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Based on a True Story PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

haunting_in_connecticutA Swift reader asked me to comment on the upcoming movie, The Haunting in Connecticut. It's the story of a family who moves into the perfect house, only to find it's haunted. And while I can't comment on a movie I haven't seen, I can use this opportunity to point out something that irks me about movies, and that's the tagline "Based on a True Story."

You'll see in the photo the large words at the top. And then below "Some things cannot be explained." Er, I'm not so sure about that, but again, I haven't seen the film so I can't comment.

There are many other "based on true story" films that are worthy of comment, however.

Jeff Kelly wrote this article on cracked.com that exposes seven movies with true stories that are significantly different from the Hollywood portrayal. It's a funny read, and well worth your time. He missed a few though, and I'm going to point them out here.

fairytaleFirst up is Fairy Tale: A True Story. This telling of the Cottingley Fairies, in which two girls experiment with an early camera and produce images of themselves frolicking with fairies, ruins a completely compelling story with unnecessary additions. Randi covered the facts of the case in detail in his book Flim Flam! He also wrote an article specifically about the movie, and here's an excerpt:

Need I tell you that the PC script writers have the fairies win this one? Harvey Keitel is the perfect Houdini, and the props and presentations used are authentic to the last link in the chain. (I was originally approached to serve as the technical consultant on this film, but was unable to spare the several weeks required. They retained TV magician Simon Drake for the job, and it could not have been better handled.) Peter O'Toole hardly resembles Arthur Conan Doyle in any way except for the tweed suits he wore. The girls were a bit old for their roles, but otherwise I was generally well impressed.

Then came the blow for which I should have been prepared. To my eye, it appeared as if the producer was trying to present the story in a logical, truthful, fashion, and then realized that his audience might rankle at too much truth. Two major scenes were dropped in. In one, the parents who in reality never saw or claimed to have seen, the fairies are startled when one flies right before their faces, and they look at one another in amazement. The other abuse of reality occurs when a newspaper reporter breaks into the Wright home and finds the original cut-outs used by the girls. Those were never found, not to anyone's surprise.

You'll note on the poster the emphatic "Believe" punctuated with a period as though it's the last word. It saddens me that a truly wonderful story was ruined by unnecessary elements, and though beautifully shot, I can't bear to watch it again.

I'd like to take time out here to make a point about ideas that are accompanied by the word "believe.' It seems to me that most things are self-evident. Things that aren't, like the Monty Hall Problem can be sussed out with evidence and critical thinking. The only things I ever see advertised or promoted with the word "believe," and I include religion in this, are things that are not worthy of belief. Think about that the next time you see that word.

Back to my hit list. Next up: Fargo. I loved it, it was a great movie, but it opens with the words "This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987." No, it's not. No, it doesn't. It turns out that Coen brothers were having a little joke at the expense of other movies purporting to be "true stories," and they added that tag to this completely fictional work. From a 2003 Guardian UK article:

Earnest journalists who went in search of the "real" woodchipper murders were outraged when, after months of wild goose chases and increasingly deadpan obfuscation by the film-makers, they finally admitted that the title card was actually an elaborate hoax - their way of "poking a hole in the true story balloon", according to William H Macy.

The article goes on to tell the story of a Japanese girl who took the "this is a true story" line too far and went to Minnesota to find the money portrayed in the film. She failed, and died in the attempt. And while I don't blame the Coen brothers for her death, my literal mind is irked by the lie at the beginning. Yes, I understand that it's art, and I understand that they have a particularly wry sense of humor, but I would have been more amused if it had said "This is not a true story."

campbellghostLastly, is the most famous not-true based-on-a-true-story movie ever, The Amityville Horror. This reported murder, haunting, and exorcism of a suburban New York home caused a worldwide stir. In its defense, the house and the murder are real. The Lutzs are real. The rest of it though, well, let's hear what Robert Todd Carroll of The Skeptic's Dictionary has to say:

While it is quite common for a Catholic priest to bless a house or perform what is called a "routine exorcism," it is not common to perform what is called a "real exorcism" on houses, despite what was depicted in the movie. In the case of Amityville, the real devils were George and Kathy Lutz, who concocted a preposterous story to help them out of a mortgage they couldn't afford and a marriage on the rocks (Schick & Vaughn 1998: 269-270). Their case was helped along by the media (New York television station Channel 5), self-proclaimed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, and Gene Campbell, who produced an infra red time-lapse photograph of a boy (?) with no eyes at the foot of a staircase. The photo was first shown on the Merv Griffin show, few years after it was allegedly taken at the Amityville house, to promote the first film of the alleged horror.

