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 Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?

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Caro
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PostSubject: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Fri 15 Aug 2014, 23:49

I am still typing up the letters of the soldier, killed in WWII.  In this most recent letter he has been to the movies, The King Steps Out, featuring Franchot Tone and Grace Moore, neither of whom I knew. He had seen it before but enjoyed it this second time.  When I looked up this movie on IMDB it was about Emperor Franz Joseph [mentions of Franz Joseph are of interest to NZers beause our main and accessible glacier is named after him] and his wife Elizabeth and their courtship.  One reviewer said it had flopped and he put that down to the fact that this light romance was seen by the audiences in the light of future events, where Elizabeth left him to continue on a life of gaiety and enjoyment, and had ended up assassinated. This had happened recently enough that people remembered it and therefore couldn't put this aside when they were considering the movie.

He said: I don't think the film flopped because it was so bad, it's dated, but other operettas and more well known ones date even more. However The King Steps Out made a mistake because too many people remembered Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary for good and for ill him dying exactly 20 years earlier. And about 20 years earlier his wife Empress Elizabeth also died and she was also remembered by a few.

What people remembered that beneath all this Viennese schmaltz, this was a story that did not have a happy ending. What we see in the film concerning Franz Josef and Elizabeth of Bavaria is true as far as it goes. It was a whirlwind courtship of sorts and the young Emperor did wind up marrying the younger sister after the Dowager Empress his mother arranged for the older sister.

In real life though after the honeymoon and Elizabeth presenting the Hapsburg Emperor with a son and seemingly settling the succession, the woman would not settle down. When you see the vivacious Elizabeth that Grace Moore gives us on the screen, that was the real Sissi. She would not settle down though and eventually the couple split and lived apart for the rest of their lives with Elizabeth leading a gay and carefree life at the various resorts and spas of 19th century Europe. She was assassinated by an anarchist. The reaction to her death was very much like that for Princess Diana, in fact there are a lot of parallels between Lady Diana Spencer and Elizabeth of Bavaria.

The image we have of Franz Joseph is that solemn man with the muttonchop whiskers and a stern countenance, the father of his people. Franz Joseph was always in fact a serious minded man. The character that Franchot Tone gives us just isn't the case, he was hardly that charming in real life. The Emperor certainly did get his battery plenty charged when Sissi was around and they were young and in love.

No happily ever after endings for Franz Joseph and Sissi and sad to say the audience knew it.


What they portrayed wasn't really inaccurate (though another reviewer mentioned that Elizabeth was known for her gorgeous long black hair and Grace Moore had "short curly locks".

Do you think that sort of reaction to real events is common in audiences, whether of movies or television or books? Or he is drawing too long a bow? And does it matter? We've discussed accuracy in movies and books before, but there didn't seem a specific thread for it, and this didn't seem to quite fit the Philippa Gregory thread.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 01:28

Lack of accuracy in movies is quite annoying to anyone with knowledge of some facts, sometimes it is best not to be aware to fully enjoy a film. Similarly for anyone who watches an adaptation that deviates from the original book, it is extremely irritating to those who have read the story. Those movies that are based on the history of another country or culture can be quite insulting to the indigenous to (or those with familiarity of) that place also, not only when the history and geography is wrong but also when characters fall into stereotypes with terrible faux accents.   

Does it matter? I think it does, films that are based on historical fact are a wonderful opportunity and medium in which to educate and when it fails to do that then the producers fail in their responsibility to their audience. Retreating into the it's only entertainment or the artistic liscence argument is a cop-out imo.
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 11:17

