10 Movies Not at *All* About Real People (but they are) | Buzz Blog

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

10 Movies Not at *All* About Real People (but they are)

Posted By on March 30, 2010, 2:37 PM

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The device has a cool-sounding literary name—roman á clef—but it could just as easily be called cover the ass. ---In short, it’s a way fiction writers have of telling stories where everyone knows exactly who you’re talking about, except that you give the characters different names and pretend that any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Here's a handful of such fictionalized non-fiction. ---

1) Insignificance (1985): In one of those premises that thinky writers so adore, screenwriter Terry Johnson wrote about a fictional encounter in a New York hotel between four famous 1950s figures: Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell), Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis). Except that they were identified only as The Professor, The Actress, The Ballplayer and The Senator. The movie itself, as directed by Nicholas Roeg, was a head-trippy mix of celebrity and theoretical physics, which provided a fitting backdrop for characters whose designations were reduced to iconography.

2) Field of Dreams (1989): In the W. P. Kinsella book on which the Oscar-nominated film was based, the revered author the protagonist chases down and takes hostage was, in fact, identified as legendarily reclusive Catcher in the Rye author J. P. Salinger. But the producers, threatened with a lawsuit by Salinger’s attorneys, called the character played by James Earl Jones “Terence Mann” for the film version. Apparently it was okay to use “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, though, since he was already dead at the time and unable to retain counsel.

3) Primary Colors (1998): The dishy best-seller by “Anonymous” (eventually revealed as Newsweek reporter Joe Klein) followed the Presidential campaign of a gray-haired, junk-food and woman-loving Southern governor (John Travolta) who inspires his campaign workers with his vision and connects with citizens through his empathetic nature and potent anecdotes. Sound like anyone you know (and perhaps voted for in 1992)?

4) Citizen Kane (1941): Mark Twain once famously noted that you shouldn’t pick a fight with anyone who “buys his ink by the barrel.” But that’s more or less what Orson Welles did with his profile of a publishing tycoon named Charles Foster Kane—and not, repeat, not William Randolph Hearst. The newspaper baron famously launched an all-out assault on the film, attempting (among other tactics) to have the negative purchased by an intermediary and destroyed, and forbidding any of his papers from mentioning Citizen Kane in any way. Welles and RKO Pictures persevered—and apparently a pretty decent little movie made its way to the light of day.

5) The Rose (1979): In the 1970s, Bette Midler had become a Grammy- and Tony Award-winning singer and gay-community icon, but no one really thought of her as an actress. That was before she took on the role of 1960s rock and roll legend/substance abusing burnout Mary “The Rose” Foster in director Mark Rydell’s film. The echoes of Janis Joplin were obvious to viewers, but most simply focused on Midler’s surprisingly electrifying performance, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

6) Badlands (1973): Terrence Malick’s meditative crime drama followed a pair of young lovers—20-something Kit (Martin Sheen) and his teenage girlfriend Holly (Sissy Spacek)—on a Midwest killing spree with no obvious motive in the late 1950s. It was also fairly obviously based on the real-life case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who murdered 11 people in NebraskaWyoming in late 1957 and early 1958. And Malick wouldn’t be the last to find inspiration in their lovers-on-the-lam trail of blood; the premise in Quentin Tarantino’s script Natural Born Killers also bore a passing resemblance to the Starkweather case. and

7) The Devil Wears Prada (2006): Just because Lauren Weisberger was a personal assistant to Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour before she wrote the popular novel, doesn’t mean that icy, manipulative fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) was based on her.

8) Talk Radio (1988): In June 1984, incendiary Denver radio personality Alan Berg was murdered by members of a white nationalist group enraged at his liberal views. In 1987, actor/playwright Eric Bogosian turned Berg’s story into the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play about radio host Barry Champlain. He reprised the role a year later in the film adaptation by Oliver Stone, never imagining that the world of media rabble-rousers would get even creepier in subsequent decades.

9) White Hunter, Black Heart (1990): Famous director John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) is in Africa to shoot his latest movie, but he’s more interested in shooting elephants. Could it be that writer Peter Viertel—whose novel was the source material, and who was screenwriter for The African Queen—based his story on experiences working on location with John Huston? Especially when the writer character in the story, Pete Verrill, may be the laziest attempt at a pseudonym ever?

10) The Great Dictator (1940): Sorry, I’ve been trying to place this Jew-hating despot Adenoid Hynkel played by Charlie Chaplin, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

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