "valid" points, only to retreat behind "it's all just show business" when challenged.

Can't wait for the Big One to kill them all---at least those on the left coast.

john said...

All my comments at Althouse have been inspired by actual events.

William said...

Is it possible to libel the guilty? I'm sure Spector is guilty of murder and not a nice person. I didn't follow the case, but Spector looks more like a befuddled old man than some kind of Bond villain....The crime might have more to do with senile dementia than with fame and privilege. Perhaps his fame and money worked against him. We like to magnify the malignancy of rich people we don' like.

Cog said...

I saw “The Anarchist” on Broadway this fall, also written and directed Mamet. It closed after only a 17 day run. The critics had eviscerated it. Around that time, Mamet wrote an essay to encourage American Jews to vote for Romney. I asked the Broadway actor who sat next to me how could a Mamet play starring Patti Lupone no less be treated so shoddily. “The critics have too much power,” he said. And so I believe this LA Times review too is about getting back at Mamet for his betrayal the Hollywood elite. And the campaign will not be over until Mamet’s reputation is finished

traditionalguy said...

That I what Hollywood has been doing for 50 years. It's called script writing.

Geoff Matthews said...

What if the Brits went to great sacrifice in securing an Enigma machine during WWII, and Hollywood depicted this as being done by Yankees?

Oh wait, they did that:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U-571_%28film%29

Don't EVER get your history from Hollywood. They're agenda isn't the truth, its selling a story.

Irene said...

New York judge grants convicted killer's request and stops "broadcast of Lifetime Television's telefilm 'Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story,' which was scheduled to air Saturday."

wyo sis said...

In literature historical fiction must not change the facts of history or put words into famous people's mouths that contradict the words they actually are known to have said. If it does it is considered bad writing.
This should be no different. If the names of actual people who have lived or are living are used they should not have words or ideas attributed to them that are false. This should be an easy default.
If these actors and film makers can so casually break such a basic rule it makes me older just how good at their craft they really are.

wyo sis said...

not older, wonder.
a bit Freudian.

Ben Morris said...

"Is it okay" applied to a fact pattern (especially when yoked to a generalization) is always a tricky question coming from a lawyer. Do you mean legally or morally? And do you mean w/r/t the general case or the specific one?

I'm not competent to address legality, though on the moral axis this film sounds a bit repugnant to me.

As a general principle, however, I don't think we should limit artists to truth (legally or morally), even in cases where they're dealing in demonstrable falsities.