Monday, March 20, 2006

Mailbag -- Ron Howard

[photo caption] What color is the sky as seen through Ron Howard's viewfinder? (photo courtesy Jacneed.com)

Time to clear out the mailbag.

Q: So why does Ron Howard suck?
--Pedro Saviterre, Mexico

Great question, Pedro. First, we must acknowledge that Ron Howard sucks. Now that we've gotten the fact that Ron Howard sucks out of the way, we can discuss why, in fact, Ron Howard sucks.

As a director, Ron Howard is in a position at this point in his career to choose his films at will. Taking a look at Howard's films over said career, a person is no doubt taken aback by the box office success many of his films have enjoyed. Here's a partial list of his directorial credits: Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Far and Away, Backdraft, Apollo 13, EdTV, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, and the yet-to-be-released Da Vinci Code.

Quite a substantial body of work.

However, two titles stick out: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Both of these films, unlike the rest of Howard's work, are "bio-pics" -- biographies told in a cinematic format.

Now, here's the problem: Ron Howard is a historian's worst nightmare.

Why? Because Ron Howard takes a biography, subtracts large amounts of "truth" and "objectivity" and "reality", leaving the viewing audience with, well, "fiction".

Don't trust me? Let's take a look at A Beautiful Mind, supposedly the life story of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and mental illness-sufferer John Nash. Here's an entry on the film from Answers.com:
"[A Beautiful Mind] should not be regarded as a biography of (John) Nash, nor as a film version of (Sylvia) Nasar's book. It is a drama inspired by the life of John Nash.

Akiva Goldsman (the screenwriter) brought to the script his life experience as the son of child psychologist Mira Rothenberg, who maintained a group home for emotionally disturbed children in the family's residence. Goldsman said that his goal was 'to use [the story of John Nash's] journey to give some insight into what it might feel like to suffer from this disease.' It can be inferred that Goldsman's priority was conveying the truth of the inner experience of schizophrenia, rather than the documenting the factual data of John Nash's life.

Critics argue that the movie glosses over his alleged homosexual relationships, his anti-Semitic statements, his abandoning a woman shortly after fathering a child with her, and that it rewrites his actual psychotic experience (eg. being 'attacked by Napoleon' or being 'the left foot of God') into a more exciting but fictional account.

The movie also misrepresents the effect Nash's mental illness had on his work. The movie depicts Nash as already suffering from schizophrenia when he wrote his doctoral thesis. In reality, Nash's schizophrenia did not appear until years later and once it did his mathematical work ceased until he was able to bring it under control.

Many of the specific incidents and life events depicted in the movie do not correspond to anything mentioned in Nasar's biography. 'There are many discrepancies between the book and the film,' says a Nash FAQ on the Princeton website. For example, the pen ceremony 'was completely fabricated in Hollywood. No such custom exists.' The scene in which Nash thanks his wife Alicia during his Nobel prize acceptance speech is fictitious; Nobel prize winners do not give acceptance speeches, and Nash was not invited to give the traditional Nobel lecture due to concerns about his illness.

The plot of the movie makes much of Alicia Nash's unwavering devotion to her husband. In reality, the Nash's divorced in 1963 and lived apart for several years. In 1970, Alicia allowed John to live in her house but it was not a romantic relationship. It was not until the 1990s, when John was recovering from his mental illness, that their romantic relationship was revived and the couple remarried in 2001.

The scene in which Nash demonstrates to his girlfriend his ability to find any specified pattern in a starry sky does not correspond to anything in the book; nor does the scene in which Nash's infant son almost drowns because he believes that his hallucinatory colleague Charles is taking care of him; nor Nash having delusions of a password-generating device being implanted in his arm; nor were Nash's hallucinations both visual and auditory, in reality they were exclusively auditory."

But, hey, that's what the term "artistic license" is for anyway, right?

Ron Howard's "interpretations" of history doesn't stop with A Beautiful Mind, however. In 2005, Howard bastardized the biography of boxer James J. Braddock with his film Cinderella Man.

How true was Howard to history this time around? Again, let's check in with Answers.com:
"Max Baer is portrayed as a complete villain who behaves inappropriately outside the ring and viciously inside (to the point of killing two opponents in the ring).

According to film critic Roger Ebert, boxing historians and Baer's relatives have disputed the film's version of Baer and have also contributed to the negative publicity. Baer's relatives and boxing historians have criticized the film's depiction of him, arguing that he killed only one man in the ring, Frankie Campbell, not two, and was considered to be a gentleman by the man who defeated him for the title, Joe Louis. This is supported by historical evidence which shows that Baer's demeanor, both within and outside the ring, was much less brutal than the film portrayed.

Others assert that Baer was kind, charismatic, loved and respected, pointing out the emotional pain that Baer endured the rest of his life following Campbell's death, and the fact that he gave purses from his bouts to Campbell's family."

But, hey, why make Max Baer into a great guy when this film obviously needs a villain, right? Nevermind that the real villain of the film was the Depression-era desolation and destitution that so many Americans were forced to live in because the right-wing politicians running the country at the on-set of the Depression did very little to initiate or promote social-welfare programs because they were so blinded by their own political rhetoric.

But, hey, we don't want to make this film political, now do we, Ron Howard?

Instead, let's savage the reputation of a man in Max Baer that, to a 2005 film viewing audience, is largely -- if not completely -- unknown.

Let's skip right over the fact that Baer was haunted by the death of Campbell in the ring to the point that he not only donated a percentage of his later boxing earnings to Campbell's family, but also reported having terrible nightmares regarding his opponent's death for years afterwards.

Let's also skip right over the fact that Baer took a moral stand against the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s (before most Americans were aware of the threat) by placing a Star of David on his boxing trunks, representing his Jewish heritage for all to see (Baer's father was half Jewish).

In the end, a viewer of Ron Howard's bio-pic work is left with the question, "Why?"

Why take the life stories of two fascinating men and completely and utterly corrupt them when it is unnecessary to the telling of both stories?

There is so much material to work with in both Nash's and Braddock's lives that to subtract so much truth and degrade their relevance to history by turning fact into fiction is abhorrent and entirely unconscionable.

Shame on you, Ron Howard. And that's why you suck.


Anonymous fil said...

This entry has 1225 words only 55.5% of them come from THE fogbot.

But hey, why write something in your own words when someone else has already said it.

Mon Mar 20, 12:39:00 PM 2006

Blogger Stu Pidasso said...

So that is why Ron Howard sucks. Now I know why. Mocho grascias, Tuffy.

Mon Mar 20, 02:50:00 PM 2006

Anonymous super rookie said...


that was some good reading.

i might even link it on my website. that is how cool you are.

Tue Mar 21, 07:32:00 PM 2006

Blogger AdamB said...

Everyone changes the facts in any biography, let alone any history. Or at least selects the ones that make a certain point.

In fact, my usual problem with biopics is that they don't make *enough* up, that they stick too closely to the actual events, which might add to the literal truth of it but subtracts from the emotional depth or plot or whatever. The fact is, I don't give a damn about the real facts of anyone's life, I just want to see a good movie.

The same goes for almost any "Based on a true story" film. The best exception is the Blair Witch Project (which serves my point).

Yeah, Ron Howard sucks, but more because he's a lameass feel-good director rather than because he takes historical liberties.

Anyway, Jim Lovell came to my high school once and he said Apollo 13 was right on. Too bad it was a shitty movie, just like EdTV (a lame Truman Show ripoff), Willow (I fell asleep through the last hour of that, though) and the Grinch (why try to top the classic TV special?).

Thu Mar 23, 01:20:00 PM 2006


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home