Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Movies vs History 3: The Quickening

Alternative title - Mel Gibson would stamp on an English baby until it was nothing more than paste

Gallipoli is one of the few modern war movies (that is, critical and with themes, not the old ones where everyone had a moustache and the germans would wander in speaking english with a german accent and start shooting puppies) that depicts WW1. Plus one of Australia's better movies, up there with those other movies they made... mad max and... err.... crocodile dundee.

Its about the young idealistic Archy (who joined to do his bit and for the adventure, the stereotype of the time) and the more morally amibigous Frank (who joins for money and to follow his mates, a more identifiable motivation these days) and hes the one played by Mel Gibson. In case you were wonderering who you are meant to hate. That anti-English bastard.

I'm not exactly sure, but it was the German's fault.

-Archy on what caused the war.

Anyway, the first third of the movie is the decision to join. This is actually really well done, it examines the multitude of reasons to join, the sense of nobility and duty (perhaps removed from the realities of war, the definitive notion of war as an awful thing came from this war after all) through Archy, with the more grimly realistic Frank and his more practical reasoning. There is a nice little scene of them discussing the terrible things the "hun" are doing, a nice little piece of propaganda just fitting into normal discussion undoubted.

So far, so good.

Then we get to them training and early stationing. You see the boredom of trench warfare, how you spent most of your time eating crappy rations and waiting. All historically accurate'ish so far, good good. Trench warfare was pretty horrible, but in countries that are ungodly hot and without much in the way of civilisation, especially so. Lots of dysentry, food poisoning and generally gross stuff. And trench foot, dude, dont ever google image search Trench Foot. (Do it, I dare you.)

Then we get to the titular battle, for the Australian forces anyway. You see the true horrors of war, the idea of certain death being something you just had to deal with. Truly shocking. But the problem is, it tries to encapsulate every problem with WW1 into one battle... The notion of lions being led by donkeys, as the phrasing goes. You see the chain of command being totally incompetent, the British commanding officer misunderstands whats going on and needlessly wastes the lives of his troops. You see the British officers sipping tea as the noble Australians die for a distraction of their attack, which ultimately fails anyway. What a needless waste of life and how horrible these noble Aussies die for the terrible British, eh? All over Constantinople, which isnt even a real sounding place.

Istanbul was Constantinople

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople

Been a long time gone, Constantinople

Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople

Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople

So if you've a date in Constantinople

She'll be waiting in Istanbul

-Some classic WW1 poetry

Well, as a theme for the war, thats probably not far from the truth. Lots of people died needlessly, it was a time when strategy wasnt as far ahead as weaponry, leading to the needless stalemate and massive deathrate on both sides. But in this particular battle, this makes no sense.

The villain of the movie, the guy with the distinct English accent who cares not for the death of his Australian men... he was actually Australian. Apparently the director was going for "the sort of anglo-australian accent that were common at the time" and we werent meant to think he was English, despite being the only guy with this "anglo-australian accent" IN THE WHOLE DAMN MOVIE. The Australians werent actually a diversion for English forces, they were a diversion for New Zealand forces. But obviously a bunch of Peter Jackson looking guys having tea on the beach while Aussies die didnt have the same impact.

Major Barton: What your telling me sir and correct me if I'm wrong, is that the infantry attack on Lone Pine, and our Light Horse attack on the Nek are diversions.

Col. Robinson: Oh not just diversions Major, vital important diversions. Tonight, 25,000 British troops will land here at Suvla Bay. Our attacks are to draw the Turks down on us so the British can get ashore. Sorry I didn't tell you this before, secrecy is vital.

Major Barton: But sir, the Nek is a fortress. Protected by at least five machine guns at point-blank range.

Col. Robinson: Yeah, we've considered that Barton. We're gonna hit their trenches with the heaviest barrage of the campaign just before your men go over the top.

Artillery Officer: By the time we've finished, there won't be a Turk within miles.

Col. Robinson: The Turks can keep us pinned down at ANZAC forever. This new British landing is our only hope. We must do what we can to make it succeed. Because of it does succeed, we'll have Constantinople with a week, and knock Turkey out of the war.

- This is nonsense.

