Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Everything is Point of View

Flo and Marion in their big hats 1911 circa

You know, when I first found these Nicholson letters and decided to write a YA book, I contacted Canada's top author of historical fiction for young people and she told me point blank: forget about the history, go for the story.

I didn't want to do that, so it's taken me 7 years to complete enough background research to make sense of the letters.

I was also invited early on to turn my website, with its letters, into a social studies book (on the condition that I won a certain humanities grant from the government.)I didn't want to do that: these books are priced too high and are read only by scholars.

Since then I stumbled upon Nella Last and the three wonderful books based on her diary and I realized I wanted to do something similar with the Nicholson Letters.

Nella Last's "War" and "Peace" and "in the 1950's" are all highly compelling as a narrative and character study and also true to history, although they were 'edited which means the editors added their point of view, by virtue of what they left in AND what they left out. So, I'm going in that direction.

I read an article the other day, in the Guardian, (originally in Slate) criticizing the movie the King's Speech because it rewrites history: Churchill was on Edward VII's side; the Royals were appeasers.

Imagine that! A movie that rewrites history. I'm floored.

I think some message board commentators got it right: The story of the King's Speech isn't about George VI's (Colin Firth) politics in the 1930's but about his character, his struggles and the inspiration he provided to the British public at the onset of the War. (Here in the colonies, too, I suspect.) As it was pointed out, Churchill was voted the Greatest Briton and he was a bastard, but, as it happens, the right bastard at the right time.

Any critical thinker must know already that movies re-write history. Even if what they put into a movie is mostly 'good' history - there's always what they leave out. Even documentaries are 'point of view." (I recall a National Film Board Director telling me that in the 80's... That they were going to call all their critically-acclaimed docs "point-of-view documentaries".)

Even news reports are point-of-view and these days these news reports mostly re-write history while the digital ink and pixels are still drying (they call it 'spin' ) and that's much more worrying, I think. Because these revisionist versions get out so early, they get 'etched' into people's brains as the definitive version. (As in WMD and Saddam.)

That's why I like letters in general, and especially my Nicholson letters, because they are as close to the 'truth' as you get. And they still leave a great deal up to interpretation.

Anyway, the other day my husband saved a Turner Classic Movie for me, So Long at the Fair, from 1950 with Dirk Bogarde and Jean Simmons that takes place at the 1889 Paris Exposition. He knows I like watching the 1900 the French Exposition videos on YouTube. I'm glad he did, because it was entertaining in an Hitchcock (ian)? way. A brother and sister from England visit Paris for the Exhibition, check into a busy hotel, and over night the brother goes missing. Indeed, all trace of his existence are erased.


The odd thing about this movie, it was bilingual. (Now, that's fine for me but how about everyone else? Here in Quebec they can make bilingual movies ( Bon Cop Bad Cop) was a funny movie only Quebeckers get. They are coming out with another one, Funkytown, about the disco scene in the 70's in Montreal. The movie centers around a place called the Limelight, Montreal's Moulin Rouge in the era. (Or is that Club Super Sexe?) I never went to the Limelight (I think) but some of my weirder friends did - and often. I guess that's why I didn't go there. (I was at college in the 70's.)

Anyway, this So Long at the Fair movie wasn't true to life either. I mean the lead characters go to the Moulin Rouge for a night out. It is hardly likely that a respectable young girl touring Europe would be taken there by her brother in 1886. The place was a kind of brothel, after all.

There's a Moulin Rouge act in Montreal during the Tighsolas era. I can pretty well guarantee Marion, Flora and Edith didn't go. (Herb, maybe.)

The ending made no sense either. But, then, IT'S A MOVIE!