I used to think it was forgivable for a director to be ‘flexible’ with the facts when creating movies based on historical events. The job of a movie is first and foremost to entertain, right? Facts are optional.
I’m not sure I still agree with this perspective.
It’s one thing to portray scenes where characters are behind closed doors—where there are no accounts of what was actually said and done. It’s another thing to inaccurately depict scenes based on events which actually took place and for which we have confirmed records of what was actually said and done.
What got me thinking about this topic were comments on Google+ by Steve Wozniak back in August of 2013, where he reacted to the inaccuracies in the movie Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher:
Actually, the movie was largely a lie about me. I was an engineer at HP designing the iPhone 5 of the time, their scientific calculators. I had many friends and a good reputation there. I designed things for people all over the country, for fun, all the time too, including the first hotel movie systems and SMPTE time code readers for the commercial video world. Also home pinball games. Among these things, the Apple I was the FIFTH time that something I had created (not built from someone else’s schematic) was turned into money by Jobs. My Pong game got him his job at Atari but he never was an engineer or programmer. I was a regular member at the Homebrew Computer Club from day one and Jobs didn’t know it existed. He was up in Oregon then. I’d take my designs to the meetings and demonstrate them and I had a big following. I wasn’t some guy nobody talked to, although I was shy in social settings. i gave that computer design away for free to help people who were espousing the thoughts about computers changing life in so many regards (communication, education, productivity, etc.). I was inspired by Stanford intellectuals like Jim Warren talking this way at the club. Lee Felsenstein wanted computers to help in things like the antiwar marches he’d orchestrated in Oakland and I was inspired by the fact that these machines could help stop wars. Others in the club had working models of this computer before Jobs knew it existed. He came down one week and I took him to show him the club, not the reverse. He saw it as a businessman. It as I who told Jobs the good things these machines could do for humanity, not the reverse. I begged Steve that we donate the first Apple I to a woman who took computers into elementary schools but he made my buy it and donate it myself.
I believe it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too: you can have a historically accurate movie and have it be highly entertaining as well.
The two are not mutually exclusive.