Rant of the Week

Flight 93: the Movie

Am I supposed to feel good about the fact that the makers of the upcoming film, "Flight 93", have received "cooperation"  from all of the families of the passengers?

Some of these families were concerned that earlier accounts of the flight only paid attention to the "heroes".  They want to ensure that their family member gets some exposure as well.  This smells of political correctness.  Maybe some of the people on this plane were assholes?  We'll never know, because that is not the kind of "exposure" the families want.

I don't hesitate to acknowledge the terrible sufferings of the families and victims of 9/11.  It was a traumatic event, unprecedented in scope, certainly deserving of respectful acknowledgement and a certain degree of sensitivity from the media and film-makers. 

But they are not the only ones who have died in the world in the last five years, and not the only ones who have died tragically. And I am sure the the families of all victims, whether of violence, inflicted by misguided governments or fanatic organizations, or the random violence of criminals and psychotics, or the horror of illnesses that strike without reason or logic, all feel that their sufferings are unique and unparalleled and deserving of deferential respect.

But nobody seems willing to publicly challenge the families of the 9/11 victims, whether on the issue of the preposterously excessive compensation they receive (why on earth are they and they alone entitled to millions of dollars in pay-outs when even the families of soldiers are not?) or, in this case, on how history looks at the event.

"Flight 93" is being directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed "Bloody Sunday", about the 1972 riots in Ireland that resulted in the deaths of 13 unarmed demonstrators. He is a good director, and the film seems promising. 

But, is Mr. Greengrass making a home movie?  Is Mr. Greengrass making a movie that these family members will be proud to show at family gatherings in the future?  Or is he making a movie that strives for accuracy and truth?

It all fits with a trend.  We are now inundated with biographical films that are approved by the families or friends of the subject.  Not one of these films would admit that they are dishonest in any way-- the people who approve of them (and sell the rights to the stories) love to tell Oprah or David or Conan that the movie will show "warts and all".  But they usually only show the warts you don't mind people seeing, or the warts everyone already knows about.  Ray Charles didn't mind that you knew how many women wanted to sleep with him or that he did drugs and Johnny Cash doesn't mind if you  know that he did pills and alcohol and chased June Carter.  But if either of these guys, or Mohammed Ali or Patsy Cline or Buddy Holly or Loretta Lynn or even Jerry Lee Lewis did anything really reprehensible (that you don't already know about), it aint going to come out in the film.

It is partly due to the onerous provisions of current copyright laws.  It has become nearly impossible to make a biographical movie without getting permission from the various stakeholders, whether it is the copyright owners (of the music or images), or families.   When the "Buddy Holly Story" was filmed, they actually had to use fictitious names for the Crickets because they had sold the rights separately from the Holly family.  That is bizarre.  If that is really the result of current legislation on copyright, the legislation needs to be changed.  As his highness said in "Amadeus" (a movie without the problem because all of it's principals were long deceased), "this is stupid".

Can it be done otherwise?  Check out "Backbeat" about the Beatles' early career.  It's a great film. 

On the other hand, I just realized that I hadn't applied my own theory: who is shown most flatteringly in the movie?  Without a doubt, Astrid Kirchherr, depicted as a fascinating, sophisticated, clever, sexy fan-savant.

I just checked a few web-sites.  According to this one, Astrid was indeed involved in the production.  How about that.

I do not look forward to the inevitable biopic of Bob Dylan, even though the story of one of the most compelling artists of our age should be an important and significant film.  Bob Dylan controls the rights to his music.  Nobody will be able to make a film without the music, thus, without the approval of Bob Dylan or his estate.  I have no doubt that when it comes, the owners of the rights will proclaim, loudly and insistently, that the biography will be "warts and all".  And I have no doubt that it will really be a highly selective and probably distorted picture.    [2008-05: I was wrong.  The Dylan film, "I'm Not There", was brilliant.  Dylan, after seeing "I Walk the Line", let it be known to director Todd Haynes that he could have all the rights he wanted and make the film he wanted because Dylan was not going to demand approval of the script or the film.  He didn't want a typical "biopic".   He wanted to leave the judgement of how the film was made to the director.   Hallelujah!]

A fair question is-- is that any better or worse than the type of biography we get from Albert Goldman,

All contents copyright 2006 Bill Van Dyk All rights reserved.