I think ID has hit it on the head - sometimes it is best not to have read the book if you watch a screen adaptation.  It can work conversely - when I've seen a film or series I liked and gone on to read the book, sometimes I have preferred the screen version.  When a magnum opus is adapted for the screen I can forgive (reluctantly) some streamlining.  On the (40 years ago) TV adaptation of War and Peace they left out the bit where Pierre tied the policeman to the back of a bear but I could understand that for such a complex work to be adapted some cuts had to be made.  I admitted on another thread that I had been drawn in by "Game of Thrones" which is fantasy but has taken inspiration from history.  I started to read the books because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next and discovered some changes had been made.  Some I liked, some I didn't.  I gave up watching "Camelot" (a Canadian re-imagination of the King Arthur myth which aired about 4 years ago) because it annoyed me by the changes to the myth (and bad casting imo of Arthur and Morgan Le Fay) though of course a myth is not true history.  There have been some "factual" films based on events in South Africa of late.  I would have thought this would have provided a superb opportunity to cast South African actors of all ethnic backgrounds and possibly give their careers a boost, but the leading roles seem to have been largely played by American or British actors.  I said on another thread recently that I did enjoy Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII.  I don't think anybody ever thought that was an accurate portrayal of said monarch (though Charles Laughton did look more like "Bluff King Hal" than the chap in The Tudors).  I can't judge the dramatic value of The Tudors as I never watched it but just looking at publicity stills, the thin actor is not exactly like the Holbein portraits of King Henry (which I suppose would have been flattering, so real King Henry was likely even fatter).

I'm not a fan of the "it's fiction" excuse either. If people know a story is a "romp" version then maybe less harm is done. Then I must confess I have enjoyed adaptations and also books (which I have later learned were not terribly accurate) on first watching if it has a subject matter I am not familiar with.  I quite enjoyed the old film Taras Bulba but a friend of Polish descent was fuming about the inaccuracies in it.  Oh crumbs, I have gone on a bit - hope I haven't scared anybody off reading this.

Edit: People making allegedly creative adaptations of history are less likely to get away with it if it pertains to (relatively) recent history.  I read on the Historum site that the makers of the film Titanic settled out of court with a living relation of a person who had been depicted in the film as having forced the poorer passengers to go somewhere on the ship at gun point. The living relation had been most displeased with this portrayal, which they considered to be inaccurate, of their dead relative and went down the legal route. Why the heck the film-makers didn't make up a fictional character if they wanted to use that plot point I'll never know.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 15:05

I assume that to make a good film, directors must take liberties which warp truths or exclude material. I usually look up stuff - often straight after seeing a film and discussing it with anyone interested enough. Usually they are not because the film is accepted solely for what it is and why 'spoil a good yarn with the truth?' attitude. I  prefer to think that a good film whets the appetite for such truths  as one can glean. And to get at that several sources are needed. Occasionally one comes across blatant and deplorable falsehoods.  The fear is that many will accept the film as a truth but usually the film is also pretty awful. Anyone recall early Tony Curtis films with his flashing teeth and blue eyes, groomed to perfection mumbling rubbish in  Brooklyn-speak? 

Noted artists have been projecting untruths since forever so film makers should not be condemned out of hand for doing the same.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 17:45

@Priscilla wrote:
Noted artists have been projecting untruths since forever so film makers should not be condemned out of hand for doing the same.


That is so true: Shakespeare especially comes to mind. It seems we are willing to forgive him anything, and certainly in his sequence of "history" plays there is much to forgive.

I wonder if we are tolerant of historical error when script and acting are superb? I am thinking particularly at the moment of the 1980s TV programme, Masada. A solid script delivered by superlative actors: Peter O'Toole. Timothy West, David Warner, Anthony Quale and others. The history - as mentioned on another thread - may be dubious, but this production has made me want to a) find out more (did the Roman engineers really manage to construct that amazing ramp with workers slaving away in temperatures exceeding forty degrees Fahrenheit?) and b) visit Masada.

Arousing such interest cannot, surely, be a bad thing.
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sat 16 Aug 2014, 20:37

Something came to mind after I made my earlier post on this thread.  Caro's post mentions the writer of the letters she is typing giving an opinion on the film "The King Steps Out".  I never saw that film, though I did see the film "Sissi" with Romy Schneider several years ago (with sub-titles).  I enjoyed it at the time though it did concentrate on the happy part of the love affair and never explained that Sissi and her handsome prince did not have a happy ever after (in fact I was unaware of that until I read Caro's post).  Romy was a redhead; she was lovely looking in her own right but not like black-haired Elizabeth.  Of course I appeared on this planet long enough after Franz Josef and Elizabeth had left it to be unaware of the discrepancy between truth and fiction (until now).  

