Sunday, September 7, 2014

History, Houdini, and the blogosphere


Like the Tony Curtis movie in 1953 and The Great Houdinis in 1976 (not sure anyone noticed the 1998 TNT film), HISTORY's Houdini miniseries has received a serious drubbing in the magic world, and especially among Houdini bloggers. While many agree the film was well made from a technical standpoint, and even the questionable casting of Adrien Brody seemed to have won over viewers in the end, it was the amount of historical inaccuracies (and flat out fictions) that doomed Houdini for many. Below are links to a few reviews on the major Houdini websites:




Even though I gave the miniseries a pretty rough review here, I don't think it quite deserves some of vicious criticism it's getting. It isn't the worse Houdini movie ever. Had they gotten the facts of his early success even remotely right and cut all that bogus spy stuff, I would have stayed on-board and ranked this miniseries pretty high. (As is, I put it somewhere in the middle of the pack -- waiting on the extended edition before I decide).

But I do agree with the overall sentiment that a channel which calls itself HISTORY should have made more of an effort to get the facts right (or close to right). At the very least, they should have included a disclaimer on the front telling viewers what they were about to see was a mix of fact and fiction. This is what ABC put in front of The Great Houdinis in 1976, and that was a responsible and respectful thing to do. But I guess ethics in television aren't what they once were. (Is it a pipe dream to think, owing to the negative reaction, that they might now add a disclaimer to the DVD?)

Disclaimer on the front of The Great Houdinis (1976).

As to fears that this is now what people will believe about Houdini... I don't know. This isn't like 1953 and 1976, or even 1998. We now have a powerful way to strike back and get the real story out to people who care enough to look for it. My blog and Fact Checks have received hundreds of thousands of hits since Houdini first aired, and I'm sure Tom, Kevin, David and Dean have experienced a similar surge in traffic. And if you look at the HISTORY Twitter and Facebook pages, there are people taking the network to task. This is really the first major Houdini movie that’s had to contend with social networks and established Houdini blogs, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps HISTORY will now spend a little more time worrying about how accurately they are presenting our history. Or maybe that's just another pipe dream.

#HOUDINItruth

11 comments:

  1. Just finished watching the first part. :-(
    As per your review. In total agreement. Furthermore revealing magic secrets..... just for the sake of it. Unnecessary CGI.....because we can. Contemporary music in the background.....distracting. Unfortunately this tends to be the trend. Recently the BBC had a World War centenary programme based upon eyewitness reports which were produced in a similar way...CGI...contemporary music. Totally put me off and I switched channel.
    The only positive was that my son (19) watched it because of Brody and enjoyed it. He was asking questions regarding the accuracy.

    John, if you can see if you can catch it on 4od somehow. (Not normally available outside UK).There is a disclaimer at the start of the movie and the editing seems to be judiciously done on this broadcast. My suspicion is that they have taken some of the criticism on board and perhaps have re-edited it or this is how it is for the UK market (hence the one disc DVD). Hold on a bit...just need to swat that flying pig !!

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    1. There's a disclaimer on the UK version? Whoa! That is great news. I expect that's Channel 4s doing. Bravo.

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  2. Just had a quick look at it again:

    What you are about to see is FACT...It is also FICTION... We defy you to tell the difference.

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    1. You know, that's interesting. The LA Times review mentioned a disclaimer that said just that. But it wasn't on the movie. Maybe it will be on the DVD and that's what the Times got to review.

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    2. BTW, kind of an arrogant disclaimer. Well, it was not hard to tell fact from fiction, and I'm happy to provide viewers with Fact Checks so they can all do just that. But why again is that my job? Shouldn't it have been the job of the filmmakers to separate fact from fiction?

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  3. Agreed. Shoddy work. They have so much information available out there. Scholars, historians and the above blogs etc. People who are generous with there advice and efforts. I am mystified also.

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    1. I'm starting to suspect that what you saw there in the UK was the extended edition. I sent you an email.

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  4. Believe it or not, I held back as much as I could! Did not even mention the shameful exposure of secrets (which puts working magicians out of a job). Could have said a lot more about the father/mother mess. Hmm, maybe that could all be in the next blog post!...

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  5. That is an arrogant disclaimer. What it confirms is that they never intended to remain true to history, regardless of studio notes.

    I just read a really grating quote from producer Gerald Abrams in a feature in the New York Daily News. When questioned about the veracity of the escapes shown in the film, he actually had the gall to say, and I quote, that "...since this was four or five generations ago, there's no one around to say it didn't really happen the way we show it."

    With such a cavalier attitude as that, I don't think he should be trying his hand at anything close to a biopic.

    -Meredith

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    1. Wow, that is a screwed up thing of Abrams to say.

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  6. I love this post! Thank you for sharing these reviews. Reading them now. Next, I need to read John's review!!

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