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Based on a True Story: Fact and Fantasy in 100 Favorite Movies Paperback – February 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556525591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556525599
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,107,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"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, Goodfellas, 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Too many chapters are superficial.
Whipple McTeelson the Third
Once the mesmerization is over, there are some special movies that I simply want to hear more about the story behind the story.
R. McOuat
This book is a non-stop joy to read.
Bradley M. Matteoni

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. Berner VINE VOICE on January 31, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Based on a True Story" is an immensly enjoyable mini-survey of the "real" story behind many of the fact-based films of our time with particular emphasis placed on how much "fact" there is at each films base. The breezily written accounts of these films are always fun to read and, if they don't "expose" many new factual mis-steps (How many film fans are there who don't already know how "fictional" the purportedly fact-based "A Beautiful Mind" is?)they do offer intelligent, brief, discussions of films that (wonder of wonders!) actually merit them. One major quibble though: For a book that is dedicated to exposing falsehoods in films of all sorts, it perpetuates one of the greatest. This is not the first book that attributes the line from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" ("When the legend becomes fact, print the legend") to John Ford. Ford DIRECTED the movie. The screenplay was by James Warner Bellah & Willis Goldbeck, from a story by Dorothy M. Johnson. While it is notoriously hard to tell who did what in a film, one would think that the Screenwriters should at least be credited with the DIALOGUE!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
As an historian who is also a film buff, I try to be lenient when faced with a movie that bends the facts more than necessary. Anyone who has ever tried to write a screenplay, even one based on a novel much less on a real person's life or a real historical incident (and I have), knows you do indeed have to adapt a story (or real life) to the medium of film -- but there's a limit, and some flicks are just too much to take. The authors, talented entertainment-journalists, know this, for the most part. They obviously loved *Shakespeare in Love* and admit that it stuck close to the exceedingly few facts that are known about Shakespeare; likewise *Girl with a Pearl Earring* (a gorgeous film), since almost nothing is known about Vermeer. And they'll accept the rather minor biographical changes made in *Erin Brockovich* and *Norma Rae* as being simply unavoidable. But they really rake Mel Gibson over the coals (deservedly, I think), both for the perversion of English history committed in *Braveheart* (the Christ-like martyrdom of Wallace, they suggest, was practice for *The Passion*) and for the equally perverted treatment of the American Revolution in *The Patriot* (which pissed off a lot of people on the other side of the Atlantic with its suggestion of Nazi-style behavior on the part of the British). They come down hard on *The Hurricane* for claiming that Carter won fights that he actually lost, merely to reenforce the theme of racism, nor have they anything good to say about *Elizabeth*, the 1998 version, in which Cate Blanchett portrays a young queen so insipidly naive and trusting, "she wouldn't have lasted longer than a fortnight (or whichever ye olde calendar notation ye prefer)" -- in which they'll entirely correct. (I hated that movie.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bradley M. Matteoni on July 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is a non-stop joy to read. Funny, irreverant, intellectual and endlessly fascinating. It's divided into quick to read chapters so it's perfect for carting off to the doctor's office, your son's baseball game, the line at the DMV, or sneaking in chapters between work assignments at the office, although I pretty much read it to cover to cover in a couple of days. I absolutely loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Miles D. Moore TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
For any movie fan, Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen's "Based On a True Story* (*But With More Car Crashes)" is as fun as a tub of buttered popcorn. These 100 brief articles on how movies based on true stories diverged from the actual facts make compulsive, page-turning reading. Some of the cinematic whoppers related here were already well-known ("A Beautiful Mind," "Titanic"), others less so ("Boys Don't Cry"). And really, did any sane person think "The Amityville Horror" or "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" were documentaries? But they sure are fun to read about, especially with the sprightly, sardonic approach Vankin and Whalen take to writing about them.

That said, the book contains more proofreading errors than any book I've read recently--a real problem for a book that sets itself the task of correcting factual misconceptions. Words such as "a" and "the" go missing with regularity in the text, making it read at times like a bad Charlie Chan screenplay. There also are frequent and deplorable misspellings ("Comtesse," not "Comptess," is the correct version of "Countess" in French). Nevertheless, the sheer fun of the book makes up somewhat, if not completely, for the frequent errors. To read or not to be? I leave that question to you.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. Cook on August 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
The authors do meticulous research and supply ample source footnotes in their reviews of one hundred movies dating from the seventies to many quite recent releases. Their analysis is so straightforward despite the liberal interjection of sarcasm that it is impossible to conclude that the great majority of Hollywood filmmakers couldn't honor truth if you paid them to, even though in many cases they apparently enjoy pretending to while being paid.

If you are a movie fan and look at cinema as a strong forcefor "truth and beauty" in the world this book will cause you to thing again. Is it possible that all the failed would be blockbusters are an indication that the audience has enough continuous access to viewing video products that even the most uncaring are better able to instinctively sniff out obscured incredibility and turn their noses up?

The fascination with mere flickering images may be over. We will see what happens as the means of production goes all digital and the price of entry into movie making goes down by orders of magnitude. It may be that everyone can get a shot at being a star. We also may be on the receiving end of many opinion pieces masquerading as documentaries. Yes I know, at least Michael Moore cares and believes passionately about his subject matter.

If you really want to hear about an instance of dishonest and ludicrous audience manipulation do an internet search on "lemmings to the sea" and find out about Disney's cruelty and venality in the 1958 production "White Wilderness". Suffice to say that lemmings never hurled themselves off cliffs committing suicide.
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