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harry near indy

lance, i beg to differ -- strongly.

picking and choosing what facts to emphasize in a story -- at least to me -- is not the same as making it up. they are two entirely different things, and it seems you have confused them.

stories of fact and stories of fiction have their respective powers. to mix them is to do a disservice to them.

Shakespeare's Sister

What's your favorite movie "based on a true story."

The Diary of Anne Frank--the old one, with Millie Perkins and Shelley Winters. I watched it on an old TV at my grandmother's house when I was very young, too young to understand it or know about the historical context. But it fascinated me, probably because I couldn't really understand it. When I was a little older, maybe 8 or 9, I saw the diary at the library and checked it out. It was only then I realized it was a true story and began to comprehend its meaning and context. There followed a period (fifth grade year) when I read the diary and watched the film obsessively, trying to make sense of why such things happened. I read books about the Holocaust, and the war, and the bombing of Japan; I remember being deeply affected by the book Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. I never did make much sense of any of it, of course.

It's a beautiful black and white film, though I don't enjoy it, per se. I just has a particular place in my heart because of what it meant to me as I tried to understand history through the eyes of another young girl, just like me. It imbued film with a meaning it hadn't had to me before, and evoked an empathy that I carry with me still.

Exiled in New Jersey

Lawrence of Arabia hands down, but then neither Lawrence nor Anne Frank were there to guide the screenwriter.

"Print the legend!" 'In my history, all stories are apocryphal.' I took this from The Apocryphal Horseman which is my tale of Dan Lidle, my father, and his Charleston Boys.

Every time I watch 'Julia' I remember Mary McCarthy's choice words about its subject, Lillian Hellman. Yet the blurbs say it was based on a true story!


I think I like your distinction (implied at least) between "making something up" and "making something up." Like the latter is construction or something.

What I find most interesting here is the way your post suddenly drew the connection for me between my work as a historian and my current work in creative nonfiction. In both, there are facts, and there are relevant facts, and the story comes out of deciding which of the former are part of the latter subset. The things I write about are "true" in the limited sense that they did in fact occur, but for me the more interesting and deeper truth is the meaning one can hang on them.

In some ways it's harder than fiction, because you have to look for the meaning in disparate facts, rather than just being able "make something up" in the classic sense, and find ways of laying them out for the reader so that they see the same truths as you did.

Sometimes its the mere act of laying them out, of "making them up," that makes truth possible.


My favorite movie of all time is The Battle of Algiers, which really opens up a can of "truth-full" worms. Though it looks like a documentary, it is not. One of the lead characters is actually played by the real-life person, some years later. Much of the story is made up, but it FEELS real.

The best absurdist take on the "Based on a True Story" trope comes from my friend Joshua Contreras, whose favorite phrase about particularly ridiculous TV docudramas is that it's "based on a true idea."


It would probably change if I thought about it some more, but off the top of my head I'll go with Matewan.

Chris the Cop

Favorite movie based on true story:

What is wrong with you people?

The greatest movie ever EVER made: The French Connection. No other movie comes close. There are no arguments to the contrary. Popeye Doyle (like Clapton) is god.

Kit Stolz

"Z." Though I have no idea how truthful it is. The simple fact that it ended in tears tells me that it was, more or less, truthful. Who wants an unhappy ending?


What's your favorite movie "based on a true story."

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


There are some biographies that I can watch over and over again - "Gandhi" and "Coal Miner's Daughter."

"Chariots of Fire" is on my personal Top Five Best Movies Ever Made list.

And this may be stretching it - but "1776" is my favorite movie musical (but only because they never filmed "Fiorello!").

Kevin Wolf

Terrific essay. Interesting points throughout.

I have to differ with harry near indy as the definition of non-fiction Lance gives is near perfect, I think. Remember, even something as "real" as a photograph is typically cropped. The decision as to what to leave in or take out is huge - and that's after deciding what to point and shoot at, or even whether to unpack the camera.

I've never been a fan of "based on a true story" movies, so not a one came to mind, though I see some fine films mentioned above. I remember what Tom Waits said when he did VH1's Storytellers (when artists are supposed to explain where particular songs came from): "It's like if someone leans over to you at the movies and says, 'You know, it's based on a true story.'" Does it ever really improve the film?"


Based on a true story ... OK, since this is in the context of the Pearl case, I will take the question to mean a personal story, contemporary or at least recent to when the film was made, not a slice of history like Napoleon or current events like Guadalcanal Diary. Well, I really like I Want to Live, still a pretty good crusading anti-capital-punishment movie. And there's Badlands, probably the best film ever made about serial killers, which is higher praise than it sounds.

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