The film shows a (fictional) general trying to call the attack off. This didnt happen, the attack petered out when big chunks of the line charged without orders messing up the whole tactics of the battle.

And what actually went wrong at the battle, was it really an English orchestrated blood bath of the Aussies?

Well, in the words of Australian historian Les Carlyon

"The scale of the tragedy of the Nek was mostly the work of two Australian incompetents, Hughes and Antill."

Well, yeah. Sadly "it was the australian officers who messed up" just doesnt have the same impact as "it was the EVIL ENGLISH officers who messed up, while drinking tea and laughing, they called you a fag as well dude."

And two companies of a British regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (I think), in fact suffered very heavy losses trying to support the Australian attack at the Nek once it was realized that the offensive was in trouble. What did they get for there troubles? Not even a movie name check.

Basically, Australia are revisionist wankers.

Cool movie though, AS FAST AS A LEOPARD!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Movies vs History 2: Electric Boogaloo

Alternative Title - Seriously Mel Gibson, what the fuck is your problem with the English?

The Patriot is a big move about the war of independence. Or as it is more accurately know, British Civil War 2.

Now I am going to give this one a little leeway, because it does rename the bulk of its characters so it can use the "based on" proviso. So even though Mel Gibson's protagonist is based on a serial rapist who loved to murder Indians for fun, its ok, because they changed the name a bit so now hes a noble hero. And the English commander they railed against displayed commiting atrocities worse than ever actually occured from either side, well thats ok, because his name is Tavington in the movie, who nobody would ever connect with Tarlington.

Im instead going to point out some of the weird ways the director decided to portray the whole period and the war, and why this is slightly crazy.

American Forces

The thing is, there wasnt any Americans at this time. Everyone was British, you know that story about Paul Revere shouting out "the British are coming!" as a warning... that story isnt true, he shouted "the regulars are coming", because everyone he would have been shouting "The British are coming" too were British, everyone still considered themselves British and the sort of revolutionary ideas that would lead to America after the conflict was over just didnt exist in a widespread fashion... so they would have been confused or possibly insulted.

The movie, none the less, shows America as a sort of independent culturally seperate nation that is completely at odds with these foreign invaders. Which given the timescale and population by immigration and everything, is absurd, both sides should be British speaking and acting (some of the colonials a little different perhaps) and only Mel Gibsons accent should stand out as incongrous and odd, as is his way.

Also the English soldiers either seem to be posh English officers or working class ruffian types right out of a Dickens novel. The British army was a bit more diverse than that, chaps.

Also it seems to ignore the whole irony of a nation fighting for its freedom and basic liberty that still intends to keep murdering its native populace and enslaving Africans, but that isnt that movie worthy, I guess.

Inaccuracy Rating - 2.3/5

The Evils of The English

The British are mass murdering people, burning down churches with people in them and shooting children for kicks.The noble Americans are forced to fight them off with roughshod rebel tactics.

Well, the thing is, thats not true. I mean, a lot of American propaganda at the time (yeah, they had propaganda back then, Hitler didnt invent that shit) might have read like that, but really no side was particurley more brutal than the other. There was a lot of killing surrendering men, but this isnt exactly geneva convention days, that thing was considered "not cricket" but wouldnt always mean you got sent home or even disciplined (in the British army) and a lot of the 'revolutionary' army fought semi-independently and in some cases their only previous combat experience was mass murdering Injuns, so you can imagine what they got up too.

So, the British Army could be dicks, but so were the guys they were fighting.

"(the men showed) a vindictive asperity not easily restrained." - Tarleton on his men not showing quarter to (possibly) surrendering soldiers.

Infact, the German director, often seems to mimic nazi atrocities (the burning of the church thing is pretty much an exact reference to the massacre of Oradour in German occupied France) and portray the British doing them. I dont know if nazis is just his go-to villain characterisation, or if he had some creepy agenda going there, but really... that is a little weird, dude.

Its like Hollywood is bending the truth to make a war about one set of elites replacing another set of elites in an orchestrated war into a good vs evil struggle so people identify with it more. Why would you do that Hollywood, why?
Inaccuracy Rating - 3.7/5

The Americans are Revolting!

