"When legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Director John Ford's quote prefaces Based on a True Story: Fact and Fantasy in 100 Favorite Movies, a book that digs into the facts behind 100 movies that were--supposedly--based on true events including popular fare as Hoosiers, Ed Wood, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brokovich. Previous books of this lineage were usually written by historians who looked at every foible of a film. Here, authors Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen come from a more movie-centric position. They know filmmakers must telescope events, create composite characters, and give the Hollywood treatment to other elements to simply be produced and enjoyed. They are movie fans who can praise The French Connection as a grand film with terrific action sequences, but note the true events were far less visceral (leading to the book title's asterisk "but with more car crashes"). More modern films are examined in these 3-5 page segments with excellent further reading notes including Web sites. The authors also question how truthful a film should be, even great films, praising the accuracy of Ghandi and GoodFellas and delivering harsh blows to Monster, Braveheart, and A Beautiful Mind. Besides the usual chapters of factual films (war, sports, biopics), they also search out films "based" on paranormal incidents that can't keep the "facts" straight. Mentioned often, and placed at the end of the book, is Oliver Stone's JFK, the movie that "gave birth to this book." In one sense, the film "must be the most fact-heavy film in Hollywood history" but the sources materials are so questionable. Perhaps Stone realizes the power of Ford's quote better than any other Hollywood filmmaker. --Doug Thomas
From Publishers Weekly
Films that purportedly document real-life events have a special allure for moviegoers, posit journalists Vankin and Whalen, which is why the phrase "based on a true story" is so prevalent in movie promos. But the term is loose and poorly defined, and in this highly entertaining dissection, the authors examine 100 films, detailing what about them is really true and what's simply a story. Wittily working their way through most of the well-known "true" films of the last four decades—Adaptation
, Catch Me If You Can
, Raging Bull
, The Amityville Horror
, etc.—Vankin and Whalen categorize movies by type (e.g., crime thrillers, war movies, sports films). Sometimes, what's on the screen diverges wildly from known history, as in the case of Braveheart
, and Vankin and Whalen may be overwhelmed by the differences between truth and fiction. Less often, a film really does provide a mirror, like Coal Miner's Daughter
, which left only more subtle details of Loretta Lynn's life for the authors to explore. Most of the movies, though, fall between the extremes, including enough fact to warrant the "based on a true story" tag, but not accurate enough to be completely true. Not surprisingly, readers who've actually seen these films stand to get the most out of Vankin and Whalen's often picky but always jaunty analyses. 110 b&w photos. (Feb.)
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