It’s that time of year again when Park City, a town of around 10,000 year-round residents grows four-fold to accommodate movie enthusiasts, film industry professionals, celebrities, and those on the brink of celebrity. And truth be told, not everyone’s happy about it.
The idea of it’s lovely, and there’s no doubt that it brings a boost to our local economy that doesn’t depend on Mother Nature the way the ski industry does; but it also means that everyday activities can become anxiety-inducing, time-wasting, patience-testing events. Think you’ll just run in to the grocery store to grab milk? Drop by the post office to pick up that package? Head to the gym for a quick workout? Not gonna happen! Try again in February.
If you watch Parkites prepare for Sundance, you would think you’d missed the warnings about an impending hurricane. Okay, so we don’t tape our windows or fill the tub with water, but we do stock up on groceries, fill the gas tank, and either fast track or postpone any upcoming appointments, errands, or chores. If you travel for work, now’s a good time to get out of town.
The other choice is to dive right in and play tourist in your hometown. This year the stars have aligned for me to do just that, and I’m giddy with anticipation. Tickets purchased. Credential secured. And to keep me somewhat sane, I’ve got everything in a spreadsheet, which might sound like overkill to the uninitiated, but it’s really quite essential if one doesn’t want to be in a panic trying to figure out how they could have double-booked two movies Thursday morning, how they’re ever going to get from the Library Theatre to Eccles in thirty minutes, and how they missed that hot new group at the Music Cafe that everyone’s talking about. Let’s just say, a little bit of organization can go a long way.
A long time ago, I recall a friend telling me she learned more about the Vietnam War from Danielle Steel than she had in school. It makes the mind reel, doesn’t it? It certainly seemed plausible though. There can be no argument that Danielle Steel is a much easier read than the average high school textbook. It’s also true that a history textbook might, among all the topics it’s expected to cover, spend no more than ten pages on a war that lingered for well over a decade (depending on what event you think marked the beginning) and continues to linger in the collective American psyche.
More recently, it seems we’re getting our historical education from movies. While this may be enjoyable, the problem is that we often leave the theater and store the information under the heading of “FACT”. It’s a disturbing trend, one that takes advantage of our increasingly addled, overloaded brains. We often have too many other distractions and interests to round out the information we receive at the movies. Saw “Schindler’s List”? That’s the Holocaust sorted. Watched “Selma”? Civil Rights understood! Rented “Born on the Fourth of July”? Check off the Vietnam War.
I remember a friend asking me if I had seen “The Monuments Men”, and I quipped that I hadn’t because I was tired of getting all my history from Hollywood. I eventually caved and saw the film. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to follow up by reading the book. Big mistake. Huge. I spent the first fifty or so pages just trying to figure out who the hell everyone was – which film character represented each real life person. But I couldn’t do it. I had too many characters and too few people. I eventually abandoned that quest in hopes of just enjoying the (presumably more factual) book. I kept waiting for Rose Valland to show romantic interest in Rorimer. I kept trying to make sense of the story surrounding Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges. I was incensed in a way that I hadn’t been before when faced with similar cinematic dupes. My mistake was two-fold: reading the book too close to the time of seeing the movie, and more importantly, assuming that there was any relevant meaning to the words “Based on a True Story”. In my opinion, the movie was a complete re-imagining of the information presented in the book.
Well, of course it was, right??
While there are certainly indisputable facts in history, the discipline is largely interpretative analysis with a point of view. Historians can’t explain eras of history without interpretation. And Hollywood’s attempts to recreate any snapshot in history is yet another point of view. More cinematic than factual. More calculated drama and good lighting than reality. This is by design, which is what I failed to remember. We can’t expect two to three hours in the theater to constitute an education on any topic, but it can be a worthwhile introduction. Let those wonderful movie moments inspire you to read and research more about a topic. Don’t use it to check off the topic in your mind, assuming you now know the untold story.