Oscars/2015: Tout le monde a droit à sa propre opinion mais pas à ses propres faits (No history oscar for Hollywood)

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Austria
Tout le monde a droit à sa propre opinion, mais pas à ses propres faits. Patrick Moynihan
Nous nous sentons transformés en imbéciles émotionnels et esthétiques quand nous nous entendons fredonner les chansons mielleuses et cul-cul. Pauline Kael
Le cinéma américain tend à nous abêtir, à détruire par ses enfantillages et ses fadaises admirablement présentées notre jugement, notre bon sens, notre esprit critique et à paralyser notre esprit tout court. Le cinéma américain est la propriété d’une certaine finance israélite qui a mené l’Amérique entière à la situation dramatique dans laquelle elle se débat actuellement et qui affirme la faillite de ses méthodes économiques et gouvernementales. Yvan Noë (cinéaste français, 1933)
Il faut se faire à l’idée que ces films évoquent tout simplement l’idée même de Cinéma au plus grand nombre. Et qu’importe ici l’avis microcosmique des critiques, des cinéphiles, des spécialistes en tous genre. Lorsque l’on prononce le mot « Cinéma », il faut croire que la grande majorité de l’humanité voit d’abord défiler des images de Star Wars, d’Autant en emporte le vent, de Titanic ou de La Mélodie du bonheur. L’impact de leur iconographie sur l’inconscient collectif est dramatique. A titre d’exemple, un pays comme l’Inde produit chaque année des milliers de comédies musicales. Dans pratiquement chacune d’entre elles, la rencontre amoureuse se déroule dans un décor de montagnes suisses, au mépris de toute logique géographique. Pourquoi ? Parce que La Mélodie du bonheur a imposé là-bas l’idée que le bonheur avait précisément cette iconographie là, et pas une autre. Ca nous fait tout de même un bon milliard de personnes chez qui le film de Robert Wise est l’incarnation définitive d’un concept donné, un film qui est parvenu à imposer son imagerie dans une région pourtant riche d’une iconographie et d’un symbolisme trois fois millénaire. A titre personnel, je n’ai jamais été particulièrement touché par ce film de Wise. Mais j’ai pu constater de mes yeux l’impact inexplicable qu’il provoquait chez d’autres personnes. J’ai vu fondre de joie devant ce film des individus qu’on imaginerait totalement imperméables à cette imagerie bucolique : des amateurs des délires hardcore de Tsukamoto, des fans des digressions philo de Chris Marker, des fondus du mysticisme de Tarkovski ou des expérimentations gothic-indus les plus violentes, je les ai vu taper des mains, sautiller comme des gosses, se transformer en barbe à papa et décider de revoir La Mélodie du bonheur trois fois en une semaine avec des larmes sur les joues. Force m’est de constater, donc, l’impact délirant de ce film déjà quadragénaire. Et face à un phénomène d’une telle ampleur et d’une telle longévité, on ne peut tout simplement pas se réfugier derrière les notions de kitsch, de vieillot, de sucré, de lourdaud et balayer ça d’un revers de main… pas quand on écrit sur le Cinéma en tous cas. Voilà pourquoi je pense que ces films précis, ces « élus du peuple » sont à prendre avec des pincettes. Car dans leur cas, ce ne sont pas seulement des films que l’on manipule et sur lesquels on disserte. Ces films dépassent, et de très loin, le cadre de l’industrie filmique. Ils dépassent le cadre du « phénomène de société » puisqu’ils échappent à la fois aux circonstances et aux sociétés qui les ont fait naître. Leur capacité, maintes fois prouvée, à dépasser les frontières du temps, des nations et des classes sociales les fait carrément participer d’un Mystère cinématographique qui nous annonce quelque chose de l’humanité. (…) Je ne voudrais pas risquer de m’enfermer dans un schéma de pensée à sens unique, mais j’ai pourtant la conviction que seule la Mythologie, avec une majuscule, est susceptible de transpercer ainsi les couches de l’individualité et l’écorce des particularismes culturelles, pour directement aller frapper le tronc commun de l’Humanité. Je crois que, d’une façon ou d’une autre, avec ou sans la volonté de leurs créateurs, ces films ont précisément réussi cela. (…) J’imagine que cela pourrait en faire pouffer de rire certains, mais je ne suis pas loin de penser que La Mélodie du bonheur s’appelle en réalité La Montagne au Centre du Monde ; d’autres l’appelleraient la Montagne sacrée, le Mont Sinaï, l’Olympe, et si vous placez une croix en son sommet (ou mieux encore, une femme les bras en croix) elle devient paraît-il l’Axis Mundi, le Golgotha etc. Il ne me semble pas hasardeux que les enfants Von Trapp soient au nombre de 7, ni que Maria, la nonne plus spirituelle que toutes les nonnes, leur livre les secrets des sept notes qui mènent à la huitième qui n’est que la première. Je crois que la mystique pythagoricienne n’est pas loin, et que le destin des Von Trapp s’apparente à une Chute, lorsqu’ils finissent par quitter la montagne et « descendre » dans le monde des humains, un monde où en l’occurence sévissent les nazis, autrement dit un monde de la souffrance, indissociable de l’incarnation. Rafik Djoumi
Dame Julie Andrews started out in opera. In fact she was once billed as « Britain’s Youngest Prima Donna ». She had the voice of a light, bright coloratura soprano with extraordinary range (four octaves) and incredible flexibility. It’s a voice that doesn’t quite sound like Julie Andrews as we know her. (…) As a child she was sent to a throat specialist and the doctor declared that she had an almost adult larynx. Shortly afterwards she was taken by her mother Barbara and stepfather Ted Andrews (both famous vaudeville performers of their time) to see a voice teacher, Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen. « Madame », as she was called, told Julie’s parents that her singing was « just lovely », but would they take her back until she’s 12 so she can have a longer childhood? In any case her voice developed unexpectedly quickly. By nine years old it was obvious that taking proper voice lessons was the thing to do, and Madame agreed to take her on. (…) « Madame hoped very much that I would go into opera, but I always sensed that it was too big a stretch for me, » wrote Dame Julie in Home, her autobiography. « My voice was extremely high and thin, and though clean and clear, it never had the necessary guts and weight for opera. » (…) When she was 12 she was contracted for one year in a revue show in London called Starlight Roof staged at the London Hippodrome. (…) Madame and Julie worked together for the next 15 years or so. Even at this age she seemed to exude everything bright and sunny. She confessed that she could not sing songs in the minor key or deal with Dvořák’s « Songs My Mother Taught Me » or « O Mio Babbino Caro » from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. They were too upsetting for her to attempt and the voice « would be gone in a mess of emotion ». (…) Perhaps singing happy songs was her way of blocking out an unhappy childhood. Her family was poor and she had to work very hard to get where she wanted. Her stepfather tried sexually molesting her (unsuccessfully) when she was nine. Then at 14 she discovered that the man she believed to be her birth father was not her father at all. It was a very difficult childhood. (…) Around this time towards her late teens she began gradually to lose the top notes of her voice. Her middle register matured into the warm golden tone that we’re familiar with. She was still performing coloratura arias in public and hitting the top notes now became a trial. In December 1953 Julie Andrews starred in a London Palladium production of a pantomime, Cinderella. The director of a then very successful musical called The Boy Friend went to check out Julie upon the suggestion of her Educating Archie colleague Hattie Jacques. The director was impressed and Julie was offered a contract to star in The Boy Friend in New York. She made her Broadway debut the day before she turned 19 and never looked back. (…)  In February 1973 Julie made a return to opera, on The Julie Andrews Hour. She sang an English version of « Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix » from Saint-Saens’s Samson and Delilah with Sergio Franchi. By then she was singing with her Broadway voice (…) Dame Julie is back in the public eye again as she tours the UK with Aled Jones. From the programme description it’s understood that she probably won’t sing (she sadly lost her voice in a botched routine operation in 1997). Tim Wong
Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926 as a tutor for one of the children, Maria, who was recovering from scarlet fever, not as governess to all the children. Maria and Georg married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria. Maria did not marry Georg von Trapp because she was in love with him. As she said in her autobiography Maria, she fell in love with the children at first sight, not their father. When he asked her to marry him, she was not sure if she should abandon her religious calling but was advised by the nuns to do God’s will and marry Georg. « I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children.  . . . [B]y and by I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after. » There were 10, not 7 von Trapp children. The names, ages, and sexes of the children were changed. The family was musically inclined before Maria arrived, but she did teach them to sing madrigals. Georg, far from being the detached, cold-blooded patriarch of the family who disapproved of music, as portrayed in the first half of The Sound of Music, was actually a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family. While this change in his character might have made for a better story in emphasizing Maria’s healing effect on the von Trapps, it distressed his family greatly. The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. As daughter Maria said in a 2003 interview printed in Opera News, « We did tell people that we were going to America to sing. And we did not climb over mountains with all our heavy suitcases and instruments. We left by train, pretending nothing. » The von Trapps traveled to Italy, not Switzerland. Georg was born in Zadar (now in Croatia), which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Zadar became part of Italy in 1920, and Georg was thus an Italian citizen, and his wife and children as well. The family had a contract with an American booking agent when they left Austria. They contacted the agent from Italy and requested fare to America. Joan Gearin
The show [« In the woods »] is about community responsibility. It’s about a group of people who have made little transgressions and have unleashed a force that they have to band together to fight. It’s also about parents and the legacy they pass on. Stephen Sondheim
Plus une actrice vieillit, moins elle est payée.(…) On appelle les pays étrangers à instaurer la parité mais on est incapable de l’établir aux États-Unis. C’est inexcusable. (…) Il est temps que toutes les Américaines, que tous les Américains qui aiment les femmes, que tous les gays, que tous les citoyens de couleur pour lesquels nous nous sommes battus se battent pour nous. Patricia Arquette
Le Voting rights act pour lequel se sont battus les gens à Selma, il y a 50 ans, est en train d’être violé dans ce pays. La lutte pour la liberté et la justice est encore une réalité. Il y a plus d’hommes noirs derrière les barreaux aujourd’hui qu’il n’y en avait en esclavage en 1850. (…) Nous sommes avec vous et nous continuons de marcher. John Legend (compositeur, Selma)
J’espère qu’ils seront traités avec le même respect que les immigrants qui sont venus dans ce pays au fil des siècles et qu’ils auront également la possibilité de participer à cette magnifique nation qui s’est bâtie sur l’immigration. Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman)
Les révélations d’Edward Snowden montrent non seulement que notre vie privée est menacée mais aussi que la démocratie est en péril. Merci à Edward Snowden et à tous les lanceurs d’alerte. Laura Pointras (Citizenfour)
Restez bizarres. J’ai tenté de me suicider à 16 ans car je ne me sentais pas à ma place et me voici maintenant. Je voudrais prendre ce moment pour les jeunes qui pensent qu’ils ne sont pas à leur place. Vous l’êtes. Restez différents, et puis quand ce sera à votre tour d’être sur cette scène, s’il vous plaît passez le message. Graham Moore (scénariste, Imitation game)
Despite these and other historic distortions, “Selma” has won a Golden Globe and two Oscar nominations (Best Picture and Best Original Song). Its misrepresentations might not bother those who buy the premise that moviemakers are not historians; that their mission is to entertain rather than educate, to dramatically pursue a riveting story regardless of its truth. But it is wrong for storytellers to engage in open miseducation, to fictionalize our heroes. Doing so robs real people of their historic truth, particularly when those people can no longer defend themselves. Sadly, it’s often easy to popularize a myth when it packs more drama than the truth, and the more often an untruth is told, the harder it is to counter it. To be fair, Ava DuVernay, “Selma’s” talented African-American director, has invited her critics to “investigate major historical moments themselves.” Unfortunately only a very few have the resources to do this and are gifted enough to bring those events to worldwide audiences. This is why it is so incumbent on the anointed storytellers, those who do have that power, to reflect history accurately. The most dramatic and popularized storylines often are not the truth. Barbara Reynolds
We’re in the service of truth. Sometimes that obliges you to take shortcuts of poetic license. You’re obliged to do it. You can take too many liberties, you have to find a line between it all. (…) The big no-no, the big red line for me is distortion. I don’t think in pursuit of impact or sensation [you] should ever distort, because you’ve breached your mission which is at the service of the truth. Where you come unstuck is in the age of Google. People see a movie, and they go ‘I loved it’ until they Google it and see, “Oh, that is absolutely false,” and the relationship you’ve built with that viewer is destroyed. So that’s where I think distortion has to be avoided, even though it can be very tempting dramatically. You just have to say ‘no’. Anthony McCarten (screenwriter)
I think a lot of that actually comes from the incredible proliferation now of websites, blogs and columnists devoted to awards season who write about it all year long and who inevitably need new angles to play and new stories to write about. I think that feeds the desire to have all of these stories that scrutinise the historical accuracy of these films. (…) I think it’s really a bit much to ask a film to 100% reproduce reality on screen when I think the average person in their own lives has a hard time remembering exactly how things happened even [about] lunch with someone a week ago. (…) My feeling is that a lot of these discussions are actually pretty interesting because they encourage people to look beyond the surface of the movie. I think it’s great to talk about what a film’s politics are, what kind of ideologies are operating in the film, what may or may not be implied by omitting something or including something. Scott Foundas (Variety)
This year there were more of them than in any other year I can remember. There were just so many that were inspired by true stories, so I think we’re hearing – or we may be noticing it – more this year, for that reason. Scott Feinberg (The Hollywood Reporter)
I think if you have two hours to tell a story, you have to contract things, you have to make your point in ways that a documentary would make them differently. David Oyelowo (British actor who portrays Martin Luther King Jr.)
One shouldn’t go to films for absolute accuracy. If it’s a good film it need not be bogged down in the details of life. If you really want to know someone’s life, get a good biography. For a feeling for the kind of life they led, go to film. Good directors take liberties. In the past you’d have films about Emile Zola, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison. They were completely fictionalized. When you look at a film like Napoleon by Abel Gance, it’s so inaccurate it makes Napoleon look like a god. But the film was so good because he got it wrong. The most ridiculous example was Clark Gable’s film Parnell (on the Irish nationalist leader Charles Parnell). Gable never changed his accent. But audiences didn’t go to a Clark Gable film for accuracy. They paid to see Gable. Today, stars tend to be actors not just personalities. Ronald Bergan (president of the Federation of European and Mediterranean Critics)
The stories a society tells about itself are a measure of how it values itself, the ideals of a democracy and its future. The stories that Hollywood tells represent a particularly powerful form of public pedagogy that is integral to how people imagine life, themselves, relations to others and what it might mean to think otherwise in order to act otherwise. Henry Giroux (McMaster University)
Film can shape public consciousness in ways that go beyond studying historical texts. The fact that large numbers of people from all parts of the political spectrum join the conversation is healthy, even if they have been drawn in by dramatized history. The question of accuracy is misleading because it presumes that sooner or later we are going to uncover the truth, rather than more and more versions of it. More important, (film) reawakens discourse and conversation in a world where political divisions are so sharp and clear. Both sides are convinced they have absolute truth, and there’s no longer any sense of compromise. Being confronted with our own values and biases, and bringing them out into the open, is how we might begin to communicate with those whose values we disagree with. That’s greater than any kind of authenticity. Brian Price (University of Toronto)
It’s not only personality that is digitally altered by films, but history itself. In an era of dwindling attention spans, and where reality shows are more celebrated than real events, few people bother to delve deeper into the historical records behind the biopics they see. In recent years, directors have strived to produce biopics with a greater sense of reality than, say, the towering portrayals in 1963’s Cleopatra. Ancient cities are no longer mocked up on the back lots of movie studios, and ethnic roles aren’t fulfilled by painting the faces of white actors. (…) But the most damning criticism goes to the reality gap of biopics like Sniper: lack of context and historical complexity that give viewers only a superficial snapshot of events of profound significance — and, in doing so, can manipulate public consciousness. Olivia Ward
The other film caught up in all the mudslinging this year has been American Sniper, the story of US Navy Seal Chris Kyle, directed by Clint Eastwood. With this picture criticism has largely broken down along political lines, with liberals arguing that the movie glorifies killing, demeans Arabs and omits some less than flattering aspects of Kyle’s life. There has also been an effort by the film’s critics to point out that the Academy shouldn’t be celebrating a film about a soldier who reportedly described killing Iraqis as “fun”. The picture, which has been a huge box office success, has been strongly embraced by many conservatives who view it as a well-crafted and very moving portrait of a troubled but patriotic US soldier. (…) During Oscar season it’s important that any charges of fabrication or misrepresentation are addressed rapidly – or else they might stick. Two years ago members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee took issue with Zero Dark Thirty, claiming that it was grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture led to the location of Osama bin Laden. There was never an effective early rebuttal by the studio to that accusation – and the film, which had been seen as a strong Oscar contender, never recovered. Zero Dark Thirty took home just one trophy. Despite all the heat that’s been generated by the recent scrutiny of fact-based movies it’s unlikely that any of it will have an impact on the outcome on the Oscars race itself because the two frontrunners for best picture this year, Boyhood and Birdman, are both works of fiction and therefore immune to charges that they may be less than truthful. Film-makers will always want to tell real stories and to sell their work they will sometimes claim the authority of fact. Yet they also want the licence to fictionalise and still maintain what they’ve put together amounts to the truth. But it’s a concept of truth-telling that just doesn’t hold up for a broad swath of shrewd moviegoers who are just a Google search away from fact-checking these films. Tom Brook

