GETTING IT RIGHT … OR NOT - Blogs
GETTING IT RIGHT … OR NOT
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 1, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: The two faith films opening this weekend are independent productions but that doesn’t mean complaints won’t be leveled at some of the stereotypes depicted. Hollywood movies trade in stereotypes as a shorthand means of depicting good vs. evil, but so do low-budget pictures. As the headline says over this March 13, 1983, ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column in the Deseret News, ‘Maligned in the movies? You’re not alone!’
Have you ever noticed how sensitive people are about how their professions are portrayed in the movies?
It seems that religions can be misrepresented (certainly Mormons have been, from “Trapped By Mormons” to “Without a Trace”), biographical portraits can be distorted (Frances Farmer gets a crude prefrontal lobotomy in “Frances,” but not in the recent TV film “Will There Really Be Morning?”), history is torn asunder (witness any number of period pieces that contradict one another), and Hollywood simply calls it “artistic license.”
But when you start stepping on someone’s employment, look out. The higher that profession’s profile the more public the film’s mistakes.
This came home to me when I reviewed “Absence of Malice” just over a year ago. That film had Paul Newman as the innocent victim of a federal investigator’s setup, as reporter Sally Field is duped into writing a phony news story for her paper. Field justifies herself with the First Amendment and Newman plots revenge. The film is a sharp, involving drama, laced with humor and romance. It’s also wildly inaccurate in its portrayal of the news media — excluding some supermarket tabloids, of course.
I gave “Absence” three stars, meaning “good,” and went on to praise the performances and crisp direction by Sydney Pollack (whose most recent effort is “Tootsie”). I also noted the misconceptions about journalists (taking into account that the film was written by a veteran newspaperman).
That was easy, of course, since a newspaper reporter is going to spot such things right away, and I began at the Deseret News by writing for the City Desk. But the general public didn’t notice and it was a popular film. Deservedly so; it’s very entertaining.
My colleagues, however, generally had other ideas. Most of them hated “Absence of Malice,” calling it a malicious slap at the profession. Some were no incensed they couldn’t discuss it without popping a blood vessel or two.
Paul Newman addresses the court in 'The Verdict.'
And so it went across the country. National columnists attacked the film, other critics with news experience slammed it — still others merely dismissed it but couldn’t help commenting on it, just the same.
To me, all of this seemed a bit overboard. But then you have to consider that newspaper writers have the outlet to make their views known, so when their own profession was stepped upon, they picked up their pens (or typewriters, or computer terminals) like swords and attacked the foe.
Then I began to notice that other professions were also taking loud exception to film portrayals of their work. Loudest of all were legal eagles incensed by “The Verdict” (though a few doctors got their digs in on that one, too). And the latest is “Lovesick,” an innocuous little comedy that spoofs Freudian psychology, and specifically, the psychiatric profession.
“Lovesick” has the audacity to suggest that there are comic possibilities in a Park Avenue psychiatrist falling in love with his patient, who happens to be about 20 years his junior.
The outcry has softened somewhat since that film is not the blockbuster some others have been, but it was vehement and loud just prior to, and shortly after the film’s release.
And this is no recent phenomenon. “The Hospital” with George C. Scott, caused a few rages among the medical community back in 1971. The U.S. Army refused to show “M*A*S*H” on military bases in 1970. And there are other examples, probably going back all the way to the silent era.
The real issue here, however, is … why? Why bother to get all worked up over it? Even if it seems to you rather irresponsible that your own working lifestyle is inaccurately depicted, it’s only a movie.
My guess is that policemen, construction workers, secretaries, plumbers, milkmen, door-to-door salesmen, postal workers, artists, writers and waitresses are all equally maligned in films — and no doubt much more often than white-color professionals.
They just aren’t as loud as lawyers, doctors — and especially journalists.
Yes, it’s artistic license. Yes, it’s exaggeration. Sometimes it’s even downright fantasy.
But it’s also The Movies!
If you want to watch real life, take a bench in Central Park.
The movies are for escaping. And I, for one, don’t mind if the world we escape into doesn’t parallel our own 100 percent.