Reflecting on the the three part series on “Charlie” (Charlie Haughey), it is hard to resist the fact cliché that Journalism is the First Draft of History.
All History students agonise about movies that are described as “historical drama”. My favourite film director, John Ford summed it up nicely…”this is the West sir, when faced with History and Legend…we choose the Legend”.
Thus, what we know about the Alamo is based on John Wayne. What we know about Braveheat William Wallace is based on Mel Gibson. And what we know of the Titanic is based on Leonardo Di Caprio.
I must emphasise that these movies were produced a long time after tbe actual events happened. So the “history” is well known.
We can of course all nit-pick about how a complex historical event can be condensed into a two hour movie. It is after all a form of Entertainment rather than a History Lecture. And I dont think that Errol Flynn portraying General George Custer seriously distorts the actual Battle of Little Big Horn.
But the drama-documentary or bio-pic is often a pop-up history. Movies produced before serious academic research. Is that “different”? And when does History begin? My own view is that History begins a few years before we are really conscious of it. So being born in 1952, I tend to think that History is anything prior to (around) 1966. In other words the Israeli-Arab War of 1967 is NOT History to me. Nor is the Troubles beginning in 1969. And figures such as Harold Wilson, Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Carter are not historic…at least NOT to me.
Thus the TV mini series produced in the early 1970s…”Washington…Behind Closed Doors” is an almost instant reference to Watergate. And the movie “All the Presidents Men” with Hoffmann and Redford as Bernstein and Woodward is an instant “history”.
Oddly Jason Robards is the Nixon-esque President in one and Ben Bradlee in the other.
But take for example, Dr Stephen Hawking. He seems like a light-hearted kinda man who is willing to play exaggerated versions of himself in “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Simpsons” but I wonder if he is not in some way, setting the agenda for his historical legacy. A bio-pic on his life is now Oscar-nominated.
It will, I submit be difficult for a historian to get thru the public perception of Hawking.
Ultimately the performance of the actor playing the subject of a bio pic is crucial.
Anthony Hopkins made Hitler credible.
But Ben Kingsley as Ghandi???? I just wanted to punch Ghandi in the face.