Pas d’oscar d’histoire pour Hollywood !

Famille autrichienne censée fuir secrètement le nazisme par des montagnes suisses à 300 km de distance, Dieu plus grand tueur de masse de l’histoire, Dieu vengeur tueur d’enfants, premier film bondage sur l’esclavage, fausse accusation d’espionnage, diffamation d’un président américain …

En ce 25e anniversaire de Photoshop

Qui est aussi le 17e de Google

Et le 14e de Wikipedia

Au lendemain d’une nouvelle cérémonie des oscars qui a vu à nouveau …

50 ans exactement après l’indestructible mythe de la Mélodie du bonheur

La nomination sinon la récompense de nombre de films historiques ou biographiques qui ont largement alimenté la polémique …

Et l’arrivée pour la première fois au cinéma …

Soit de héros proprement méconnus (Imitation game, American sniper) …

Soit, dans le cas de Martin Luther King et pour d’incroyables raisons de droits d’auteur, l’aberration de la réécriture et paraphrase de ses paroles et discours …

Ou, en une année pourtant riche en films religieux, la non-nomination de grosses machines hollywoodiennes comme l’Exodus de Ridley Scott …

En ces temps où les plus anciens des contes de nos enfants peuvent se révéler être une parabole sur le sida …

Retour, avec le critique cinéma de la BBC Tom Brook, sur la question de l’historicité au cinéma …

Et l’impression que face à un public  à la fois de plus en plus sceptique …

Mais aussi, internet oblige, vulnérable aux pires théories du complot

Un Hollywood plus politiquement correct que jamais ne semble toujours pas avoir compris que …

Tout le monde, selon le mot de l’ancien sénateur américain Patrick Moynihan, « a droit à sa propre opinion, mais pas à ses propres faits » …

Selma and American Sniper: Is accuracy important?
This year’s Oscar contenders have drawn criticism for factual inaccuracies. Tom Brook looks at the controversy.
Tom Brook
The Reel World
BBC
16 February 2015

For weeks there’s been a feeding frenzy to find any fabrications, distortions or misrepresentations in fact-based Oscar-nominated films. It’s become an annual tradition in the Oscars race. In recent years the scrutiny of fact-based films has become particularly aggressive and intense.

