True Stories (sort of)

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As most of us know there are many types of true story, you have documentaries, docu-dramas, based on real events, based on real facts, based on something that kev told me down the pub last friday and we all know kev tells the truth.

(Okay that last one isn't real but honestly I would trust kev)

I was once told that in the movie world if someone tells you something is based on real events it is most like not true but possible and if something was based on real facts than you should not believe it at all, I am not sure how fare that is but I am only quoting.

Titanic is based on real events. We know it was a ship, we know it was called the titanic and we know that it crashed into an iceburg but everything else within Titanic could not entirely be called fact. I have been to a museum where the Titanic was helped built in Workington in the Lake District and it was also built in Ireland. Nothing in the museum states of any evidence of anyone of the names used or indeed of a love story, I appreciate that the film itself was not meant to be a documentary and that Cameron did not create it as such but I think some people may see it as such (at which point I would love to direct them to Titanic II which in it's own right is a masterpiece).

So my question is where does the line draw for you? If someone presents something as a true story and it comes out in cinematic style do you do any research into if it is real? Do you care? Does it matter to you or do you just think as long as it is entertaining then that is what is important.

One thing I do know of Titanic is that an apology was made to the family of William McMaster "Will" Murdoch for Cameron's representation as discussed below:

Responsible for sinking?

The orders Murdoch gave to avoid the iceberg are debated. According to the Quartermaster Alfred Olliver, who was nearby, Murdoch immediately ordered the helm "hard to port" to ward off the stern of the iceberg. Hichens and the fourth officer Joseph Boxhall made no mention of this order. However, since the stern avoided the iceberg, it is likely that the order was given and carried out.

Furthermore, the avoidance maneuver was denounced during the United States Senate inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The results suggested that if the Titanic had collided with the iceberg head on, it may have only damaged two water-tight compartments. If this were true, then not only would everyone have had been saved, but the ship could have lived a full career.

This claim has been hotly debated ever since it was published. Before the iceberg was sighted, Titanic had been traveling around her cruise speed of 21 knots, her top speed being 24 knots. For a ship weighing more than fifty-thousand tons to come to a complete stop within a matter of seconds would have not only caused her to sink, but most likely would have shattered her keel, causing her to sink in a matter of seconds or minutes as opposed to two hours and forty minutes. Therefore, it is widely believed by the historical community that Officer Murdoch made the right decision, and in doing so, saved 700 lives
In both the 1996 and 1997 films, Murdoch committed suicide. The 1997 film depicted Murdoch taking – but later rejecting – a bribe from Caledon Hockley; and shooting two passengers (Tommy Ryan and another unidentified passenger) dead in a mob on the deck after Murdoch presumes they intend to storm one of the remaining lifeboats. Murdoch then salutes Chief Officer Henry Wilde and commits suicide by firing the pistol into his temple, his body crumpling backwards into the sea. Murdoch's descendants including his nephew objected to this portrayal and studio executives later flew to Murdoch's hometown to issue an apology for this depiction to his surviving relatives.

According to Cameron, his depiction of Murdoch is not of a man ‘gone bad,’ a ‘cowardly murderer,’ but of an “honorable man” saying “I’m not sure you’d find that same sense of responsibility and total devotion to duty today. This guy had half of his lifeboats launched before his counterpart on the port side had even launched one. That says something about character and heroism” (James Cameron’s Titanic, p. 129). This is maybe why Murdoch has the privilege of being among those seen in Rose’s ‘dream sequence’ at the end of the film. He is standing next to Thomas Andrews, smiling as Rose drifts by and clapping along with the rest of the crowd of happy onlookers as Rose and Jack kiss and implying Murdoch's heroic reputation
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Frankly I take it as entertainment, but I suppose it depends on how 'honest' the film (and it's hype) says it is.

