Last time, I reviewed the 2007 version of Beowulf and it got me thinking… It interests me how history is always such a huge success at the box office. People love period dramas, and historical action movies! It just goes to show, while many claim to hate history, it’s usually due to boring classes and dry teaching methods and it doesn’t make sense, that in their free time, they’d go to a movie set in the very time-periods they seem to hate! All of this is good publicity for history, film often can make a huge impact and inspire people’s life choices. A film that gets one interested in history may inspire them to go into a career studying history, or even just gaining more personal knowledge in an in depth topic. Take Indiana Jones for example, I’m sure he inspired many to become archaeologists and have an appreciation for the past. However, this positive effect can quickly be turned into a detrimental one, when history is distorted. Unfortunately, many historical movies and shows do not focus on historical accuracy as much as focusing on good ratings! Many distort facts, culture, society and other aspects of history. Blatant anachronisms, wrong dress, wrong customs, imposing current beliefs and values on historical people run amok in many movies! Just take that Beowulf film as a prime example! It clearly distorted Saxon culture and turned it into more of a mindless action movie reduced to violence and sexuality.
That’s the other thing, often, these movies have shallow, one dimensional plots and characters. Characters that are some bland archetype, no dimensions to them, no personality beyond a common template. Plots can be just as bland and shallow, often with violence and sex and black and white morality. Now, most movies have those issues, but history is full of messages, full of lessons and interpretations. History is not often black and white, a movie about history should send a more complex message, make the viewer think deeper about the outcome, maybe even disagree with the ending, or question the protagonist’s actions,- maybe feel sympathy for the villain! It would be nice to see a movie about history where it is set in that time period and culture’s world view, and not our own contemporary values deciding how characters act. To really foster an appreciation for history in movies, why not showcase the deep and intricate dynamics of the starred events being portrayed?
Another part of the problem may be, there are so many topics movies haven’t covered! Many topics are from more popular history, such as US history and famous battles and people. That’s understandable, as the audience would have a better chance of some background knowledge on the subject, but why not branch out a bit more? History is so diverse, ranging from the very broad topics, to the extremely specific. Some movies have touched topics that are more unique, such as “Regeneration” detailing shell shocked WWI soldiers in a convalescent home, or “The Physician” detailing a Christian scholar in the Islamic Golden Age studying medicine! Those movies stand out from the rest, since there are tons of WWI movies all about fighting, or medieval movies about the middle ages in general, but those decided to zoom in on a unique aspect of those time-periods, viewed them from a little represented angle. More movies should find that unique niche, maybe telling the story from a less represented view, or making the plot about a more obscure event or setting.Which brings me to the main highlight of this post, movies I’d like to see made and wish I could direct!(Listed by topic, not the made-up title!)
- The Edict of Milan
- German prisoners of war in the US during WWII
- A Christmas special about the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity highlighting syncretism in Christmas (think Rankin-Bass style animation)
- Mental testing in WWI
- Charlemagne and the Saxon Wars
- Psychology in the 1900’s
- Life in gulags
- Religious aspects of the English Civil War
- Medieval people in the modern world
- A movie set in Mesopotamia