WASHINGTON I saw Argo with Jerry Rafshoon, who was a top aide to President Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis, when six Americans escaped and were given sanctuary for three months by courageous Canadian diplomats.
We were watching a scene where a CIA guy cant get through to Hamilton Jordan, Carters chief of staff, to sign off on plane tickets for the escaping hostages, so he pretends to be calling from the school where Jordans kids go.
Hamilton wasnt married then and didnt have any kids, Jerry whispered, inflaming my pet peeve about filmmakers who make up facts in stories about real people to add drama, rather than just writing the real facts better. It makes viewers think that realism is just another style in art, so that no movie, no matter how realistic it looks, is believable.
Ben Affleck has admitted that his films climax, with Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers jumping in a jeep, chasing the plane down the runway, was fabricated for excitement.
This Oscar season is rife with contenders who bank on the authenticity of their films until its challenged, and then fall back on the Hey, its just a movie defense.
Zero Dark Thirty, based on firsthand accounts of actual events, has been faulted for leaving the impression that torture was instrumental in the capture of Osama. It celebrates Jessica Chastains loner character, when it could have more accurately and theatrically highlighted The Sisterhood, a team of female CIA analysts who were part of the effort.
And then theres the kerfuffle over Lincoln, which had three historical advisers but still managed to make some historical bloopers. Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that Lincoln falsely showed two of Connecticuts House members voting Nay against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery. Courtney is pushing for Spielberg to acknowledge the falsity in the DVD, a quest thats more urgent now that Spielberg has agreed to provide a DVD to every middle and high school that requests it.
Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay, told me he was outraged that Courtney was getting his 15 minutes by complaining about a 15-second bit of film.He rejects the idea that he has defamed Connecticut, or the real lawmakers who voted Aye. He said that in historical movies, as opposed to history books, it is completely acceptable to manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth. History doesnt always organize itself according to the rules of drama. He feels that if he had changed the margin of the vote, or made someone a villain who was not in real life, that would have been inappropriate. But he wants wiggle room on some things.
Spielbergs production people called the National Archives in 2011 to get a copy of the original voting roll and to plumb deeply into the details of the vote. That roll shows that the first two votes cast were Nays by Democratic congressmen from Illinois, Lincolns own state. Wasnt that enough to show the tension?
Kushner said the director left the scene unchanged because it was a rhythmic device that was easier to follow. They gave fake names to the Connecticut legislators, who were, he said, not significant players.
Yet The Wall Street Journal noted, The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment. One, the New London Republican Augustus Brandegee, was a respected abolitionist and a friend of Lincoln. The other, the New Haven Democrat James English, considered slavery a monstrous injustice and left his ill wife to vote. When he said Aye, applause began and the tide turned.
I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in Illinois for Connecticut before he sends out DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018-1405.
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