True Stories

Last night my wife and I went to the cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire, but at the last minute changed our minds and decided we were more in the mood for Frost/Nixon (and how many other films, apart from Face/Off, have a forward slash in the title?).

The film was well-made and held our attention, although it’s no masterpiece, but what intrigued me was the relationship a film like this has to the real-life events it portrays, and how that affects the way I see it as a film.

Before seeing the film I had some vague awareness of the subject matter; I knew about Watergate and I knew that Frost’s legendary interview with Nixon elicited the first ever public admission of involvement, but I knew little about exactly how and why things happened as they did (for those of you who haven’t been paying attention there’s a brief info-dump over the opening credits to explain basically what “Watergate” means). True story movies, even moreso those based on well-known historical events, are a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gives the story an extra frisson of excitement and impact if you know that the events being protrayed, however unlikely they may seem, did actually happen (assuming the movie is historically accurate, that is). On the other hand you get the feeling that what you’re watching is merely second-hand; a re-enactment or imitation rather than the real thing. This is especially the case with Frost/Nixon, which was an audiovisual event in the first place, so you’ll always want to compare Frank Langella’s performance to Nixon’s. And thanks to YouTube, now you can – see the clip below from the original interviews of the famous “If the president does it, it’s not illegal” moment.

I was reminded of another movie, Thirteen Days (worth a look, if you haven’t seen it). Going in I knew in a very general way about the Cuban Missile Crisis, but knew almost none of the details. My wife, on the other hand, being a history and political science graduate, was fully up to speed. The result was that I enjoyed the film more as a story as I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen next, whereas my wife knew all the twists and developments in advance. OK, I’m not saying that you should deliberately ingore current affairs so that the eventual movie versions are more enjoyable, you understand…

On the whole it was an interesting night out at the cinema, and as a bonus we saw the trailer for Zack and Miri Make A Porno…