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Oscars: Why let the truth get in the way of a good yarn

At the moment 3 movies are doing the rounds and 2 are in contention for Academy Awards.    The fact that they "deal" with real live events but do not contain the actual facts doesn't seem to trouble many people - except Maureen Dowd, writing her regular op-ed piece ("The Oscar for Best Fabrication") in The New York Times.

"I saw “Argo” with Jerry Rafshoon, who was a top aide to President Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis, when six Americans escaped and were given sanctuary for three months by courageous Canadian diplomats.

We were watching a scene where a C.I.A. guy can’t get through to Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s chief of staff, to sign off on plane tickets for the escaping hostages, so he pretends to be calling from the school where Jordan’s kids go.

“Hamilton wasn’t married then and didn’t have any kids,” Jerry whispered, inflaming my pet peeve about filmmakers who make up facts in stories about real people to add “drama,” rather than just writing the real facts better. It makes viewers think that realism is just another style in art, so that no movie, no matter how realistic it looks, is believable.

The affable and talented Ben Affleck has admitted that his film’s climax, with Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers jumping in a jeep, chasing the plane down the runway and shooting at it, was fabricated for excitement.

Hollywood always wants it both ways, of course, but this Oscar season is rife with contenders who bank on the authenticity of their films until it’s challenged, and then fall back on the “Hey, it’s just a movie” defense.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” “based on firsthand accounts of actual events,” has been faulted for leaving the impression that torture was instrumental in the capture of Osama. It celebrates Jessica Chastain’s loner character, “Maya,” when it could have more accurately and theatrically highlighted “The Sisterhood,” a team of female C.I.A. analysts who were part of the long effort.

And then there’s the kerfuffle over “Lincoln,” which had three historical advisers but still managed to make some historical bloopers. Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that “Lincoln” falsely showed two of Connecticut’s House members voting “Nay” against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery.

“They were trying to be meticulously accurate even down to recording the ticking of Abraham Lincoln’s actual pocket watch,” Courtney told me. “So why get a climactic scene so off base?”

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