The main problem, as I see it currently, is that so much emphasis is put on period detail and research and it's boasted about so much, that it's taken for granted that this accuracy applies to everything, not only in a specific film, but all period/historical films. For example, I've not seen The King's Speech, but I'm pretty sure that every item of clothing will be exactly as it should be. Down to the way the jackets are buttoned and the stitching of the hems of the dresses. I'm confident that any cars seen in exterior shots will be cars made before the year the film's set, etc. However, I can't be at all sure that what's shown happened or happened as shown. Obviously any and all private conversations, but also events may be shown in a different order or portrayed differently to the way they happened (either to heighten drama, help/demonise a character or simply for dramatic reasons and/or pacing) and then, of course, there's the storytellers friend, the composite character. The thing is, these things are so well made and we get wrapped up in them so easily that the accuracy and weight given to the incidental details bleed over into the story, giving the film even more power than they already had. I'm as guilty of this as anyone and it's why, if you have any genuine interest in something you see in a film, a little bit of reading will quickly let you know. The deeper you dig, the more you'll find, but if you simply want to know if something can/did/does happen, then 5 minutes on google can be more than enough to let you know.

I'd never heard of an officer shooting themselves on the Titanic, so I didn't think it was true, but I can't say I sat there harumphing, rolling my eyes and saying "well that never happened!" I didnt' question it at all. It didn't register. Had the film been my first knowledge of Titanic, as it was for many, then maybe I would've just accepted it. So, while it doesn't bother me whether Mr Murdoch shot himself or not, I can understand why his family might not want that to the most popular telling of his story.

I recently watched Generation War: Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter and that's caused quite a lot of controversy for similar reasons. Some of the reasons I agreed with and other I didn't, however, this usually came down to my limited knowledge and understanding of WWII and how sensitive I am to certain issues. If I were to believe everything onscreen was fact and actually happened as shown, then these people would have a point, but then, aren't we supposed to give an audience a little more credit than that?
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First of all HK well done on a fantastic post. It's been so long since I have been on a forum where people actually put thought, depth and intelligence into a post it is very refreshing, this is not something I am saying to suck up but just being honest.

You are right that certain things are changed because as you say no-one can really know what happened at any given moment because unless you are there with a device capable to getting it down and on record you cannot prove it - though in the day and age we are know with Facebook, Mobile Phones, "Trending" on twitter etc etc maybe that is a lost art as said in Enemy of The State.

One thing I do wonder though is if at any stage in a film it states it is related to a true story should any story telling be allowed?

I have not seen many American war films such as Saving Private Ryan because war films don't interest me, I just am not a fan of them but should a certain amount of "artistic license" be in there? Should a warning almost be put in place stating that not all of what is presented as fact?



Thought this was gonna be about the Talking Heads album.

Seriously, though, good post. Often my interest is further piqued if a film is based on a true story, though much of that may depend on whether it's actually a good film or not.



I wouldn't believe anything at all in a film that purported to be "based on fact". I might enjoy enjoy it as a film, but I'd always , always read up about it but after I'd seen it. I like to be in the moment of a film but not to be as gullible as some film makers might like us to be



A lot of people know, in the abstract, that not everything in a film based on a real story isn't true. But they don't know which parts aren't true. And in my experience this leads even pretty thoughtful people to, for all practical purposes, believe pretty much everything on screen even if they acknowledge some probably aren't true, when asked.

Also, whether or not each of us individually has this problem is only part of the question. It may be that everyone in this thread knows better, but some people don't, and that's more than reason enough to have a problem with it. Misleading things are bad even if we, personally, aren't misled by them.
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First of all HK well done on a fantastic post. It's been so long since I have been on a forum where people actually put thought, depth and intelligence into a post it is very refreshing, this is not something I am saying to suck up but just being honest.
Thank you very much.

One thing I do wonder though is if at any stage in a film it states it is related to a true story should any story telling be allowed?
Fargo starts with the title card "Based on a true story." It's a complete fiction from start to finish. Completely made up and not, at all, based on any story either of the Coen's read or heard. That's how seriously you should take "Based on a true story".

I could write a screenplay set in 1912, where the people that died on the Titanic are rescued by some sea dwelling creatures and live out their lives happily on the seabed. There was a ship called Titanic, it did sink in 1912. Therefore, it's based on a true story. I could also claim it was inspired by actual events because, again, the Titanic existed and sank. I could make sure that every period detail was correct and have done years of research about the sinking, the hows and whys and the actual people who sailed on it. The difference is no one would believe anything I put onscreen because I'm saying they survived and lived on the seabed.