“I think a lot of that actually comes from the incredible proliferation now of websites, blogs and columnists devoted to awards season who write about it all year long and who inevitably need new angles to play and new stories to write about,” says Scott Foundas, chief film critic at Variety. “I think that feeds the desire to have all of these stories that scrutinise the historical accuracy of these films.”

There may be other reasons for the increased critiquing of fact-based Oscar-nominated films. “This year there were more of them than in any other year I can remember. There were just so many that were inspired by true stories, so I think we’re hearing – or we may be noticing it – more this year, for that reason,” says Scott Feinberg, lead awards analyst at The Hollywood Reporter.

Three movies: Selma, The Imitation Game and American Sniper have been the most examined and challenged this year – each accused of playing loose with the facts.

With Selma, a key criticism came from the director of the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, Mark Updegrove, who claimed the film wrongly portrayed President Johnson as an obstructionist on civil rights.

Then Joseph A Califano Jr, who was President Johnson’s top assistant for domestic affairs in the 1960s, stated that the Selma march, which the film shows was Martin Luther King Jr’s initiative, was in fact President Johnson’s idea.

In a tweet, the film’s director, Ava DuVernay, characterised that assertion as “jaw dropping and offensive”. Despite her rebuttals, the criticisms of Selma got considerable coverage and left the impression that its accuracy might be flawed.

It’s hard to know if Selma lost support among Academy members because of the controversy, but it only picked up two nominations.

American Sniper (Warner Bros)

American Sniper takes several liberties with the story of Chris Kyle, but the inaccuracies have not harmed the film’s strong box office (Warner Bros)

Blurred lines

One of the problems is that no narrative feature is going to be able to convey the absolute truth. Characters inevitably get conflated and information omitted.

“I think if you have two hours to tell a story, you have to contract things, you have to make your point in ways that a documentary would make them differently,” says David Oyelowo, the British actor who portrays Martin Luther King Jr.

Screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who’s been nominated for his screenplay for The Theory of Everything, concedes that it’s a constant balancing act to write an engaging script while retaining truthfulness.

“We’re in the service of truth. Sometimes that obliges you to take shortcuts of poetic license. You’re obliged to do it. You can take too many liberties, you have to find a line between it all,” he says.

During awards season the omission, or toning down, of aspects of a real person’s character in a screenplay can often prove controversial. This year it happened with The Imitation Game, for which there was considerable complaint, much of it from gay activists, over the portrayal of Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma code during World War Two.

“It doesn’t do enough to portray Alan Turing as a gay man,” says film critic Armond White of National Review and OUT Magazine.

But The Imitation Game’s screenwriter Graham Moore believes he has fashioned quite a gay story. “I think that Alan Turing is gay in every single frame of The Imitation Game. You just don’t see him in the act of sex,” he says.

Historically, there have been similar flaps concerning previous Oscar pictures. The 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind, a biographical film of Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Nash, is one such example. It was charged that Nash’s alleged homosexuality was airbrushed out of the film. It also didn’t help that there were accusations that Nash was guilty of anti-Semitism. For the record, Nash denied that he was anti-Semitic or gay to The New York Times at the time. But these charges created a significant outcry, and great difficulty for the individuals conducting the picture’s Academy campaign. Despite the controversy, A Beautiful Mind still went on to win four Oscar trophies, including best picture.

Selma (Paramount)

Historical distortions can be a problem for Oscar voters. Accusations that Selma presents an inaccurate vision of LBJ may have harmed its campaign (Paramount)

The other film caught up in all the mudslinging this year has been American Sniper, the story of US Navy Seal Chris Kyle, directed by Clint Eastwood. With this picture criticism has largely broken down along political lines, with liberals arguing that the movie glorifies killing, demeans Arabs and omits some less than flattering aspects of Kyle’s life. There has also been an effort by the film’s critics to point out that the Academy shouldn’t be celebrating a film about a soldier who reportedly described killing Iraqis as “fun”.

The picture, which has been a huge box office success, has been strongly embraced by many conservatives who view it as a well-crafted and very moving portrait of a troubled but patriotic US soldier.

Fact or fiction?

“The big no-no, the big red line for me is distortion. I don’t think in pursuit of impact or sensation [you] should ever distort, because you’ve breached your mission which is at the service of the truth,” says McCarten.

He also makes the point that with moviegoers it’s almost impossible to get away with fabrication because today’s audiences are so well informed.

“Where you come unstuck is in the age of Google,” he says. “People see a movie, and they go ‘I loved it’ until they Google it and see, “Oh, that is absolutely false,” and the relationship you’ve built with that viewer is destroyed. So that’s where I think distortion has to be avoided, even though it can be very tempting dramatically. You just have to say ‘no’.”

Some critics think that with all this scrutiny film-makers are being kept to too high a standard.

“I think it’s really a bit much to ask a film to 100% reproduce reality on screen when I think the average person in their own lives has a hard time remembering exactly how things happened even [about] lunch with someone a week ago,” says Foundas.

During Oscar season it’s important that any charges of fabrication or misrepresentation are addressed rapidly – or else they might stick. Two years ago members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee took issue with Zero Dark Thirty, claiming that it was grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture led to the location of Osama bin Laden. There was never an effective early rebuttal by the studio to that accusation – and the film, which had been seen as a strong Oscar contender, never recovered. Zero Dark Thirty took home just one trophy.

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Co)

The Imitation Game suggests Keira Knightley’s character was recruited by Alan Turing much later than her real-life basis actually was (The Weinstein Co)

“My feeling is that a lot of these discussions are actually pretty interesting because they encourage people to look beyond the surface of the movie,” says Foundas. “I think it’s great to talk about what a film’s politics are, what kind of ideologies are operating in the film, what may or may not be implied by omitting something or including something.”

Despite all the heat that’s been generated by the recent scrutiny of fact-based movies it’s unlikely that any of it will have an impact on the outcome on the Oscars race itself because the two frontrunners for best picture this year, Boyhood and Birdman, are both works of fiction and therefore immune to charges that they may be less than truthful.

Film-makers will always want to tell real stories and to sell their work they will sometimes claim the authority of fact. Yet they also want the licence to fictionalise and still maintain what they’ve put together amounts to the truth. But it’s a concept of truth-telling that just doesn’t hold up for a broad swath of shrewd moviegoers who are just a Google search away from fact-checking these films.

Voir aussi:

Why Hollywood won’t win an Oscar for history
True-story films like American Sniper and Selma are up for Academy Awards, but don’t count on them for truth. In fact, some say they’re changing history.
Olivia Ward
The Toronto Star
Feb 21 2015

Truth or truthiness?

If you’ve been to the movies lately, you’ll know that U.S. President Lyndon Johnson went head-to-head with Martin Luther King over the bloodstained Selma march. And that Alan Turing was a semi-autistic nerd who cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code almost single-handedly. And that gung-ho American sniper Chris Kyle shot an Iraqi woman and child to interrupt a suicide mission.

Except it didn’t really happen that way.

When the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts,” he could have been thinking about the blockbuster biopics that have filled our movie screens and Oscar lists for decades. Those films have helped to shape public understanding of historic people and events — and in their own way changed the global historical record.

Critically acclaimed Selma, American Sniper and The Imitation Game are up for a best picture Academy Award on Sunday, along with The Theory of Everything, on the emotional life of Stephen Hawking. Proof of the power of the 21st-century biopic.

So is it curmudgeonly to complain that the facts in these film versions are, in some cases, closer to fiction? That they’re more hype than history? And if so, is there any harm in buffing up a few facts if it makes for a juicier story?

“It is wrong for storytellers to engage in open misdirection, to fictionalize our heroes,” says author Barbara Reynolds in The Washington Post. “Doing so robs real people of their historic truth, particularly when those people can no longer defend themselves.”

The problems with Selma
The much-admired filmSelma has won the overwhelming praise of critics for its powerful portrayal of Martin Luther King, the bruising struggle for civil rights in the U.S. and the astonishing courage of those who risked their lives to counter vicious racism.

Its main criticism is for making Johnson appear to be an opponent rather than backer of voting rights legislation and the Selma march, which Johnson suggested to King in the hope it would boost his campaign to win support for reform.

But Reynolds — who knows King’s wife Coretta — is also unhappy with the film’s portrayal of the lifelong activist as an accessory to her husband who is “tearful” over his suspected infidelity and living “under a fog of fear” in segregation-era Alabama. A long stretch, she says, from the real Coretta’s steel-spined determination to campaign for racial equality no matter the consequences.

Shallow history
It’s not only personality that is digitally altered by films, but history itself. In an era of dwindling attention spans, and where reality shows are more celebrated than real events, few people bother to delve deeper into the historical records behind the biopics they see.

