Movies as a Form of Public History

Good food for thought presenting movies as a form of public history. While the author focuses on the 2014 film Pride, my first thoughts were of the recent Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and The Greatest Showman (2017).

I have not seen The Greatest Showman yet, knowing that is is a dramatized, glamorized, retelling of P.T. Barnum, whom I have many personal issues with. As for Bohemian Rhapsody, I enjoyed the film, but am left with many questions concerning why director Bryan Singer (and Queen band member) constructed the narrative in the way he did. There are many criticisms regarding how Freddie’s sexuality was portrayed, or the lack of it, which points to an issue with historically based films: the subjectivity and level of interpretation with which they are told. Who is writing these stories and what perspective are they bringing to it?

Film presents a few limitations, the most notable: length. This makes it difficult to condense years of historical events and dialogue into a max of 120 minutes (a main outlier being the LOTR series). This leaves determining what is included and pertinent in telling the history up to the director and their staff.

Whether it’s believable or not, films can be considered a form of digital history. Moving forward, greater care of interpretation practices and integrating the interest these films generate into museum exhibitions and programming is necessary to consider.

For the longest time, I held the belief that Public histories were not just a commendable, but a vital part of the promotion of history in the 21st century. It is undeniable that books, films and television shows are brilliant forums to engage the wider public in periods and events from the past. However, recently […]

via The renewed responsibilities of Public Histories. — the biased historian

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