This Post is Based on True Events

This week’s movie of the week is… Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

I have such a cool story about my grandfather. It’s about how he got his engineering job at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. He told me it and it made me happy, proud, and even a bit tears-of-joy-ish. But I really can’t tell it to you. The reason is that the biggest part of the story has to do with something he constructed. A model of something. My abilities to grasp engineering principles or recognize the physics and mechanics involved in anything built by an engineer is not my superpower. I’d need to find another family member to tell it. One who could at least remember what this model was called. I’ve seen it. Many times, in fact. But whenever I try to tell the story to someone I get frustrated because I can’t quite capture the essence of the story nor the magnitude of what makes it great.

You’ve probably had frustrations with movies that are based on true stories. After watching movies like Rudy, Erin Brockovich or Saving Mr. Banks, we sometimes hear of details that the director and/or producer and/or studio changed, added or deleted. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve been duped. I mean, Tom Hanks’ character in Catch Me If You Can was fictional? Are you kidding me?

Well, I’ve kind of warmed up to Hollywood doing this to the true stories we know and love. Here’s what I’m thinking…

Bottom line, they are telling a story. And that story has an essence that needs to be communicated. If a studio decided to tell my grandfather’s story, would they simply find out what the model is and try to explain that to the audience? Maybe they would come up with something entirely different for him to make. Or maybe have him do something entirely different to get the job. Or perhaps even have him get an entirely different job. Why? Well, if they want to capture what was great about my grandfather, it may not communicate well with the details that real life gives.

Ok, so that may sound cheap, but remember that film makers are storytellers, not historians. In all fairness, Ron Howard could look us in the eye and say, “Folks, if you want the full, detail-for-detail account of the Apollo 13 space shuttle or the boxer known as Cinderella Man, lift your lazy buttocks out of the theater seat, go to the library and read about them.” Really, the very least we could do if it bothered us that much is to look for a documentary on these people and events.

Not only that, taking reality and making art requires adjusting. You can have a beautiful sculpture but a terrible photo of it. Or you can have a hideous statue but an awesome drawing or painting of it. Translating one piece of art into another isn’t that easy, which is why we can have a brilliant page-turner like The Da Vinci Code and have a real snoozer movie made of it–a movie that was very true to the book no less. Sometimes changing details is necessary for it to work in the movie medium.

A principle that I continually reflect on when writing for this blog is that great movies are the ones that make us think and make us feel. It’s not just the facts that should be passed down to us, we also need to inherit the meaning behind those stories. Movies can bring us face to face with these people and appreciate them like those who knew them did. They can transport us to the very time and place of the events in their stories and capture the horror, delight, despair or excitement that those people did who really were there.

This week’s movie of the week was based on a true story. So considering the above musings, I will not go into any details on how true the story is to the real Butch Cassidy and the real Sundance Kid. All I’ll say is simple: this one is very well written, which means great lines, great quotes, and all delivered by great actors.

Congratulations Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Katherine Ross. It seemed at first crazy to not choose “Mrs. Robinson” Anne Bancroft, but Ross has a starring role in two of this week’s movies and is awesome in both. Thumbs up to Katherine.
Best Actor: Again, it doesn’t seem right to not choose the masterful Dustin Hoffman, but Peter Sellers is not only hilarious in Dr. Strangelove, he also plays three different characters. Peter’s the man this week.
Best Quote: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.” Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy.

Mom, I know you read this, and I remember you either saying that you wanted to see this movie or that you had seen it and liked it. It was a long time ago, though I have no idea how old I was when you said it. I also remember hearing the song, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” and wondering how a song like that could win best song at the Oscars. So for years I pegged BCATSK as an “old person” movie. This year I watched it and realized I was wrong. Maybe one day one of my kids will watch Dumb and Dumber and say, “Gee, Dad was right.”

Or maybe not.


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