Good stories deserve a little embellishment

English: Lesson 165

Quiz Show did not tell the truth about key historical figures. Did this break the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’?

Quiz Show (1994), directed by Robert Redford, is a movie based on the 1950s Twenty One television show scandal when it was discovered that the producers of the hit game show were feeding correct answers to the contestants. The scandal started when Herb Stempel, a contestant on Twenty One, agreed to lose the game after a several-week winning streak in exchange for his own spot on an NBC panel program. Stempel was then replaced with a Columbia University professor, Charles Van Doren, who went on to become the longest winning contestant of the game show. Initially, Van Doren refused to be fed the correct answers, but he slowly succumbed, allowing the producers to give him the questions in advance so he could look them up. Eventually, he became one of the most popular figures on television, with Twenty One getting ratings almost as high as the biggest show of the time, I Love Lucy (one of my favourite shows ever!). Richard Goodwin, a young Congressional lawyer, travels to New York to investigate Twenty One and eventually the scandal unfolds and the game show falls apart.

Hollywood has a habit of putting those infamous words “based on a true story” at the beginning of many of their movies, when in fact only a select few parts and characters are based on truth.  Based on truth usually means mostly false, at least that is what an elderly gentleman at a book shop once told me. But what about Quiz Show?  Most stories or movies have changes made to them to make the plot move forward faster and more interesting for the audience. But is this breaking the 8th commandment ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness? The movie takes what occurred over three years and turns it into only one year. It also takes small details that appear throughout the 1950s and puts them all into 1958. They were not totally obvious, but historians watching the movie might get annoyed. But these aren’t adding, removing, or changing important facts and features of the story. I would call it artistic licence. People do not go to see a movie to learn about history. They go to see an interesting story, and it is the job of the director to make history and real-life interesting. It does not mean he has to completely lie, but he has to tell a story. That is a hard thing to do.

As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, ” Good stories deserve a little embellishment.” I do not believe the movie is breaking the 8th commandment but is instead making a story more relatable, funny, charismatic, and interesting for the audience.  Quiz Show does this well, taking all the facts and characters and accurately depicting them in a movie that is set in one year that took real-life three. It is a wonderful movie based on a true story, with a little embellishment.

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