It's still a mystery exactly when the words "based on a true story" were first used in a movie depicting an historical event. Certainly the early, gilded age of cinema didn't even bother to use those words to depict history that veered so far from truth, it was close to farce. Once we were textually told in the credits that an historical depiction would be altered for the sake of entertainment, there must have been someone arguing the case of reality being better than fiction.
Somewhere within all the forgotten tapestry of time, "based on a true story" has been shaped into an audience accepting it as enough truth to give compelling insight. And that's the philosophy that still holds today, right up to the Ben Affleck-starring drama "Argo" where the depiction of an historical event isn't very far removed. You could even argue the case that an historical event happening less than 40 years ago deserves more truth before it becomes urban legend.
Not that "Argo" doesn't already contain plenty of urban legend in the CIA concocting a fictional movie production as a method of rescuing Canadian hostages in 1979 Iran. The entire truth of what happened in this fascinating twist of history is one that can't help but be mired in some myths, especially with Hollywood directly involved in the plot. And when it reportedly involves cutting out most of the role of the Canadian government in rescuing the hostages, the danger is there to create instant discord or accusations of American nationalism.
These stretches of truth in "Argo" likely won't make Canada despise America, yet the film may set a precedent for how far a movie can go in depicting recent events. For instance, are we going to be seeing "based on a true story" in upcoming "Zero Dark Thirty" about the search and assassination of Osama Bin Laden? We can already say that without really knowing, considering differing accounts have already popped up about what happened on that historical night in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The desire of Hollywood to dig into recent historical events without letting them settle for a few decades may be the most significant bane of existence for those who care. Yet we have to wonder if most audiences do care, especially when many real events depicted in movies are ones that nobody could know unless they were present when they occurred. In that regard, we have a Plato's Cave analogy in carving our own opinions about history based on no ability to see it for ourselves.
Aversion to the truth, however, is still perplexing in the realms of Hollywood. You can say that when many excellent documentaries are being made today that show so much compelling truth. It's a shame that the real people behind "Argo" didn't have secret cameras rolling in 1979 Iran to help shape a future documentary about the international mission.
If Hollywood keeps insisting on wanting to re-create recent historical events, will someone ever show the exact truth as much as we know it? When done in a semi-documentary style with actors, we'd still find it compelling, even if we know we're still getting the essence of truth. In some eyes, the essence of truth can sometimes reveal a nucleus of truths about individuals that might be obscured when showing the mundane nature of what really happened.
- Arts & Entertainment