In recent years, directors have strived to produce biopics with a greater sense of reality than, say, the towering portrayals in 1963’s Cleopatra. Ancient cities are no longer mocked up on the back lots of movie studios, and ethnic roles aren’t fulfilled by painting the faces of white actors.

But in film, verisimilitude isn’t everything, says Guardian contributor Ronald Bergan, president of the Federation of European and Mediterranean Critics.
“One shouldn’t go to films for absolute accuracy. If it’s a good film it need not be bogged down in the details of life. If you really want to know someone’s life, get a good biography. For a feeling for the kind of life they led, go to film. Good directors take liberties.”

Over the years, he says, films have been getting more accurate — but not necessarily better.
“In the past you’d have films about Emile Zola, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison. They were completely fictionalized. When you look at a film like Napoleon by Abel Gance, it’s so inaccurate it makes Napoleon look like a god. But the film was so good because he got it wrong.”

What the older biopics got too wrong, Bergan says, was pandering to the Hollywood star system. “The most ridiculous example was Clark Gable’s film Parnell (on the Irish nationalist leader Charles Parnell). Gable never changed his accent. But audiences didn’t go to a Clark Gable film for accuracy. They paid to see Gable. Today, stars tend to be actors not just personalities.”
Parnell was a flop. It was so badly panned that few viewers went away convinced they had seen a real slice of history.

The imitating game
Those who’ve watched more recent films, like The Imitation Game— on the life of Second World War mathematical genius Alan Turing — have fewer doubts.
The portrayal of Turing as a humourless, seemingly autistic nerd who kept his homosexuality repressed in a deeply homophobic time, plays well with the Hollywood stereotype of the isolated scientist and closeted gay man.

But definitive biographer Andrew Hodges says Turing was far from anti-social, enjoyed a good joke, and by the end of his life sought numerous affairs.

He was also not the sole inventor (or builder) of the machine that broke the crucial Nazi code and prevented many British deaths from German attack. The Bombe machine was a leap forward from one invented earlier by Polish scientists. “The discovery was not immediate nor was it the product of a single brain,” Hodges writes.

But the film’s most startling departure from reality was the contention that Turing worked with Soviet spy John Cairncross — whom he may never have met — detected his treason, but failed to expose it because he was blackmailed with a threat to reveal his homosexuality.

Nor was Turing under surveillance as a suspected Soviet spy, and accidentally outed as a homosexual by a (fictional) detective, as the film contends. His gayness came to light when he reported a petty theft and tried to cover up his relationship with the young man who was the suspected culprit.

Those are large lapses from the historical record. But they are not as fraught as a more politically charged film that has sparked a bush fire of controversy, even outside the English-speaking world.
Shooting at sniper

Screenings of American Sniper — one of the most controversial biopics of the decade — were shut down in Baghdad after angry viewers protested its depiction of the Iraqis that sniper Chris Kyle sets out to kill in a mission against Al Qaeda.

In the movie, Kyle — who was eventually murdered in the U.S. by another Iraq veteran — shoots a terror-bent woman and child and hunts down and defeats a (fictional) enemy counterpart.
Both scenes are apparently untrue. But the most inflammatory inaccuracy, argued Sarmad Moazzem, who served alongside American troops in Iraq, “makes out that all Iraqis are terrorists — men, women and children. Actually there are some people who loved the Americans and wanted them to stay and help rebuild our country,” he told The Washington Post. “The film didn’t show any of them.”
In the West, reams have been written about the film’s impact. The American right celebrates it as a vindication of American patriotism. Director Clint Eastwood cites it as “anti-war,” chronicling conflict’s dehumanizing effects. Gun lobbyists have made it an icon and gun-control advocates a symbol of America’s deadly laxity on owning weapons. Others defend it as a multi-layered work of cinematic art.

Shaping our view of life
But the most damning criticism goes to the reality gap of biopics like Sniper: lack of context and historical complexity that give viewers only a superficial snapshot of events of profound significance — and, in doing so, can manipulate public consciousness.

“The stories a society tells about itself are a measure of how it values itself, the ideals of a democracy and its future,” says Henry Giroux, McMaster University chair for scholarship in the public interest.
“The stories that Hollywood tells represent a particularly powerful form of public pedagogy that is integral to how people imagine life, themselves, relations to others and what it might mean to think otherwise in order to act otherwise,” he writes in Counterpunch.

Film can shape public consciousness in ways that go beyond studying historical texts, says Brian Price, associate professor of film and visual studies at University of Toronto. The fact that large numbers of people from all parts of the political spectrum join the conversation is healthy, even if they have been drawn in by dramatized history.

“The question of accuracy is misleading because it presumes that sooner or later we are going to uncover the truth, rather than more and more versions of it,” he says.
“More important, (film) reawakens discourse and conversation in a world where political divisions are so sharp and clear. Both sides are convinced they have absolute truth, and there’s no longer any sense of compromise.”

Being confronted with our own values and biases, and bringing them out into the open, he says, “is how we might begin to communicate with those whose values we disagree with. That’s greater than any kind of authenticity.”

Voir également:

The biggest problem with ‘Selma’ has nothing to do with LBJ or the Oscars
Why do we keep diminishing the legacy of Coretta Scott King?
Barbara Reynolds
The Washington Post
January 19
Reynolds is an ordained minister and the author of six books. She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.

“Selma” delivers a powerful dramatization of the bloody civil rights march in Alabama that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The depiction has received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but has been criticized for various deviations from historical fact. Supporters of President Lyndon Johnson have decried his portrayal as an antagonist who only reluctantly supported the Voting Rights Act after attempting to obstruct the Selma effort.  Even George Wallace Jr. has spoken out, insisting that his father, the former governor of Alabama, never advocated violence against the marchers (a contention difficult to believe given the level of brutality recorded that day). But all the criticism has overlooked the particularly troubling mischaracterization of one of the movement’s most critical players – Coretta Scott King. The movie presents a Coretta who exists under a fog of fear as she endures the terror of Selma. It portrays a Coretta who blames her husband for leaving the family during his trips to lead the movement. It shows a Coretta who timidly acquiesces to the charges that her husband dishonored their marriage vows and tearfully asks if he loves his mistresses. That Coretta is pure Hollywood fiction.

The film’s misrepresentation of Coretta continues a disservice done to her life and accomplishments in many accounts of the Civil Rights era. She was not a tormented victim. She was more than an accessory to her iconic husband’s story. Before Coretta met Martin, she was a student activist in the peace movement at Antioch College. She protested the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, before Martin took up the controversial stance. For example, in 1965, she addressed a major peace rally against the war in Madison Square Garden, the only woman to do so. In 1962, she went to the Disarmament Conference in Switzerland as a delegate of Women Strike for Peace, a group formed by Bella Abzug. And not only did she march with Martin in Selma, she later moved her children into a squalid Chicago tenement to dramatize the pathos of poverty. Even after Martin was assassinated in 1968, she remained a brave activist in her own right. She was an outspoken advocate for gay and lesbian rights, fearlessly defying many Christian leaders.

But this image of Coretta, as a strong-willed woman independently committed to the global struggle for human rights, is often missing in characterizations of her. It wasn’t perpetuated only by the media and outsiders. After her husband’s death, Coretta bravely and graciously warded off attempts by the male-dominated black leadership to sideline her. This was characteristic of the civil rights movement, which often obstructed women from public leadership roles. The flawed narrative that marginalized Coretta in life continues to diminish her role after her death.

During my 30 years knowing her, Coretta made it clear that she was troubled by her wholly incomplete public image. “I hope someday people will see Coretta,” she told me. “Often, I am made to sound like an attachment to a vacuum cleaner: the wife of Martin, then the widow of Martin, all of which I was proud to be. But I was never just a wife, nor a widow. I was always more than a label.”

I met Coretta Scott King in the 1970s, when I was working as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. I interviewed her for news articles, traveled with her on a trip to visit her parents in Marion, Alabama in 1980, and watched her children grow up. Beginning in 2000, I sat with her periodically to record her accounts of her experiences, producing 1,000 pages of transcripts that I have turned into a biography that I plan to publish later this year.

During those interviews, she insisted that she had felt a calling from an early age. Growing up in the Klan-controlled South, she was no stranger to terror. She saw her family home and her father’s sawmill burned to the ground. But she also saw her father refusing to live in fear and bitterness, a value system reinforced by her Methodist upbringing.  Her resilient attitude easily fused with Martin’s, who learned from his father that nothing should make anyone stoop low enough to hate.

It was the bombing of her home in Montgomery, Ala., during the 1955 bus boycott, that assured Coretta that she could withstand any dangers that were placed in her path. She was home with a neighbor and her baby, Yolanda, when the bomb blew off their front porch. She said her father wanted her to move back home with him and her mother, but she stood her ground, fearing that moving the family would disrupt the movement. While committed to her roles as a wife and a mother, Coretta knew that there was an even larger purpose for her life. “I knew I had something to contribute to the world. The movement and building the King Center, speaking out on important causes, that is what God called me to do,” she said. “I was not only married to Martin, but to the movement. I found a cause not only to live for, but to die for.”

In the face of great resistance from much of the movement’s male leadership, she worked tirelessly to perpetuate King’s legacy and build the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Ga. During South Africa’s groundbreaking democratic election in 1994, the center trained thousands of poll monitors and others on the principles of nonviolence and direct-action techniques. Coretta is also credited with being the first person in the United States to organize and lead a campaign for a national holiday honoring an unelected official, establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the third Monday of January. She lobbied the government for 15 years, calling personally on almost every U.S. Senator, and organizing a diverse group of arts, sports, union, and political groups in support. In 1980, she became a regular commentator on CNN, championing the cause of global human rights, and in 1986, she began a syndicated column for The New York Times Syndicate Sales Corp.