In the 70's, infrared photography was the purview of professional photographers. These days, an image like that is easily captured with an inexpensive camcorder set to "night" mode. The camera records infrared light reflected from an invisible beam shining from the front of the camera. That beam reflects off of eyes just like any beam does, but it looks spooky in infrared.  So nothing supernatural there, and most likely nothing supernatural with the rest of the story. As Ben Radford reports on snopes.com reports, the story is an admitted hoax.

There is one interesting thing, and that is the name Warren. Ed and Lorraine Warren to be precise. Coincidentally, they're the ones who investigated The Haunting in Connectucut (not far from NY at all), and co-wrote the book with Chip Coffey. The Warrens even lived in the house that's reported haunted in the upcoming movie to "observe" the phenomenon for themselves.

I have not seen the movie, but I do have some idea that I may have seen it all before.

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written by tdudkowski, March 09, 2009
Please comment ridiculous The Exorcism of Emily Rose, also "based on true story" and much more harmful. Why? I saw it on Polish TV, presented as almost documentary, and in fact this is story about girl "posessed by demon" after attending University. She was very religious and under influence of personal exorcist (catholic priest) decided to stop treatment recommended by psychiatrists. Finally she died and her sacrifice is used by exorcists propaganda. They killed a girl and made the saint.
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written by OPa, March 09, 2009
Although not supernatural in any way, "Searching for Bobby Fischer" was another movie based on a true story. In the the movie, little Josh(After just learning the game of chess)is kicking his father's butt in only his second game against him(it was implied he threw the first to spare his father's feelings)--going off and doing other things during the game while calling out his moves to his dad. Josh was a prodigy and a great player but by his own admission in his book, "Attacking Chess" he played his dad over a hundred times before beating him. "Based" on a true story, indeed! There were several other "improvements" but this was the worst(best?).
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written by MadScientist, March 10, 2009
Same old news: "Based on a true story". That's what you say when you want to sell a really awful movie - the sort of movie you wouldn't even watch when it appears on TV. One such example was "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". There was a baron Munchausen but the movie had absolutely nothing to do with the baron's life.
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Hurricane...
written by BillyJoe, March 10, 2009
It's my brother-in-law, who loudly hates Bob Dylan, who gleefully informed me that the story Dylan told in his song "Hurricane" was total BS. I didn't actually care though. I just loved the song. I have never seen the film though.
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written by Alan3354, March 10, 2009
Some say the bible is based on a true story.
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written by Elexina, March 10, 2009
I'm pretty sure this movie is based on a book about the Warrens (In A Dark Place, by Ray Garton), so we can all decide from that how "true" any of it is. The book was terrible and unbelievable (who lets their children stay in a house with a raping and abusing spirit??) and the movie will be tainted for me because of that. I'm all for scary movies, but don't try to b.s. me with "true stories."
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written by Arts Myth, March 10, 2009
Almost as bad is the weaselly "Inspired by a True Story." At least it lets you know that liberties were (usually quite liberally) taken with the source material. In fact, the source can often be found within an "Inspired" movie in near-homeopathic amounts.
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written by Thanny, March 10, 2009
The bit about the Japanese woman looking for the Fargo money is a myth. There was a real woman who died, but it had nothing to do with the movie.

So the question of whether or not the Coens hold any shred of moral culpability doesn't need to be considered, though the answer would certainly be in the negative if anyone ever did freeze to death looking for make-believe money.
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written by Urmensch, March 10, 2009
What to make of 'The Entity'?
Based partially on a true story. The story of a woman molested by an invisible demon. I wonder what part of that was true?
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written by mama1974, March 10, 2009
What to make of 'The Entity'?
Based partially on a true story. The story of a woman molested by an invisible demon. I wonder what part of that was true?

