Fact is stranger than fiction. This seems to be the current mantra for television executives of almost every network. Television viewers are being inundated with high quality reality events – and I use the words “reality” and “quality” sarcastically.
While watching the 77th Annual Academy Awards, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of films up for Best Picture were based on true stories or people. Is the public’s obsession with reality seeping into the film industry? Films such as “The Aviator,” “Finding Neverland” and “Ray” may be the best that Hollywood had to offer in 2004, but what does it say about the future of the truly original story?
Films based on “truth” are complicated. First of all, the debate over the blurring between reality and creative license creates endless fun.
One might wonder if creating reality-based films is simply a cop-out. Are writers unable to think of a single original concept, so they must expose other people’s lives? Perhaps the appeal is the lack of expectation of the viewer. An audience could incur a great deal of disappointment at a “bad ending.” Some viewers prefer the happy ending – others don’t. Some like to think they will or won’t receive their deserved happy ending and enjoy the good old Hollywood fake-out. However, if one simply removes the element of surprise, a level of possible disappointment is alleviated.
Perhaps such films are indicative of a reliance on the past for which Hollywood can be both applauded and criticized. Since the word “documentary” could make even a film major grimace, it’s possible such films are intended to educate their audience in the most passive way possible. Are we truly learning anything? I’m sure some people are, but I can’t stand to be around the teenybopper who declares “I love Ray Charles” after seeing “Ray,” but can’t name one song he wrote that didn’t appear in a Diet Pepsi ad, or the viewer who has seen “Finding Neverland” but still can’t differentiate between a pedophile and a child molester. Or perhaps, in my most cynical mind of minds, films such as “Ray” are inspired marketing schemes. Not to take anything away from Ray Charles’ career or the film, but I found the barrage of Ray Charles CDs sold at Starbucks somewhat jading. I won’t begrudge the producers of the film a buck, but are we protecting a memory or degrading it? Maybe we’re simply teaching a generation with the only forms it knows.
There’s no telling how big the effect of reality television will be on the film industry, but if I see a “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” feature film, I am inclined to emigrate from this country faster than any election would make me. Hopefully, audiences and producers will come to their senses soon and learn something from one of my favorite films – “Reality Bites.”
Reyhani can be reached at email@example.com.