Despite this great resilience, one of Coretta’s most painful struggles was seeing her marriage maligned by persistent charges that her husband was unfaithful. The reports of infidelity were addressed in a major scene in “Selma,” when the Coretta Scott King played by Carmen Ejogo weepily asks Martin, “Did you love the others?” This is not something Coretta would have said. Though Martin’s alleged affairs have become part of his story, Coretta never accepted it. When Ralph Abernathy wrote about Martin’s alleged adultery in his 1989 autobiography, Coretta insisted it was simply an effort to boost book sales. Not only did she vehemently insist that there were no “others,” she certainly never addressed the issue with the weepy resignation portrayed in Selma. She argued that the image of Martin as an unfaithful husband was part of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s ongoing campaign to nullify his influence by destroying his marriage — and his life.

Coretta said she did receive a tape recording at her home in January 1965, a package she later learned was sent by the FBI. As portrayed in the movie, it is widely reported that the tape contained sexual sounds that were meant to incriminate Martin. But Coretta disputes that history. “When I listened to the tape, it had nothing to do with my husband having sex. It was a loud social function with people telling dirty jokes, nothing like what I have seen reported in the press,” she told me.

Despite these and other historic distortions, “Selma” has won a Golden Globe and two Oscar nominations (Best Picture and Best Original Song). Its misrepresentations might not bother those who buy the premise that moviemakers are not historians; that their mission is to entertain rather than educate, to dramatically pursue a riveting story regardless of its truth. But it is wrong for storytellers to engage in open miseducation, to fictionalize our heroes. Doing so robs real people of their historic truth, particularly when those people can no longer defend themselves. Sadly, it’s often easy to popularize a myth when it packs more drama than the truth, and the more often an untruth is told, the harder it is to counter it.

To be fair, Ava DuVernay, “Selma’s” talented African-American director, has invited her critics to “investigate major historical moments themselves.” Unfortunately only a very few have the resources to do this and are gifted enough to bring those events to worldwide audiences. This is why it is so incumbent on the anointed storytellers, those who do have that power, to reflect history accurately. The most dramatic and popularized storylines often are not the truth.

How ‘Sniper,’ ‘Imitation Game’ and ‘Selma’ Made a Difference Beyond Oscar Race
Tim Gray
February 20, 2015
Awards Editor

There’s no denying that Hollywood’s awards derby is brutally cutthroat. Every studio, publicist, filmmaker and star that has skin in the game is guilty of shameless campaigning. But on the eve of the movie industry’s biggest race of all — this weekend’s Oscars — it’s worth taking a uncynical look at the backers of some of the year’s most important movies.

“American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game” and “Selma” have each been repeatedly beaten up in the media for allegedly taking liberties with real-life facts. But they have also significantly raised public awareness about PTSD, Alan Turing and civil rights, respectively.

And that is likely what initially motivated the folks who made those films to get involved with those projects in the first place, rather than eventual statuettes.

Much of the debate over Warner Bros.’ “Sniper” has centered on U.S. involvement in Iraq and on the character of Chris Kyle, but there has been less attention to veterans’ other battle — transitioning to life back home.

Robert McDonald, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, told the filmmakers, “You guys and your movie have advanced the conversation about veterans more in the past two weeks than we’ve done in the last 10 years. That’s the great thing about art — it helps us have this conversation.”

Non-profit advocacy groups including IAVA and Team Rubicon were invited on TV talkshows to discuss topics like the Clay Hunt bill, named for an Iraq veteran who killed himself in 2011. The bill, which aims to streamline the process for vets entering the VA hospital system, had been vetoed in November. But President Obama signed it on Feb. 12, with bipartisan support.

“Sniper” screenwriter Jason Hall told Variety, “A lot of today’s soldiers come from a particular socio-economic group, so fewer people know soldiers first-hand. Their problems have been lost on us, and lost on a lot of politicians. Hopefully this discussion will continue. What matters is the lasting effect.”

“The Imitation Game” has been denounced for being “not gay enough.” And there were charges of exploitation when the Weinstein Co., star Benedict Cumberbatch and the filmmakers worked to exonerate all the individuals arrested for the U.K. “crime” of homosexuality. The film was also accused of being “Oscar bait,” a movie created just to win awards.

That’s simply not true. The movie began life without a U.S. distribution deal, so Teddy Schwarzman and his Black Bear company financed it independently. The filmmakers, and Harvey Weinstein, the most aggressive campaigner in Hollywood, first and foremost wanted their movie to get made and be seen.

Schwarzman tells Variety, “Making ‘The Imitation Game’ was a great honor and responsibility for our entire team. We were motivated by nothing more than honoring an unsung hero in Alan Turing, and highlighting the tremendous injustice of his persecution. Laws may now have evolved in some countries, but there remains so much discrimination in the world, and it’s moving for us to now see this film act, in even a small way, as a catalyst for change.”

Under British law, 49,000 people were charged with “gross indecency”; 15,000 are still alive, and would like to have their names cleared before they die. So far, more than 456,000 people have signed a petition to pardon them, and the leaders of that movement are happy for the attention the film has brought.

Schwarzman is pleased about the box office and awards but concludes, “The real reward is the attention it has drawn to an incredible man, whose legacy, due to the effort of many, is finally being recognized.”

Like the other two films, “Selma” spotlights a real person. Though Martin Luther King Jr. is better known than Kyle or Turing, many young people are being exposed to his important cause for the first time thanks to the film.

One criticism of “Selma” centers on the depiction of LBJ, with the negativity fueled by awards rivals and journalists. But Shakespeare certainly took liberties with historical facts, and so has every fact-based film since the “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) at the first Academy Awards. And, bottom line, LBJ comes off very sympathetic. While many pundits lamented the film’s Oscar “snubs,” director Ava DuVernay has frequently pointed out that only eight films of 2014 were nominated for best picture, and “Selma” is one of them.

But more important is what the film accomplishes in showing events to audiences who were hazy on or ignorant of the events being depicted.

Some were cynical when Paramount and the filmmakers marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in January over Martin Luther King weekend and offered a free screening of the picture to the citizens of Selma. The screening proved so popular that African-American business leaders created a fund allowing 320,000 students in 34 cities to see the film for free.

It’s ironic that journalists lament Hollywood’s blockbuster mentality, yet are equally quick to find fault with films that are personal and intimate. It’s also interesting that the heaviest criticism this year was aimed at films intended to make a positive change. In 1985, the Jane Wagner-Lily Tomlin play “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” included the prescient line “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

When dealing with showbiz, skepticism is certainly understandable and necessary. But so is a little perspective. And while much of showbiz is absurd, it’s good to remember that some of the movies of 2014 have accomplished things that no legislator could.

Voir également:

Oscars 2015 : une cérémonie très politique
Constance Jamet
Le Figaro
23/02/2015

Discrimination raciale, immigration, sexisme… Les lauréats des 87e Academy Awards ont prononcé des discours militants très forts qui ont électrisé l’assistance et les cinéphiles. Voici les déclarations chocs à retenir.

C’est généralement la partie la plus ennuyeuse des cérémonies de remise de prix, mais cette année les discours de remerciement ont presque volé la vedette au palmarès. Les lauréats des 87e Oscars se sont succédé sur scène avec des déclarations chocs qui ont électrisé le parterre et les réseaux sociaux.

• Patricia Arquette sur les inégalités entre hommes et femmes

Lauréate de l’oscar de la meilleure actrice dans un second rôle pour Boyhood, Patricia Arquette a déclaré: «À toutes les femmes qui ont enfanté, à tous les contribuables et à tous les citoyens de ce pays, nous nous battons pour l’égalité des droits. Il est temps pour nous les femmes, d’obtenir l’égalité salariale et l’égalité des droits aux États-Unis.»

Une déclaration saluée par Meryl Streep qui a brandi le poing.

Les disparités salariales sont aussi vraies dans le monde du cinéma, comme l’a révélé l’attaque informatique contre les studios Sony Pictures l’année dernière.

En salle de presse, l’actrice oscarisée de Boyhood a ajouté: «Plus une actrice vieillit, moins elle est payée.» Et d’insister: «On appelle les pays étrangers à instaurer la parité mais on est incapable de l’établir aux États-Unis. C’est inexcusable.» «Il est temps que toutes les Américaines, que tous les Américains qui aiment les femmes, que tous les gays, que tous les citoyens de couleur pour lesquels nous nous sommes battus se battent pour nous».

• John Legend et Common sur le racisme et la liberté d’expression

Les interprètes de Glory, la chanson de Selma, ont prononcé le discours le plus applaudi de la soirée. Ils ont fait pleurer aussi bien Chris Pine que David Oyelowo qui campe Martin Luther King dans Selma.

«Nous avons chanté à Selma, sur le pont où a marché Martin Luther King. Jadis, ce pont était un symbole d’un pays divisé, maintenant il représente le changement. Ce pont transcende les races, les religions, les orientations sexuelles. Il relie ce gamin de Chicago qui rêve d’une meilleure vie à ceux en France qui se battent pour la liberté d’expression, en passant par ceux qui manifestent à Hongkong pour la démocratie», a déclaré Common.