The movie pretty much plays into what seems to be a common historic fallacy, that Americans revolted out of some sense of liberty and justice, that the common man rose up and said no to oppression. I mean, dont get me wrong, the foundations of America led to the constitution (a landmark document in quite a few respects when it came to enhancing the common liberty of man, on paper anyway) and many future good things (pizza mostly) but it wasnt really how the war happened.

"One of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle." -- James Otis, 1761

The war happened because the rich dudes in charge in (what would be) America realised they could get rid of the rich dudes in charge back in Britain and be the only rich dudes in charge. They thought up a few reasons for this, rabble roused with a load of pamphlets blowing really minor stuff out of proportion and used their resources to make this happen.

Afterwards, the liberty stuff happened and the good stuff, but its more a murky little war that made it happen. See, America is a superpower now, and like any superpower it needs a cool origin story. Batman has the parents thing and the vision of bats, what did America have, a dispute over the rate of taxes paid on tea. They had the aquaman origin story. So they dressed it up with some cool, triumphing over evil stuff and noble intentions, and there you go, America is Batman again.

But if you are making a historical epic, that is at all accurate, the colonials shouldnt be Batman.
Inaccuracy Rating - 4.2/5

America Wins in the End!

At the end of the movie, America wins. Or the colonies. I will just call it America, that is quicker if innaccurate. Anyway, thats it, liberty triumphs.

Ok, yeah, thats right, the colonies did make fighting the war so costly it wasnt considered worth the effort. That is a technical win, like France won the hundred year war after 120 years they made it too difficult to keep occupying most of France.

But well, the movie skips over the whole massive foreign help America got. No real victory, without, among others the Spanish contribution. It does show a number of Battles the English won as American victories (which is just retarded, but whatever) but it ends on lots of shots of American stuff and you feel all independent'y and good, so thats ok.

Historical Inaccuracy - 2.1/5


Basically, if you want to watch a big budget movie about the war of revolution (you notice how the revolutionary aspect of the American backstory sort of got reworked to war of independence after the Cold War, dont deny your partially imaginary origins America! Embrace them!) I would reccomend this one.

Its made up, often inaccurate and it has Mel Gibson in it, totally ignores the massive complexities and dual nature of the whole conflict (the notions of liberty some where fighting for, versus the more realistic economic factors and so on)... but its the only one I have really seen, so my hands are tied.

"Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few." - John Adams, 1763

Also all those inaccuracy ratings are totally random. So if you were reading anything into them, I probably wouldnt.

If anyone knows a GOOD movie about this period in history, sort of examining the moral ambiguities more and the propaganda super hero element less, I would love to know, thanks.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Movies vs History

Alternative title - Why does Mel Gibson hate the English?

I thought, based on the response to the tombstone bit a little while back, I would try to introduce a short, light sort of regular bit about the historical accuracy of movies. More for interest than anything, in most cases these will be movies I actually liked but sort of enjoy the complete diversion they take from fact.

I will start with the king of just plain making stuff up movies, Braveheart. A few random examples, I think we all know the battles and dates are going to be iffy.


Fact from Braveheart - Edward the first, or Longshanks, is the sneering over the top villain of history. He kills homosexuals, makes dickish remarks and generally rocks all over the movie. This is why he is my favourite character.

"Not the archers. My scouts tell me their archers are miles away and no threat to us. Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing." - Edward I, in the movie

Historical Accuracy - Actually, yeah, he kind of was. The specifics are all made up, but he was a bit of a mean chap. He crusaded his way through his prince years (that is the years of being heir to the throne, not the years in which he was a fan of the musical artist formally known as Prince) and among his many interesting contributions to history was forcing jewish people to wear yellow badges to mark them out and expelling them entirely (while confiscating their stuff.) Two ideas another famous dick from history happened to copy. Plus his solution to "coin clipping" a common problem of the day (since coins were made of quite valuable metals back then, literally shaving bits off to make bullion) was to arrest all the heads of major jewish families, because why investigate stuff... if money is involved, it was probably the jews.

He did love fighting, took a certain joy in being the dude who conquered most of Wales and big chunks of Scotland and emalgamating them into what would become the United Kingdom.

