THE REEL STORIES; Fact Has Locked Horns with Fiction in Hollywood Once Again as Pounds 53m Alamo Film Is Called Anti-American for Telling the Truth 'It's a Tough Thing to Separate the Mythology of the Alamo from Facts Historians Have Learned'

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), April 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

THE REEL STORIES; Fact Has Locked Horns with Fiction in Hollywood Once Again as Pounds 53m Alamo Film Is Called Anti-American for Telling the Truth 'It's a Tough Thing to Separate the Mythology of the Alamo from Facts Historians Have Learned'


Byline: By Brian Mclver

IT'S one of the oldest debates at the movies fact over fiction and historical accuracy over entertaining drama.

From Zulu to Saving Private Ryan, Hollywood film-makers have never been slow to gloss over history or let the facts get in the way of a good screenplay.

And they've been at it again with their latest batch of historical epics.

Disney blockbusters The Alamo and Hidalgo have come in for heavy criticism for their portrayal of American legends, after both flopped at the US box office in recent weeks.

While Hidalgo is slated for abandoning the facts, box-office flop The Alamo has been condemned by US traditionalists for its poor portrayals of frontier heroes like Davy Crockett.

However, historians believe it is actually much closer to reality than the classic John Wayne version of events.

Because there were so few survivors of the siege on the Texan fort during the American wars with Mexico, the hard and fast facts of what happened have always been uncertain.

The commonly held view of the backs to-the-wall fight involves staunch and stoic all-American cowboy heroes fighting to the death against the Mexican invaders.

The siege's main players, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis, are some of America's greatest heroes, and the US is enraged by this take on their greatest moments.

The pounds 53million movie, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid and Jason Patric has been attacked as anti-American and unpatriotic by Texans and US flag wavers who claim it is damaging to the national morale to show the truth of events.

In the film, iconic raccoon-skin hat-wearing pioneer Davy Crockett is an intelligent, politically-minded man known as David who struggles to live up to his reputation, and who ends up before a firing squad instead of a bloody end on the battlefield.

And Jim Bowie is shown, correctly, as spending the battle in his sick bed.

Director John Lee Hancock said: 'It's a tough thing to separate the mythology of the Alamo from new facts the historians have learned, but I've tried to embrace both.'

While The Alamo is too accurate for some in the US, Hidalgo follows a great Hollywood tradition of blurring the facts.

The directors and writers responsible for the revisions all defend the final cut, insisting they are entertainers, not educators.

Which makes it even more ironic that Hancock has come under fire for his more historically accurate version.

He should have learned from director John Ford, who said in his Western classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: 'When the legend becomes a fact, print the legend.'

Here, we feature three classic movies and present some of the facts the film-makers managed to forget.

PEARL HARBORTHE FILM THE three-hour epic about America's darkest hour pre-9/11 was always going to be on dangerous ground.

But it didn't help that film-makers ignored 118 factual inaccuracies spotted by the people that run the real Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii.

The blockbuster starred Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck as two US pilots whose love triangle romance is torn asunder by the Japanese air attack on the US Navy's biggest port on December 7, 1941.

THE BLUNDERS SOME of the facts glossed over include Cuba Gooding Jnr's heroic black sailor downing two Japanese fighters from the deck of the USS West Virginia, which recorded no kills on the day of the attack.

While his tally and Affleck and Hartnett's seven shootings comprise an unlikely third of all 27 Japanese Zeroes lost in the fighting, the dock's total devastation in the film is also quite different from the reality where only three vessels were destroyed. …

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