I may have said something about this on another thread but I enjoyed the Maureen O'Hara and Charles Laughton version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" when I saw it on TV, either as a just pre-teenager or an early teenager but when I read the book it was completely different (the film had an unhappy ending for Quasimodo but Esmerelda was saved and married her handsome lover; in the book he turned aside from her to marry someone with more money and Esmerelda was hanged). I wasn't so much angry about the change as in a quandary wondering why the film-makers had changed it.  Maybe the film was made at a time when everyday life was grim for the masses and the film-makers felt they had to provide escapism and a happy ending. Of course that was a case of adapting a work of fiction rather than a real life event. 

Temperance, I am all in favour of interest being aroused but it's a terribly grey area.  Without saying where they get the idea (you can probably guess) I rather worry that a lot of people seem to think Margaret Beaufort was a religious loony and Anne Boleyn was mean to her sister....
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 03:26

Yes LIR, I rather think they do also. I used to agree with the anything is fine as long as it creates historical interest argument but now I've come to think that it is yet another justification put about by the makers of poor entertainment in the guise of history and art. Very few people will bother or are interested enough to read further, the majority will continue to believe anything that they see on the telly or read in a PG novel. 

I've never quite understood why history needs to be 'sexed-up' anyway, lord knows the real version  has enough sex, violence, betrayal and twists and turns in it without needing to venture into the realms of the ridiculous. It is a sad testament to us if it is thought that even more is needed in order to render it 'entertaining'. Oh and make a few bob, of course.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 11:08

LiR wrote:
Temperance, I am all in favour of interest being aroused but it's a terribly grey area.  Without saying where they get the idea (you can probably guess) I rather worry that a lot of people seem to think Margaret Beaufort was a religious loony and Anne Boleyn was mean to her sister....


Fair comment, LiR, and actually links to the point I was making about a really good writer getting away with historical murder. Margaret Beaufort may well have been unhinged (not surprising given what she had endured as a young girl), and presenting her as a fanatical woman who could always find a religious excuse for her behaviour is a very interesting approach to her character (for a novelist). Similarly, examining the relationships within the Boleyn family as the basis of a novel about Anne Boleyn - and "borrowing" Retha Warnicke's thesis about the reasons for her fall from power - should have made for a superb story. If I am honest, my complaint is actually not so much about the history as about the quality of the writing in Philippa Gregory's books. "The Red Queen" was especially poor: for me at least the writer made a fascinating subject tedious in the extreme. And of course, as has been said many times on another thread, it is infuriating that this particular writer presents herself as an expert historian (and an exceptional novelist) when she is not. Others, like Mantel, Plaidy and Irwin, are/were more modest; they are/were excellent writers and honest enough to say about their presentation of history: "I do not claim that this is how it was: I suggest only that this is how it may have been." That really is all a novelist can do. The film/TV programme about MB and AB were also disappointing - not even usually competent actors could make much of leaden scripts.


I have just find out that Ford Madox Ford wrote a novel about Katherine Howard: The Fifth Queen. I very much enjoyed Parade's End, so it will be interesting to see what he did with KH. The cover doesn't bode well - that's a picture of Mary Tudor they've got there.


http://supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/ford-madox-ford-rip.html


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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 11:32

I've just ordered it. One of the reviews on Amazon isn't terribly encouraging though - certainly as regards historical accuracy:

I suspect that 'The Fifth Queen' was written for an audience who knew little about Tudor history. Ford Madox Ford creates an image of Katherine Howard as a saint, a saint prepared to live and die (and suffer the advances of Henry VIII) in an attempt to set back the reformation and 'save' the established church. But she is not the only historical personage who is distorted in the FMF lens. Take Katherine's tutor, Nicholas Udall. What a remarkable life. Headmaster of Eton. Sentenced to death for buggery with the boys. Saved by the intervention of two of Cromwell's men. Intimate of Queen Mary and Katherine Parr. Author of 'Ralph Roister Doister' and as such now regarded as the father of English Comedy. And, though still not of the marrying kind, ending his life as Headmaster of Westminster. In Ford Madox Ford's novel, Udall is an unashamed womaniser prepared to risk all for a petticoat.
So, though brilliantly written, 'The Fifth Queen' cannot really be enjoyed as historical fiction. As historical fantasy, perhaps.


PS Amazon chirpily suggested to me that "I might like" the new Philippa Gregory offering of The King's Curse which was published last week. Groan.

PPS Caro - apologies - your OP is about films, not novels.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 12:37

@Caro wrote:
Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?

