View Full Version : Based on a True Story

04-08-2008, 07:53 AM
There;'s been a lot of this lately. The recent movie 21 (the subject of this thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=462537 ) has been getting a lot of press here in Boston. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but apparently the movie isn't a very faithful adaptation of the book. In turn, the book isn't a very faithful adaptation of reality. The liberties taken in writing "Bringing Down the House" were apparently enormous, with weaselling disclaimers hidden in the fine print on the copyright page.

I understand that writers take some liberties with facts -- movie and stage adaptations invariably condense events, combine characters, speed up time or slow things down in order to make it all dramatic and comprehensible and to fit it into the time slot allotted for it. We've been through this countless times, most recently in the film on historical accuracy (guffaw) in movies.

But a book is different. You can report things faithfully in a book. It has its own pace, and isn't subject to the two hours or so limit of movies, or the 90 minute minus commercials of TV. I expect books to be reasonably faithful in reporting what really happened. I expect a bit of hedging and tinkering and self-serving in autobiographies, and allow for memory lapses ("I did not take a typewriter into that hell," responded Henri Charriere to charges that Papillion wasn't completely accurate)

But when you're researhing and reporting someone else's story, it seems dishonest to change the facts and not let the readers in on it.

Bringing Down the House is just the most recent example. I was surprised to learn that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil also did this on a large scale --

It is important to note that, while the essence of the book is true, and the events did occur, much of the book's text is highly subjective. Berendt himself makes this clear in the Author's Word, which appears at the end of the book.

Like hell he did. The Author's Note doesn't make it clear how much he fabulized.

Then there's Edmund Morris' part-fictionalized bio of Ronald Reaan, Dutch.

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