The Revisionist History Channel

Gump_l_2The other night, the History Channel‘s primetime offering was Forrest Gump. Now, I realize there are only so many documentaries about Hitler to fill the programming day, but Forrest Gump? It’s not 1994 anymore, so I won’t rehash the debate about whether or not FG is a good movie (hint: it’s not), but it’s definitely bad history. What’s next, explaining Watergate by showing the movie Dick? (It’s a wonderful satire, but also very bad history.) Explaining the Elizabethan Era by showing Shakespeare in Love? And if (as seems inconceivable), the History Channel ever runs out of World War II documentaries, will they start showing Disney’s Bedknobs & Broomsticks? C’mon, gang, I know it seems appealing to chase ratings with crowd-pleasing movie favorites, but ultimately, compromising your mission and your reputation for historical accuracy just for a quick ratings fix seems self-defeating and stupid. But then, as a wise historical figure once said, "Stupid is as stupid does."

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  • RightNextToMarsBlog

    Thank You!
    Part of why Forrest Gump is a bad movie is because it’s bad history parading as some “true American experience.” My fear is that they probably show Gump in certain public school American history classes and it provides a really warped view of the last 50 years, especially if the students don’t have a Ken Burns/PBS primer (or, heck, a textbook primer). Anyway, thanks Gary for pointing out what has become a frustrating American “shortcut” to history.

  • Kelly

    SCREW YOU! How can you say Forrest Gump isn’t a good movie? It’s entertainment! Get over yourself. Everyone I know loves that movie. MOVIE. NOT a history lesson. Say what you want about the History channel showing it, but keep your crappy opinions to yourself Gary.

  • Ames

    I didn’t watch the other night, but I think the History channel actually has interludes between commercials where historians discuss what is real and what is “reel” though I may be wrong. But if they do, I think that may justify having it on The History Channel.
    And I only recently met someone who hated Forrest Gump. I was pretty surprised since I remember everyone loving it back when it came out.

  • AA

    Count me among the dislikers. I don’t hate the movie; just thought it was overrated.

  • new yorker

    Ames, you are right. I actually saw the History Channel’s airing of it, and they did have two gentlemen discussing the movie and separating what is “reel” from “real” among other things. In effect, the channel aired it with a sort of disclaimer to history buffs. I liked the movie, not because of its “historical” aspects, but because of the performances. The movie is about the life experiences of people who grew up during a certain time, and it is through the eyes of Forrest. We all see history a different way even if we don’t admit it. Thus, Forrest Gump is history through the eyes of Forrest Gump, and I think it is imperative that you look at it in that sense. After all, if we’re going to be discussing the historical accuracies of all movies made, very few movies based on true stories would ever get made. You have to consider the audience, and how you want to present the movie. Zemeckis and Roth and Groom wanted it that way — I guess it’s called artistic freedom.

  • Nat X

    I’m a long time FG hater. Terrible, terrible movie with an even worse message about American culture. I think this movie subconsciously helped get Bush elected years later. Anyway, that’s not the point. I’ve seen a sci-fi movie on the History Channel. Can’t remember which one, but it was along the lines of Terminator. The History Channel could be really cool and interesting, but they obviously have people with the brain capacity of Forrest Gump running the place. “History” is more than WWII. There’s a reason it’s also known as the “Hitler Channel.”

  • Martha

    Wow, Kelly, that was pretty harsh. Isn’t Gary allowed to have (and express) an opinion, crappy or not? I’m glad the History Channel had some historians attempting to separate fact from fiction in “Forrest Gump.” I’m still not sure it belongs on the History Channel, though. I didn’t hate the historical revisionism in FG, but the incredibly obvious attempts at emotional manipulation had me furious when I left the theater. Not that movies shouldn’t try to manipulate your emotions; the good ones just don’t come across as trying so hard. The whole Boomer nostalgia kick was also hard to swallow for an X-er like me.

  • dragoneye

    Wow, Forrest Gump isn’t an actual non-fiction account of a dim wit southern boy who meets all the presidents. I could have sworn that I saw “Based on a true story” on the tag line of the poster in 1994. Gary Susman and most of the people at EW.com have not the slightest clue of anything related to entertainment and especially pop culture. How many WEEDS reviews do we need or Battlestar Galactica? Forrest Gump was a good ride of a movie told ernestly with a great cast and an interesting fable of the American experience being that even the most feeble can somehow make it. It is these kind of personal opinion pieces that frustrate me and make me turn to RottenTomatoes.com (which has it’s problems, too) and see what they have to say. Even the most hardened non-fictional account is massaged to some extent to make it work. Fiction is fiction.

  • GP

    Not a terrible film, but not even in the same league with Pulp Fiction and the Shawshank Redemption, two great films it beat for the best picture Oscar. I’ve never trusted the Oscars again.

  • Alex Bentley

    Gary, your point would’ve been better if you’d actually bothered to explain a couple of examples of the historical inaccuracies you’re talking about. But Forrest Gump never pretended to be “actual” history — like new yorker said, it’s history through the eyes of that character, in which he’s inserted into a host of situations WHICH HE OBVIOUSLY WAS NEVER A PART OF. If your concern is that some people will take it as actual history, then I think you need to blame the morons who can’t tell the difference between a movie and real life, not blame the movie itself (or book for that matter).

  • nevertheless

    Thank you! Yeah, Forrest Gump is one of those movies that irritates the heck out of me. The screenplay was so manipulative and full of itself. The movie would have been okay if it ended about a 45 minutes sooner, but it just became more and more ridiculous as it went along. That would have been fine if it had been a comedy, but it was trying awfully hard to be a FINE DRAMA.

  • Alicia

    I understand people who think the movie’s emotionally manipulative, but I guess I don’t mind it because the performances feel genuine and I liked seeing some sentimentality on screen in the year of “Pulp Fiction.” (Yes, “Pulp Fiction” is a better movie. But… sometimes it’s nice to have some sap.)

  • DanOregon

    I think you can say at least its History.
    Some of the least apt cable channel names.
    Arts and Entertainment (with Dog Chapman?)
    American Movie Classics (a J.C. Van Damme double feature?)
    Video Hits 1 and MTV (don’t know when I last saw a music video on either channel)

  • nunya

    Forrest Gump is a great movie–a classic actually. Tom Hanks’s performance is brilliant. The film incorporates a lot of significant moments in American history and offers an interesting perspective on it. I also loved Shawshank Redepmtion, but I don’t get all these Pulp Fiction lovers who seem to only treasure mindless violence and shock value.

  • Ryan

    I burst out laughing at work over the Bedknobs and Broomsticks comment. I do love that movie though, so if the History Channel actually ran it, I wouldn’t complain.

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