When he died he requested his son "boil [his] body, extract the bones and carry them with the army until the Scots had been subdued." Sadly Edward II neglected to do such an awesome thing, instead just burying him, but with the glorious epitath "Hammer of the Scots".


Fact from Braveheart - Edward the second is a raging soft gay lad. He doesnt care about ruling Scotland because he is too busy being gay with dudes, so had no interest in sleeping with his hot wife.

Historical Accuracy - Yeah, probably. His father was certainly strongly concerned about his tendency towards certain "favourite" friends, history has pretty much surmised he was probably a bit gay.

He did father 4 children with his wife, though. So clearly he hit that sometimes. Plus he had at least one illegitimate child.

He was certainly a lot weaker than his feather. Robert the Bruce would make dickish remarks about his lack of military skill and the dude spent most of his time losing the bits of Scotland his dad had conquered in the first place. He didnt care for warring upon the Scottish, which is pretty gay in my book.


Fact from Braveheart - William Wallace was a good, honest scotsman. Until the EVIL English came and killed him and his woman and his puppy. He went away for an education and eventually came back and was forced to throw off the yolks of oppression for FREEEEDOOMMMMMMM!!!! Before being betrayed and executed, but he never lost his noble spirit.

Historical Accuracy - Well, he wasnt a commoner for a start. He was a minor noble. He was probably of Welsh stock, the name Wallace probably means "welsh" or "foreigner" apparently.

As for his noble war on the English... wellll maybe. You could make him out to be a guy who was involved in the war against an evil oppressor, but really it was more a war between which bunch of nobles would get to gouge the scottish people more.. local ones or ones from further south. We certainly dont have enough historical accounts to actually know Wallace's views, or enough details of the battles he took part in and what his actual importance was. A lot of what is assumed comes from poetry, which as a historical source is always at least 90% crap. Thats where the "avenged the killing of his bint" part of the movie comes from, a poem.

He is sort of the robin hood figure of Scotland (only was definitely actually real) so you would expect him to be massively built up, but the lack of evidence means you should take this as a bit of literary conceit. He was a guy who killed some English, hid from them for a while and eventually got handed back to them for execution. He could be a hero, a villain or more likely just a pretty hard dude among hard dudes in a time of conflict and politics.

If it wasnt for his dramatic evasion and capture, he wouldnt really be so well remembered. His final statement before execution as a traitor, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject", was pretty cool though.


Fact from Braveheart - William Wallace banged Edward II's missus, presumably impregnating her and giving the sly wink that maybe the next king of England would be a Wallace.

Historical Accuracy - Hahahaha. No.

He never met her. And at the time the film was set, she would be three years old.

I am not saying William Wallace didnt sleep with her, but you know, if he did... it adds a certain extra dimension to the movie.


Fact from Braveheart - Wallace didnt have a vaguely scottish accent. He sounded like a dude who had just heard about Scotland in myths or legends.

Historical Accuracy - There isnt anything that says this isnt the case. Power to you, Gibson.


Final conclusion - Well, the creators of the movie point out they didnt want exact historical accuracy, instead they deliberately based it on the poetry of Blind Harry, someone famous for helping to create the myth of William Wallace, but constantly made stuff up. He references things that categorically just didnt happen. Beyond that they made a lot of stuff up, because it made the movie more hollywood if the morality was cleaner cut, Wallace slept with someone hot (even if she was 3) and it had a more meaningful ending.

Still an awesome movie. But about as accurate as a Robin Hood flick. The decision to make England the traintrack-woman-tieing-up sort of villains sort of makes sense, though I can see why they got a little stick for making out Edward II to be a bit of a fairy. Little bit offensive that anyone thought to bang dudes has to mince around whenever he is one screen.

My favourite obtuse fact from the movie, the hilarious bit where Longshanks throws his sons gay lover out of a window...

"Gibson asserted that the reason the king killed his son’s lover was because the king was a “psycopath,”and he expressed bewilderment that some audience members would laugh at this murder" - From Wikipedia

..wasnt meant to be funny. Ah Hollywood, you will never understand us.

A spur of the moment murder of a campy guy is ALWAYS funny.

I will leave you with my second favourite quote from the movie (like all of them, from Longshanks.)

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."