History on the Screen


Suggestions Toward Best Practices
when Bringing History to the Screen

       Goal I

Endeavor to have the production feel contemporary (i.e., the opposite of drawing attention to the “pastness” of it).

And it’s this aspect and some of the details listed below that led me to cite jonah-hex-movie-posterJonah Hex. It’s NOT a great movie. It wasn’t trying to be. But it brought MTV music video style filmmaking to a period piece, and it completely succeeded on that level. I say that because from my last post my dear mother was curious …so curious I thought she might actually go out and watch it. So to her and others with–uhem, more refined tastes, you won’t find yourself watching what you might think of as great art, but 0611-jonah-hex-josh-brolin-on-horsejpg-5d1a92c487a77991_largemark my word: in the long run, it will be seen as a work that contained perfect versions of technical forms that will help male any historically based film or video work succeed where others have failed. 🙂 Plus Malkovitch (see top) always delivers wonderfully as an evil psycho.

Toward this end of shrinking the distance any viewer must go to ID w/ the flick:

1) contemporary music

2) dialog, while accurate to certain specifics of word choice and pronunciation, should be spoken in regular, contemporary American English, including cadence; it reduces the distance for the viewers’ vicarious experience


-> canonical example of success of this: Little Big Man (when the main character played by Dustin Hoffman, is in the Cheyenne Indian community, and so they’re supposed to be speaking in the Cheyenne language, 000078_15all the actors speak normally, especially Hoffman, contrasting sharply to then he’s in the “White” world where he speaks with a broad and low-vocabulary Appalacian-esque dialect.)


3) use (but not overuse) of contemporary/hyper-contemporary shooting and cutting style; e.g.:

– fast jump cuts, ala VH1/MTV
– moving tracking shots (i.e., POV moving in two directions @ once
– tight close-ups of faces w/ relevant background visible
– askew angles
– various gels (washed-out, fiery, etc)
– handheld/cinema vérité & drop-frame

– considered casting for historical figures;
– strong resemblance either literal or in their presence:
– actors who fit the part;
~ Thomas Jefferson: S. Dillane studied political philos b4 actingsaints_and_strangers_still


~ William Bradford: Victor Kartheiser has that “soft” deal (Saints and Strangers)


LC2272-600Border.jpg  aidnquinn

~ U.S. Grant: Aidan Quinn looked just like him (Jonah Hex)


~ Nixon: John Cusak embodied him precisely (The Butler)



Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 7.35.37 PM

~ Ike: actor in Right Stuff (Robert Beer) looked EXACTLY like him





Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 7.21.56 PM~ LBJ: Donald Moffat in Right Stuff embodied him to a tee





appomattox-1.jpgAnd of course Richard Mulligan as General George Armstrong Custer (Little Big Man).


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