Son comparse John Legend a été encore plus explicite et a fait allusion aux bavures policières dont ont été victimes plusieurs Afro-américains: «Le Voting rights act pour lequel se sont battus les gens à Selma, il y a 50 ans, est en train d’être violé dans ce pays. La lutte pour la liberté et la justice est encore une réalité. Il y a plus d’hommes noirs derrière les barreaux aujourd’hui qu’il n’y en avait en esclavage en 1850». «Nous sommes avec vous et nous continuons de marcher».

Leurs allocutions sont d’autant plus notables que les Oscars ont été au cœur de la polémique pour avoir dévoilé une liste de nominations manquant de diversité. Aucun acteur afro-américain n’a été retenu cette année. De même Selma ne concourait que dans deux catégories.

• L’ode d’Alejandro Inarritu au Mexique

Alejandro Inarritu, le réalisateur acclamé deBirdman, a dédié ses statuettes à son pays natal, empêtré dans la corruption et la violence: «J’espère que nous aurons le gouvernement que nous méritons.»

Il a aussi eu une pensée pour les Mexicains installés aux États-Unis, alors que démocrates et républicains se déchirent sur la régularisation des sans-papiers pour la plus plupart d’origine latinos: «J’espère qu’ils seront traités avec le même respect que les immigrants qui sont venus dans ce pays au fil des siècles et qu’ils auront également la possibilité de participer à cette magnifique nation qui s’est bâtie sur l’immigration.»

Ses déclarations ont enchanté les internautes:

• L’équipe de Citizenfour sur les lanceurs d’alerte

«Les révélations d’Edward Snowden montrent non seulement que notre vie privée est menacée mais aussi que la démocratie est en péril. Merci à Edward Snowden et à tous les lanceurs d’alerte», a expliqué la documentariste Laura Pointras, qui est montée sur scène avec la fiancée de l’ex-analyste de la NSA.

• L’appel à la différence de Graham Moore

«Restez bizarres», a plaidé le scénariste de The Imitation Game, le biopic sur Alan Turing, mathématicien génial et homosexuel persécuté. «J’ai tenté de me suicider à 16 ans car je ne me sentais pas à ma place et me voici maintenant», a-t-il dit. «Je voudrais prendre ce moment pour les jeunes qui pensent qu’ils ne sont pas à leur place. Vous l’êtes. Restez différents, et puis quand ce sera à votre tour d’être sur cette scène, s’il vous plaît passez le message.»

Voir encore:

Faith films largely absent from list of Oscar nominees
Mark Kellner
Deseret news
January 16, 2014

No one should confuse the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award nominations with a popularity contest, which means faith-friendly films are often left out of the picture.

That was the apparent consequence in the nominees for the 2015 Oscars Thursday. With one exception, movies that told stories of faith, though big at the box office last year, failed to tickle the fancy of those making the nominations.

Only « Selma, » which vividly portrays the roles of the late Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., African-American parishioners and white church leaders in the mid-1960s struggle for voting rights, secured a Best Picture nomination, though none of its cast were nominated for Academy Awards. The film’s song « Glory » was nominated for Best Original Song.

Even though « Noah, » the controversial retelling of the flood described in the Old Testament book of Genesis, has U.S. ticket sales of $101 million, the quasi-biblical epic didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination.

The Academy can select 10 films for the Best Picture nominations, but only eight were picked this year, with no explanation given for the shortfall.

Oscar nominees or not, big and independent studios have taken a liking to faith-based films because they are popular and profitable. Last year Hollywood spent hundreds of millions of dollars producing and promoting faith-friendly films, as the Deseret News reported a year ago.

Other religion-related movies that got no Oscar attention included « Exodus: Gods And Kings, » director Ridley Scott’s angst-ridden account of the Hebrew liberation from centuries of slavery; « God’s Not Dead, » a set piece tale about an atheist college professor’s conversion to faith; and « Son of God, » which sprang from the Mark Burnett and Roma Downey 2013 miniseries, « The Bible. »

Although the films had mixed critical success, each pulled in between $59 million (« Son of God ») and $64 million (« Exodus ») at the box office. Also missing in Oscar contention was « Heaven is for Real, » another 2014 faith-themed movie about a young boy’s visions of heaven that netted over $91 million in domestic ticket sales.

« Unbroken, » the inspiring story of Louis Zamperini, the U.S.-born Olympic athlete who survived years of World War II imprisonment by Imperial Japanese forces, had elements of faith and was largely turned aside by the Academy nominators. Director Angelina Jolie was not nominated — all the director nominees this year are men — but the film grabbed minor category nominations for Best Sound Effects and Best Sound Mixing.

Zamperini, 97, died July 2, 2014, according to the Los Angeles Times, a few months before the movie premiered.

The film was criticized by some for downplaying Zamperini’s Christian conversion at a Billy Graham crusade, but others saw a faith theme in the film, Religion News Service reported.

Although Zamperini, according to Jolie, was happy with the presentation of his story in the film, he earlier told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association his 1949 Los Angeles religious encounter saved his life and changed his future.

« This Billy Graham thing is a phenomenal miracle the way it started, » Zamperini said. « The way it spread out. I’m one guy that got saved, and I’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands and had my testimony in papers where millions read it. One person! Think of the spider-web effect all over the world. »

Movie vs. Reality: The Real Story of the von Trapp Family
Joan Gearin
Prologue
Winter 2005

I first saw the movie The Sound of Music as a young child, probably in the late 1960s. I liked the singing, and Maria was so pretty and kind! As I grew older, more aware of world history, and saturated by viewing the movie at least once yearly, I was struck and annoyed by the somewhat sanitized story of the von Trapp family it told, as well as the bad 1960s hairdos and costumes. « It’s not historically accurate! » I’d protest, a small archivist in the making. In the early 1970s I saw Maria von Trapp herself on Dinah Shore’s television show, and boy, was she not like the Julie Andrews version of Maria! She didn’t look like Julie, and she came across as a true force of nature. In thinking about the fictionalized movie version of Maria von Trapp as compared to this very real Maria von Trapp, I came to realize that the story of the von Trapp family was probably something closer to human, and therefore much more interesting, than the movie led me to believe.

Part of the story of the real von Trapp family can be found in the records of the National Archives. When they fled the Nazi regime in Austria, the von Trapps traveled to America. Their entry into the United States and their subsequent applications for citizenship are documented in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Fact from Fiction

While The Sound of Music was generally based on the first section of Maria’s book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (published in 1949), there were many alterations and omissions.

Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926 as a tutor for one of the children, Maria, who was recovering from scarlet fever, not as governess to all the children.

Maria and Georg married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria.

Maria did not marry Georg von Trapp because she was in love with him. As she said in her autobiography Maria, she fell in love with the children at first sight, not their father. When he asked her to marry him, she was not sure if she should abandon her religious calling but was advised by the nuns to do God’s will and marry Georg. « I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children.  . . . [B]y and by I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after. »

There were 10, not 7 von Trapp children.

The names, ages, and sexes of the children were changed.

The family was musically inclined before Maria arrived, but she did teach them to sing madrigals.

Georg, far from being the detached, cold-blooded patriarch of the family who disapproved of music, as portrayed in the first half of The Sound of Music, was actually a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family. While this change in his character might have made for a better story in emphasizing Maria’s healing effect on the von Trapps, it distressed his family greatly.

The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. As daughter Maria said in a 2003 interview printed in Opera News, « We did tell people that we were going to America to sing. And we did not climb over mountains with all our heavy suitcases and instruments. We left by train, pretending nothing. »

The von Trapps traveled to Italy, not Switzerland. Georg was born in Zadar (now in Croatia), which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Zadar became part of Italy in 1920, and Georg was thus an Italian citizen, and his wife and children as well. The family had a contract with an American booking agent when they left Austria. They contacted the agent from Italy and requested fare to America.

Instead of the fictional Max Detweiler, pushy music promoter, the von Trapps’ priest, the Reverend Franz Wasner, acted as their musical director for over 20 years.

Though she was a caring and loving person, Maria wasn’t always as sweet as the fictional Maria. She tended to erupt in angry outbursts consisting of yelling, throwing things, and slamming doors. Her feelings would immediately be relieved and good humor restored, while other family members, particularly her husband, found it less easy to recover. In her 2003 interview, the younger Maria confirmed that her stepmother « had a terrible temper. . . . And from one moment to the next, you didn’t know what hit her. We were not used to this. But we took it like a thunderstorm that would pass, because the next minute she could be very nice. »

The Real von Trapps

Georg von Trapp, born in 1880, became a national hero as a captain in the Austrian navy during World War I. He commanded submarines with valor and received the title of « Ritter » (the equivalent of the British baronet or « Sir, » but commonly translated as « Baron ») as a reward for his heroic accomplishments. Georg married Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, the inventor of the torpedo, in 1912. They had seven children together: Rupert, 1911–1992; Agathe, 1913– ; Maria, 1914– ; Werner, 1915– ; Hedwig, 1917–1972; Johanna, 1919–1994; and Martina, 1921–1952. After World War I, Austria lost all of its seaports, and Georg retired from the navy. His wife died in 1922 of scarlet fever. The family was devastated by her death and unable to bear living in a place where they had been so happy, Georg sold his property in Pola (now Pula, Croatia) and bought an estate in Salzburg.

