It isn’t what they say about you…
Errol Flynn, 1930s Hollywood swashbuckler and tomcat extraordinaire, quipped once that, “It isn’t what they say about you, it’s what they whisper.”
Flynn, a moviestar in possession of fame, fortune, and a devil-may-care attitude that defied his perfectly polished pencil-thin mustache, knew the value of reputation. “The public has always expected me to be a playboy,” the Tasmanian devil declared, “and a decent chap never lets his public down.”
And recently, “the public” became acquainted with Flynn’s reputation. Nearly 60 years after his death, an audience who had a vague idea of who he was now has a very certain idea that he was a philandering perv, thanks to the film The Last of Robin Hood.
The movie chronicles the last years of the film star’s life, during which time he was nearly 50 years old, and his girlfriend just 15. These statistics are questionable to be sure, and I understand the need for the movies to highlight the “juicy plot points” in order to draw in viewers. But if the story is worthy of a film, why the need for dishonest exaggeration?
My problem is with the silver screen industry distorting sordid stories about public figures and exploiting them after the subjects are dead and unable to defend themselves.
Flynn’s “illicit love affair” is definitely objectionable, to say the least, but does the Last of Robin Hood reveal to viewers that Flynn’s last love, Beverly Aadland, said years later that, “If (Errol) were alive today, I would still be with him”? “I’m still glad I had the experience,” she wrote decades after Flynn’s untimely death (and with her mother, wrote about the affair in The Big Love). “I was 15 chronologically, but I was so much older. I believe Errol was trying to do the best for me. I don’t blame him for anything.”
J. Edgar and countless other films are similar. Wait until Hoover is cold in the ground and then out him as a homosexual. Who’s to disprove it? And will it matter? People with no impression of the man see these things on the big screen, are influenced, and come away with these images firmly fixed in their minds.
You want to expose someone’s disreputable life? Fine. Why not do it while the person is still alive? “‘Steve Jobs did LSD and pot and had questionable moral character’: FBI’s secret report on Apple boss is revealed’” was a DailyMail headline yesterday. Did Jobs’ suddenly turn into a sexualized drug addict after his life ended? Why wait til he’s gone to besmirch his life? Even if it’s true, what good does revealing it do now?
Filmmakers want controversy. They want drama, a reaction. I get it. But they don’t bother to provide context or the whole story. These are real people whose characters are irreparably damaged. The interpretation of real events is there now to serve as a lasting documentation of the person’s life, to influence naive watchers for years to come. Why not impose histrionics on a fictitious person?
Films of omission are just an extension of biased media tag-teaming with liberal Hollywood.