Don't Prejudge Docudramas
By Philippe Perebinossoff, Cal State Fullerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/16/2003 7:00:00 PM
Television docudramas have been so consistently attacked that now you don't have to spend long hours watching a completed movie before declaring that the project is: A) factually incorrect; B) unfair; C) lacking in balance; D) an attempt by liberal Hollywood to discredit the right; or E) all of the above.
It is no longer necessary to see a movie before pronouncing it extremely flawed and mounting a pressure campaign against it. Should the people who damned The Reagans miniseries in advance have been asked if they'd seen the film? Seen the final edits? Read a shooting draft? Seen the report citing the documentation for individual scenes? No, not in today's anti-docudrama climate where second- and third-hand comments are embraced as valid criticism.
In Alexandra Stanley's Nov. 6 New York Times story about the Reagan miniseries, she writes, "Conservatives have condemned a film they haven't seen." She then refers to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and concludes, "Sometimes you don't have to see a film to know you aren't going to like it."
Whew. Not having to actually see a film before exercising pressure to have it canceled sure makes things easier. No need for pesky, time-consuming actual watching of a film. Simply declare it factually inaccurate, warn advertisers they'll be boycotted if they sponsor the show, and be done with it.
In the same edition of that paper, in a story about Robert Greenwald's film Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, reporter Randy Kennedy writes, "Scott Reed, a Republican strategist in Washington who has not yet seen the movie but has heard about it, belittled it as an awkward attempt by the left to find traction with voters as the presidential campaign heats up." In his pursuit of controversy, Kennedy got a quote from someone who didn't attend a screening but "heard" about it.
Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg spent many a year doubting the veracity of future docudramas. On Oct. 6, 1999, Rosenberg wrote about the Edmund Morris book about Reagan titled Dutch, "If Dutch were to become a television movie, for example, most producers wouldn't hesitate to give Reagan an Aunt Matilda or cousin Homer if they thought it would juice their story or help sell it to America. They'd insist that they'd done their job responsibly by depicting the 'spirit' of the truth, so don't bother them with details." Ouch. Guilty before leaving the starting gate.
And this year on June 30, in a final salvo against docudramas before his retirement, Rosenberg anticipated "substantial fantasy" in any future docudramas about Jessica Lynch, writing about "the incredible distortions of fact by many small-screen movies."
As Rosenberg, Stanley, Kennedy and the conservatives who pounced on the Reagan miniseries demonstrate, there is no need to see a program before labeling it as unacceptable. The finished film and the contributions of many creative people who worked hard in front of and behind the camera are, regrettably, completely irrelevant.
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