Perhaps it wasn't a woman?
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An American Haunting
written by BatBoy, March 10, 2009
The movie "An American haunting" was based off of a story from Adam's Tennessee The Bell Which. Even though Adams is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in America. The story historically has holes big enough to throw a cat through. It should be noted that many of the faithful did not like the angle of the film. Which was the theory that John Bell was actually molesting his daughter.
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What is a "true story" really?
written by lyzyrdskyn, March 10, 2009
Isn’t “true story” an oxymoron? I know the definition of “story” can be either factual or fictitious but the way we use the word “story” usually means something made up. Like when we say someone is “telling stories again”. We mean they are making things up. Then you have the word “true” before it.
“True story” could also mean a story that was so good that it could be considered classic. For instance Vincent Van Gogh was a “true” artist. Another good one would be William Shakespeare was a true writer. As far as I know William Shakespeare only wrote fiction (I could be wrong but you get the point) but “Romeo and Juliet” was a masterpiece, a work of art, a “true” story but not a "true story" becuase it was not real.
But… I realize these movies put in the taglines to deceive and stir things up and I am sure even though I have not seen it I am sure this new movie is not a “true story” by any means. I will probably watch it when it comes out on Netflix (probably sooner than later) anyway. Even though I am a skeptic I love those scary movies….love ‘em.
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written by bosshog, March 11, 2009
"Based" on a true story.
I have a tattoo on my back "based" on a true story-a Japanese myth regarding a pearl diver and a dragon. It truly is a story.
No shit.
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Fargo suicide, Doesn't look like infrared
written by markbellis, March 11, 2009
Takako Konishi was the woman who committed suicide and who became associated with Fargo, the movie - she had come to the United States from Japan in 2001 after a break-up with her American lover, whom she may have visited in Minnesota previously. She was brought to the police in Bismarck, ND, after a trucker had seen her wandering around in frigid weather lightly clothed. She talked to the police with the aid of a pocket translator, and the officer who interviewed her thought that she was saying she had come to find the money that was hidden in the movie - this story got into the media before her body was discovered by a hunter. There was considerable evidence that her real intention in coming to the USA was to commit suicide.

The "Amity Demon Boy" doesn't look like an infrared image - infrared is absorbed by the aqueous humor in the eyes and doesn't flash back, and the infrared film most commonly available has no anti-halation layer and so there is a halo around highlights. Also the average European ancestry skin tone is rendered as almost white in infrared. This just looks like ordinary black and white film - probably good old Kodak Tri-X pan - it's only spooky if one accepts the statement that no one else was in the house. Otherwise it just looks like an ordinary photo of a kid with glasses reflecting the flash.
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Beware the Warrens
written by Telescope1968, March 12, 2009
Anything the Warrens ever investigated was "possessed". If you watch Discovery Channels series "A Haunting" you'll see how parasitic these investigators are. In one case, a terminally ill child suffers a nervous breakdown and is institutionalized. A terrible and stressful event for the child and family. The Warrens move in and declare the child "possessed" and play on the fears of the family claiming that their house is a conduit to hell and anyone of them could be possessed next. The manipulation and exploitation of a family struggling to deal with serious mental and physical illness, as well as financial hardship is disgusting. So much for "based on a true story"
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written by Elexina, March 12, 2009
I read a book about the Bell Witch haunting, which also focused on the abuse angle -and stole a line right out of "The Shining" as well. I threw it down with a vengeance and never finished it. I don't care of it was "based on a true story" or not. Though, Brian Dunning (I think) pretty much tears apart the Bell Witch b.s. in one of his episodes anyway.

I think "The Scarlet Letter" staring Demi Moore did it best. At the beginning of the movie it said , "loosely based on the story." No kidding. They should all say that.
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Getting back to the fairies...
written by AlmightyBob, March 13, 2009
I saw a wonderfully titled book in a store the other day - "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elves and Fairies".
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written by Fontwell, March 16, 2009
I can't believe that anyone would think the 'Based on a true story' tag in Fargo was actually a serious comment. In other breaking news, you know how it says "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" at the start of Star Wars - guess what I just found out - they made it all up! Who knew?!!
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