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. She was orphaned as a young child and was raised as an atheist and socialist by an abusive relative. While attending the State Teachers’ College of Progressive Education in Vienna, she accidentally attended a Palm Sunday service, believing it to be a concert of Bach music, where a priest was speaking. Years later she recalled in her autobiography Maria, « Now I had heard from my uncle that all of these Bible stories were inventions and old legends, and that there wasn’t a word of truth in them. But the way this man talked just swept me off my feet. I was completely overwhelmed. » Soon after, Maria graduated from college, and as a result of her religious awakening, she entered the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg as a novice. While she struggled with the unaccustomed rules and discipline, she considered that « These . . . two years were really necessary to get my twisted character and my overgrown self-will cut down to size. »

However, her health suffered from not getting the exercise and fresh air to which she was accustomed. When Georg von Trapp approached the Reverend Mother of the Abbey seeking a teacher for his sick daughter, Maria was chosen, partly because of her training and skill as a teacher, but also because of concern for her health. She was supposed to remain with the von Trapps for 10 months, at the end of which she would formally enter the convent.

Maria tutored young Maria and developed a caring and loving relationship with all the children. She enjoyed singing with them and getting them involved in outdoor activities. During this time, Georg fell in love with Maria and asked her to stay with him and become a second mother to his children. Of his proposal, Maria said, « God must have made him word it that way because if he had only asked me to marry him I might not have said yes. » Maria Kutschera and Georg von Trapp married in 1927. They had three children together: Rosmarie, 1928– ; Eleonore, 1931– ; and Johannes, 1939–.

The family lost most of its wealth through the worldwide depression when their bank failed in the early 1930s. Maria tightened belts all around by dismissing most of the servants and taking in boarders. It was around this time that they began considering making the family hobby of singing into a profession. Georg was reluctant for the family to perform in public, « but accepted it as God’s will that they sing for others, » daughter Eleonore said in a 1978 Washington Post interview. « It almost hurt him to have his family onstage, not from a snobbish view, but more from a protective one. » As depicted in The Sound of Music, the family won first place in the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936 and became successful, singing Renaissance and Baroque music, madrigals, and folk songs all across Europe.

When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, the von Trapps realized that they were on thin ice with a regime they abhorred. Georg not only refused to fly the Nazi flag on their house, but he also declined a naval command and a request to sing at Hitler’s birthday party. They were also becoming aware of the Nazis’ anti-religious propaganda and policies, the pervasive fear that those around them could be acting as spies for the Nazis, and the brainwashing of children against their parents. They weighed staying in Austria and taking advantage of the enticements the Nazis were offering—greater fame as a singing group, a medical doctor’s position for Rupert, and a renewed naval career for Georg—against leaving behind everything they knew—their friends, family, estate, and all their possessions. They decided that they could not compromise their principles and left.

Traveling with their musical conductor, Rev. Franz Wasner, and secretary, Martha Zochbauer, they went by train to Italy in June, later to London, and by September were on a ship to New York to begin a concert tour in Pennsylvania. Son Johannes was born in January 1939 in Philadelphia.

When their six months visitors’ visas expired, they went on a short Scandinavian tour and returned to New York in October 1939. They were held at Ellis Island for investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, apparently because when asked by an official how long they intended to stay, instead of saying « six months, » as specified on their visas, Maria exclaimed, « Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again! » The Story of the Trapp Family Singers notes that they were released after a few days and began their next tour.

In the early 1940s the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, where they bought a farm. They ran a music camp on the property when they were not on tour. In 1944, Maria and her stepdaughters Johanna, Martina, Maria, Hedwig, and Agathe applied for U.S. citizenship by filing declarations of intention at the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont. Georg apparently never filed to become a citizen; Rupert and Werner were naturalized while serving in the U.S. armed forces during World War II; Rosmarie and Eleonore derived citizenship from their mother; and Johannes was born in the United States and was a citizen in his own right.

Georg died in 1947 and was buried in the family cemetery on the property. Those who had applied for citizenship achieved it in 1948. The Trapp Family Lodge (which is still operating today) opened to guests in 1950. While fame and success continued for the Trapp Family Singers, they decided to stop touring in 1955. The group consisted mostly of non-family members because many of the von Trapps wanted to pursue other endeavors, and only Maria’s iron will had kept the group together for so long.

In 1956, Maria, Johannes, Rosmarie, and daughter Maria went to New Guinea to do missionary work. Later, Maria ran the Trapp Family Lodge for many years. Of the children, Rupert was a medical doctor; Agathe was kindergarten teacher in Maryland; Maria was a missionary in New Guinea for 30 years; Werner was a farmer; Hedwig taught music; Johanna married and eventually returned to live in Austria; Martina married and died in childbirth; Rosmarie and Eleonore both settled in Vermont; and Johannes managed the Trapp Family Lodge. Maria died in 1987 and was buried alongside Georg and Martina.

The von Trapps and The Sound of Music

The von Trapps never saw much of the huge profits The Sound of Music made. Maria sold the film rights to German producers and inadvertently signed away her rights in the process. The resulting films, Die Trapp-Familie (1956), and a sequel, Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958), were quite successful. The American rights were bought from the German producers. The family had very little input in either the play or the movie The Sound of Music. As a courtesy, the producers of the play listened to some of Maria’s suggestions, but no substantive contributions were accepted.

How did the von Trapps feel about The Sound of Music? While Maria was grateful that there wasn’t any extreme revision of the story she wrote in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, and that she herself was represented fairly accurately (although Mary Martin and Julie Andrews « were too gentle-like girls out of Bryn Mawr, » she told the Washington Post in 1978), she wasn’t pleased with the portrayal of her husband. The children’s reactions were variations on a theme: irritation about being represented as people who only sang lightweight music, the simplification of the story, and the alterations to Georg von Trapp’s personality. As Johannes von Trapp said in a 1998 New York Times interview, « it’s not what my family was about. . . . [We were] about good taste, culture, all these wonderful upper-class standards that people make fun of in movies like ‘Titanic.’ We’re about environmental sensitivity, artistic sensitivity. ‘Sound of Music’ simplifies everything. I think perhaps reality is at the same time less glamorous but more interesting than the myth. »

* * *
Examining the historical record is helpful in separating fact from fiction, particularly in a case like the von Trapp family and The Sound of Music. In researching this article, I read Maria von Trapp’s books, contemporary newspaper articles, and original documents, all of which clarified the difference between the von Trapps’ real experiences and fictionalized accounts. My impression of Maria from Dinah Shore’s show was the tip of a tantalizing iceberg: the real lives of real people are always more interesting than stories.

While the von Trapps’ story is one of the better known immigrant experiences documented in the records of the National Archives and Records Administration, the family experiences of many Americans may also be found in census, naturalization, court, and other records.

Note on Sources

The National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region–Boston in Waltham, Massachusetts, holds the original records of the von Trapps’ naturalizations as U.S. citizens. Declarations of intention, petitions for naturalization, and certificates of arrival are in Petitions and Records of Naturalization, U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group (RG) 21. The passenger arrival list of the SS Bergensfjord and the Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry are in Passengers and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897–1957 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T715), Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85, and are held in many National Archives locations.

Readers looking for a first-hand account of the family’s story should consult Maria von Trapp’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1949) and her autobiography Maria (Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1972).

Interviews consulted for this article appeared in The Washington Post (Jennifer Small, « Apparently, Julie Andrews was too tame to do her justice »), February 26, 1978, p. A1; The New York Times (Alex Witchel, « As ‘The Sound of Music’ returns to Broadway, the von Trapps recall real lives »), February 1, 1998, p. AR9; and Opera News 67 (May 2003): 44.

Joan Gearin, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region–Boston. She holds a B.A. in International Relations and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts.
Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.

Julie Andrews, the operatic sensation that never was
Tim Wong
The Telegraph
May 26th, 2014

You might not know this – though I’m sure diehard fans will – but Dame Julie Andrews started out in opera. In fact she was once billed as « Britain’s Youngest Prima Donna ».

She had the voice of a light, bright coloratura soprano with extraordinary range (four octaves) and incredible flexibility. It’s a voice that doesn’t quite sound like Julie Andrews as we know her.

Here’s a young Julie singing Adolphe Adam’s « Ah vous dirais – je maman » from his opera Le toréador (a.k.a Twinkle, twinkle, little star, but based on a set of themes and variations originally written by Mozart) and Gounod’s « Je veux vivre » from Romeo et Juliette. You’ll be astonished by the precision of her singing (what she calls her « freak voice »):

As a child she was sent to a throat specialist and the doctor declared that she had an almost adult larynx. Shortly afterwards she was taken by her mother Barbara and stepfather Ted Andrews (both famous vaudeville performers of their time) to see a voice teacher, Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen. « Madame », as she was called, told Julie’s parents that her singing was « just lovely », but would they take her back until she’s 12 so she can have a longer childhood?

In any case her voice developed unexpectedly quickly. By nine years old it was obvious that taking proper voice lessons was the thing to do, and Madame agreed to take her on.

Julie Andrews said that Madame was a bad accompanist (as opposed to her own mother who could make the piano sound like a full orchestra). Madame wore rings for something to look at whilst she played and her music making was only « suggested » – a kind of impressionistic sketchy accompaniment where Julie had to fill in the missing bits in her head.

« Madame hoped very much that I would go into opera, but I always sensed that it was too big a stretch for me, » wrote Dame Julie in Home, her autobiography. « My voice was extremely high and thin, and though clean and clear, it never had the necessary guts and weight for opera. » Her teacher genuinely believed that Julie was the reincarnation of Adelina Patti (Madame was a serious spiritualist). However, Julie’s gut feeling was that she never found the « special place » in opera where she was comfortable.

