Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“Based on a True Story": Hollywood's Oldest Lie

by Yanga Lubisi


Film makers and producers have always found ways to deceive the public into watching their movies. In the 20s people used their hard earned money to pay their way to a few minutes of a show, as it was a new experience for all. In the 30s, the masses were drawn into movies as they were a form of escapism from The Great Depression and the devastating economic pressures on the average man. In the 21st Century movies lure people in with the exaggerated special effects, and sometimes on the premise that the movie or series is based on a true story and reflects real events, which is rarely the case.

In 2009, director Bryan Bertino released the movie The Strangers claiming that it was based on a true story. The movie tells the story of a couple that is terrorised by three masked hooligans, who prevent the couple from leaving or from calling for help. The chilling horror flick captures the audience and evokes a deep feeling of fear as the beginning of the movie stated that the events that took place that night are based on a true story.

Without ruining the movie too much for those who have not seen it, there are gruesome scenes involving stabbings, massive amounts of blood, bizarre-scary masks and one of the most frightening aspect of horror movies - the fact that it is all the senseless killing of innocent human beings. One cannot watch the movie without feeling sick, as the scenes are notably gruesome and might even be interpreted as unnecessarily violent.

Director Bryan Bertino admitted in an interview that the movie was in fact not based on true events. Bertino mentioned to the media that he got the idea for the movie by recalling a series of break-ins that took place in his childhood home and on his research about the notorious Mason family killings. Not only is this a highly deceptive way to attract an audience but it is a blatant lie that deceptively evokes real emotion from people, who are unaware of the fiction behind it.

The more recent popular FX series Fargo has also sparked a lot of attention due to its unconventional characters and striking pilot episode. Fargo is an American series, famous for its dark-humor and unpredictable character development. It was written by Noah Hawley and was inspired by the 1996 film of the same name which was written and directed by the Coen Brothers. The series premiered on FX on 15 April 2014 and received worldwide positive reviews. One of the most unforgettable characters in the series is one of Hollywood’s old bad boys, Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton delivers a cheeky and engaging performance; he plays Lorne Malvo, a drifter passing through Bemidji, Minnesota who manages to have a profound influence on insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Martin Freeman. It’s the classic shy, submissive character meets the outrageous, explicit character, who always influences the impressionable character to make dire mistakes. The very first episode is filled with intense scenes and violence, of such an unpredictable nature that one is immediately drawn to the series and is compelled to watch the next episode.

The riveting tale, the explicit characters and the unusual setting all add to the audience's addiction to the series, but more so because it claims to be “based on a true story”. The beginning of each episode features the caption: “This is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” The original film of 1996 began with the exact same text.

This claim however, has proven to be completely fictional. None of the events that take place in the movie or the series are in any way true; all allegations are false. The directors hid behind the excuse that by blatantly being dishonest about the finished product, this was a way for them to be original in the industry, to present “a story in a new way”. For some audience members, such as myself, this was an inexcusable reason and an outright deceptive way to popularise a series. Sheer lies and false statements do not create a more authentic angle for one's work. They are just that: lies. The disappointing discovery of the fictional events that were reported as true in the series, however, has not stopped generating attention. On July 21, 2014, FX successfully renewed the show for a second season which will air in 2015.

Seemingly, Hollywood writers and producers blatantly display the “based on a true story” label to generate more audience, more attention and in terms of the horror genre, more fear in viewers. Deception and concealed facts have always been the two major driving forces in advertising, sales and in the box office. Perhaps it has become a norm but is it really acceptable to treat your audience like idiots and blatantly lie to them? Sound off in the comments below.