Yes, sometimes, but not always for reasons related to a high-brow desire for absolute historical authenticity. As an example of what I mean I recall watching "Dead Poets Society" in a full cinema in Dublin after its release and the ripple of audible scorn that spread throughout the audience in the scene concerning the burial of the young student who had committed suicide. The problem was the bagpiper and the tune he played, a Pete St John (Dublin songwriter) piece composed in 1978. Up to that point the movie had been scrupulous in its depiction of 1960 period detail. The consenus afterwards for many was that this had "ruined" the film for them. On reflection afterwards however I reckoned this "ruination" was down to a particular kind of snobbery on the part of many of these people (myself included I must add). We knew Pete St John, we knew the piece played, and we associated it with a kind of local "something be proud of" sentiment as Dubliners. The audible ripple of scorn had been based more on a desire to advertise this very local knowledge and sentiment in the form of adopted disgust to any audience members who may not have been in the know. It was in effect a form of tribalism. Outside of our peculiar little context the same scene was playing to cinema audiences worldwide oblivious to this "inaccuracy" and who therefore presumedly left the cinema with an unblemished appreciation of the film they'd just seen. In Dublin our little bit of snobbery had actually deprived us of the same experience.

When it comes to historical accuracy in the story depicted then I don't think there is a hard and fast rule at all regarding how, when or why the screenwriter should "cheat". In some cases - like the blatant and unacknowledged distortions of the truth in "U-571" and "Braveheart" etc - departures from reality are less forgivable than, for example, in "Carry On Cleo" or even (to put "U-571" in perspective) the 2001 film "Enigma". The latter also misrepresented the personnel involved in cracking the Enigma Code as well as the salient events but did so in a way that suggested with an obvious respect for historical accuracy the actual context and circumstances in which the people really concerned worked at that particular time in Bletchley Park.

Like Priscilla, I do not expect to "learn" history from a film. I do however appreciate a good story well told and count it as a bonus (and a measure of appreciation for the film) if it spurs me to read up about the contents afterwards and get a better picture of what "really" happened.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 14:06

Nordmann's reference to the "Dead Poets' Society reminds one of the recent sad demise of Robin William.  Well there are always genuine "bloopers".  I've never been able to spot the jeep in El Cid or the wristwatch in Ben Hur, no matter how hard I look.  And there have been times when eagle-eyed viewers have written to Points of View about anachronisms in period dramas.  Sometimes inaccuracy can come back to bite someone in a sensitive part of the anatomy, viz, the threat to sue when somebody felt somebody in their family had been maligned in Titanic.  Of course the law does not make provision for suing someone for allegations about what happened 500 years ago.  I have already stated that I have enjoyed films/books which I have later discovered to be somewhat dodgy.

Temperance, at school we were rather warned off Jean Plaidy.  Mind you I did attend a convent school and Ms Plaidy was considered racy (though she's pretty tame by present day standards I guess).  I recall one girl thinking she was doing something very daring reading Light on Lucrezia in the convent chapel...
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 17 Aug 2014, 18:26

@LadyinRetirement wrote:


Temperance, at school we were rather warned off Jean Plaidy.  Mind you I did attend a convent school and Ms Plaidy was considered racy (though she's pretty tame by present day standards I guess).  I recall one girl thinking she was doing something very daring reading Light on Lucrezia in the convent chapel...


There used to be a lot of snobbery about dear old Jean Plaidy. It's true that her historical novels - all still in print, I believe -  are not in the same league as those of, say, Hilary Mantel or Robert Graves: Plaidy's characters lack psychological depth and her writing style is certainly very simple. That said,  her research was impeccable and she could certainly "a round, unvarnished tale deliver". I read just about everything she wrote when I was young.

But to return to the OP. I thought that the recent Spielberg film, Lincoln, was considered to be pretty accurate, but this Huffington Post article suggests not.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/how-historically-accurate_b_2198656.html


I know absolutely nothing about American history and politics, so I cannot comment. Accurate or not, I am ashamed to say that I found the film worthy, but terribly dull.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 10:02

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
 Well there are always genuine "bloopers".  I've never been able to spot the jeep in El Cid or the wristwatch in Ben Hur, no matter how hard I look.  And there have been times when eagle-eyed viewers have written to Points of View about anachronisms in period dramas.