When she was 12 she was contracted for one year in a revue show in London called Starlight Roof staged at the London Hippodrome. Starlight Roof was a series of theatrical acts strung together, and Julie was one of them. She sang the Polonaise « Je suis Titania » from Ambrose Thomas’s opera Mignon, which finished with a high F above top C.

Madame and Julie worked together for the next 15 years or so. Even at this age she seemed to exude everything bright and sunny. She confessed that she could not sing songs in the minor key or deal with Dvořák’s « Songs My Mother Taught Me » or « O Mio Babbino Caro » from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. They were too upsetting for her to attempt and the voice « would be gone in a mess of emotion ». On this account it seems to rule out a future career in opera.

Perhaps singing happy songs was her way of blocking out an unhappy childhood. Her family was poor and she had to work very hard to get where she wanted. Her stepfather tried sexually molesting her (unsuccessfully) when she was nine. Then at 14 she discovered that the man she believed to be her birth father was not her father at all. It was a very difficult childhood.

We know from Home that Julie Andrews also performed « Sempre Libera » from La traviata for a radio broadcast (probably now lost) where she embarrassingly finished half a tone sharp. For a BBC radio show called Educating Archie she also performed « Caro nome » from Rigoletto and the Shadow Song from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Dinorah. Archie was a ventriloquist’s doll and he was « educated » by various tutors including Tony Hancock, Harry Seacombe and Benny Hill over the years. Julie Andrews played Archie’s girlfriend.

Julie Andrews with Archie

Around this time towards her late teens she began gradually to lose the top notes of her voice. Her middle register matured into the warm golden tone that we’re familiar with. She was still performing coloratura arias in public and hitting the top notes now became a trial. « They were very mixed bags with these shows, » commented Tony Walton, Julie Andrew’s childhood sweetheart and first husband (who is also an Academy Award-winning set designer). « Sometimes they were accidentally wonderful, and sometimes they were almost heart-breaking. »

In December 1953 Julie Andrews starred in a London Palladium production of a pantomime, Cinderella. The director of a then very successful musical called The Boy Friend went to check out Julie upon the suggestion of her Educating Archie colleague Hattie Jacques. The director was impressed and Julie was offered a contract to star in The Boy Friend in New York. She made her Broadway debut the day before she turned 19 and never looked back.

Julie Andrews at the recording of The Boy Friend

In February 1973 Julie made a return to opera, on The Julie Andrews Hour. She sang an English version of « Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix » from Saint-Saens’s Samson and Delilah with Sergio Franchi. By then she was singing with her Broadway voice:

Dame Julie is back in the public eye again as she tours the UK with Aled Jones. From the programme description it’s understood that she probably won’t sing (she sadly lost her voice in a botched routine operation in 1997). But how nice to see her back in her home country, following the footsteps of another British-born Hollywood superstar Angela Lansbury.

One of the composers Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen rated very highly was Handel. Here’s Julie Andrews singing « Where’er You Walk » from the oratorio Semele with her crystal clear voice and full of charm. This track is from her 1958 album « The Lass With the Delicate Air ».

I wonder if she’d have made it as an opera star if she had persevered. Although she was quite a special child prodigy and sang every note correctly, there never really was a feeling of true communication. Compare her Polonaise with, say, June Anderson’s version and you’ll know what I mean. You might say it’s unfair to put a teenager’s attempt alongside a seasoned pro, but If you listen to Julie Andrew’s original Broadway album of The Boy Friend, made in her teens, you know she found her true calling. She was a fully formed musical performer with all the right instincts. And they took her out of opera.

An Evening with Julie Andrews will be in Liverpool Echo Area on 27th May and finish at the Eventim Apollo in London on 31st.

Julie Andrews’s autobiography Home: A Memoir of My Early Years is available as Kindle edition priced £5.99

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Before Into The Woods Was A Disney Movie, It Was An AIDS Parable

Ester Bloom

January 2, 2015,

Schools throughout the country have made the musical “Into the Woods,” now a Disney movie, a perennial favorite—to the point that, according to NPR, “it’s currently the 3rd most popular high school show in the country.” They usually perform a “junior version,” though, one that that features Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and other fairy tale favorites, and ends at intermission to avoid the potentially controversial sex and death. Yet sex and death are at the heart of the show, not merely its second act, for a reason: Stephen Sondheim, a gay man working in theater in New York City, created the show in the eighties at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The show explores the consequences of going after, and getting, what one wants. I wondered how Disney would handle its more sophisticated elements, the losses and the betrayals. Would the family-friendly studio present the junior version, heavy on the fairy tales and light on the consequences, or would it give its audiences the grim—not to say Grimm—version Sondheim intended?

After all, long before Disney turned them into ways to sell toys, fairy tales were cautionary tales, often told by older women to younger ones to teach them about the dangers of the world. The original Grimm Brothers versions are violent, even cruel, for a reason: They are intended to instruct in a visceral way, through fear. In “Into the Woods,” Sondheim was merely matching his material to his times.

In the show’s first half, we meet our heroes—Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalk fame), two princes, a witch, and a baker and his wife—all of whom have a wish, and a reason to journey into the unknown to get it. The characters are plucky, independent, and appealing; although they commit various sins in order to reach personal fulfillment, we root for them and want them to succeed. And they do. They get laid, get married, get pregnant, get rich. Yet, after the curtain rises on Act Two, they (and we) learn that unintended consequences descend even on those who don’t deserve them.

The princes who secured the women of their dreams—Cinderella and Rapunzel, respectively—discover that marriage does not curtail the desire for more. The witch who got her youth and beauty back discover that they came at the expense of her powers. And the wife of the giant Jack killed returns, bellowing for blood. By the show’s end, the community has been worse than decimated. Almost no one remains, and those who do must band together, seeking strength from each other, to survive and gain the courage necessary to raise the next generation.

Some critics object to the dark turn “Into the Woods” takes after intermission. Frank Rich, reviewing the show when it originally debuted for the New York Times, called it “painful, existential” and, though promising and in parts brilliant, ultimately “disappointing.”

In Act II, everyone is jolted into the woods again—this time not to cope with the pubescent traumas symbolized by beanstalks and carnivorous wolves but with such adult catastrophes as unrequited passion, moral cowardice, smashed marriages and the deaths of loved ones.

Some institutions describe the show in straightforward terms as being “originally written in 1987 in response to the AIDS crisis.” Other critics, like Slate’s Dana Stevens, merely suggest that it reads “to many audience members as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis.” Sondheim himself has demurred, parrying the question: “We never meant this to be specific. The trouble with fables is everyone looks for symbolism.”

True—and a person as smart as Sondheim knows that fables are intentionally symbolic. If Cinderella were merely one girl, what relevance would her story have over centuries? But Sondheim has also been famously cagey about his personal life. As the New Yorker put it, “Sondheim has never wrestled explicitly with his sexuality or his upbringing. He avoided writing openly gay characters for most of his career.” He specializes instead in metaphor and symbolism: his stab at romantic memoir is “Company,” not “Angels in America,” and his meditation on life as a tortured, solitary artist is “Sunday in the Park with George,” not “Rent.”

The parallels between “Into the Woods” and the wreckage of the gay community seem heartbreakingly clear; in some ways, the wreckage is even starker than in the explicitly AIDS-focused “Rent,” Jonathan Larsen’s 1994 rock opera about bohemians living with HIV in the East Village. “Wake up,” snaps the Witch during Act Two of “Into the Woods.” “People are dying all around us.” Mothers lose children; children lose mothers. No romantic relationship remains intact. Those characters left alive at the end of the show are stunned, disbelieving, even traumatized by survivors’ guilt, since they are no more deserving of life than those who are gone.

For all the in-your-faceness of “Rent”—later mocked with spite but also some accuracy in Team America World Police in the faux Broadway number “Everyone Has AIDS!”—“Into the Woods” is more honest about the devastating effects of the epidemic. Larson lets only one character die, allowing the rest of the ensemble their happily-ever-after. Sondheim’s characters from “Into the Woods,” by contrast, are shell-shocked by the end of Act Two and, instead of pursuing their pleasures separately, come together, out to form what would later be called an intentional or “chosen family.”

You would be forgiven, however, for not seeing these parallels in the Disney version. Although the film is satisfying as a comedy, it falls apart as a tragedy, rushing through certain deaths and betrayals and negating others entirely. The Witch’s line, “People are dying all around us,” has been cut. A famous adultery sequence is reduced to a make-out session. In consequence, even during the show’s most moving song, “No One Is Alone,” there wasn’t a wet eye in the house.

America in 2014 is a different place in regards to the AIDS crisis than it was in 1987. HIV is no longer a death sentence, at least not for those privileged and affluent enough to have access to drugs; it is now considered a chronic disease. Nor is the subject taboo. If directors want to stage a show directly about the epidemic, they can revive “The Normal Heart” (as HBO did this year) or commission something new. Perhaps Disney felt that it was no longer necessary to approach the subject obliquely. Or perhaps Disney went saccharine in its attempt to satisfy, rather than challenge, as broad an audience as possible.

Either way, the original “Into the Woods” captured the terror of that cultural moment—where people were indeed dying all around us—as well as any piece of pop culture. In bowdlerizing it, Disney cuts the show off from its history, and us from our own.

Un commentaire pour Oscars/2015: Tout le monde a droit à sa propre opinion mais pas à ses propres faits (No history oscar for Hollywood)

  1. […] Photoshop … Et en ces temps de familles recomposées et de mariages  pour tous … Où Hollywood continue sa propre réécriture de l’histoire … Confirmation, avec le New Yortk Times […]

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