From Braveheart, LiR, check the bottom left of the picture.


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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 10:28

Downton Abbey has revealed some surprising historical oddities, for example that the enterprising residents of Bampton in Oxfordshire in 1912 anticipated John Logie Baird's contribution to their entertainment opportunities some two decades later.



And that the same villagers' appreciation of double glazed conservatories long predated the rest of the UK



Not to mention double yellow lines in effort to "curb" Bampton's obvious 1912 motorised traffic congestion ...



There must have been something in that 1912 Evian distilled water!
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 10:28

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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Mon 18 Aug 2014, 10:35

Re the Evian bottle. The Downton cast have used the gaffe to raise awareness of the Water Aid charity;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-28825576
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Tue 19 Aug 2014, 13:00

@Triceratops wrote:
@LadyinRetirement wrote:
 Well there are always genuine "bloopers".  I've never been able to spot the jeep in El Cid or the wristwatch in Ben Hur, no matter how hard I look.  And there have been times when eagle-eyed viewers have written to Points of View about anachronisms in period dramas.


From Braveheart, LiR, check the bottom left of the picture.


Oh, that's hilarious Trike.  Obviously the Scots were very advanced in those days.  Well done to Nordmann for spotting the Downton Abbey gaffes and to the person who posted the "top ten" bloopers.  (Edit - I see the top ten faux-pas video was posted by Trike again).
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Wed 20 Aug 2014, 09:38

Ooops

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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Fri 22 Aug 2014, 09:54

Here is one example of where historical inaccuracies in a movie don't matter, an article on what Braveheart did for Scottish independence. But there is also the reverse side of the same coin

Braveheart is also notoriously historically inaccurate, even for Hollywood standards: the Scots wearing kilts when that clothing wasn’t invented for another 300 years; the idea of Jus Primae Noctis; Wallace having an affair with Isabella of France, implying he was the father of Edward III. Moreover, the film demonizes the English and places the Scots as victims of their tyranny. Scottish historian Allan Massie was among those who criticized the movie: “Bad history is potentially dangerous. In this case, Braveheart can scarcely fail to feed the growing Anglophobia which is, to many Scotsmen, a pernicious feature of our country today. If it does so, it will be not only a bad film but a deplorable and damaging one.”

http://www.medievalists.net/2014/08/20/braveheart-scottish-independence/
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Fri 22 Aug 2014, 11:53

I'll tell you what the lasting 'Braveheart' effect has been up here; if any comedian or comedy playwright is stuck for a gag, they mention it or wee Mel and they're sure of a big laugh. Not even Harry Lauder or the White Heather Club are as consistently ridiculed or so regarded as being an embarrassing travesty. That said, in all these there's something that fans a faint flicker of recognition, a slightly guilty acknowledgement that, amongst all the pap, there's  a teeny wee reflection of all that we love and hate about ourselves.
I've still never seen it though, apart from a couple of minutes which I happened to see, dubbed in Arabic, in Egypt.

And Alan Massie's not really a proper historian despite doing History at Cambridge, he's best known as a journalist and a moderately successful historical novelist, an old school Unionist of the New Town establishment, the kind who come through to Glasgow with much the same attitude as tourists visiting a tribal reservation, and writes for the 'Scotsman', Scotland's 'Telegraph'.

To get back to the topic, sometimes I feel that the more a film claims to be historically accurate, the more any slight inaccuracy spoils it by jarring so much that it interrupts the narrative and the viewer loses the flow, just sits there thinking 'That's wrong' and inwardly muttering rather than enjoying the total experience.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sat 23 Aug 2014, 16:24

Decided to delete this as the post was completely off topic.
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Sun 24 Aug 2014, 23:28

Perhaps/sometimes/it depends.
Surely one would expect rather different standards of accuracy from "Carry on Cleo", "Anthony and Cleopatra" and a film purporting to tell "The real story of Cleopatra" (actually, perhaps not - since I doubt if anyone even at the time knew the "real story".)
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PostSubject: Re: Does accuracy in films matter to audiences?   Fri 12 Sep 2014, 10:07

A really interesting read, why archaeologists hate Indiana Jones

http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2014/09/09/why-archeologists-hate-indiana-jones/
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