Why Docudrama? / Edition 1

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When the 1990 English docudrama Who Bombed Birmingham? cast serious doubt on the guilt of six men convicted of bombing two British pubs in 1974, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared that a "television program alters nothing." But, as Alan Rosenthal concludes, Thatcher was wrong. The film engendered a new inquiry that led to the release of the convicted men.

Rosenthal notes that docudrama wields more influence than the average documentary and that "reality-based stories taken from topical journalism are the most popular drama genre on U.S. and British television today." This three-part collection of diverse and provocative essays addresses the dominant questions and controversies the genre poses.

Defining and examining the rationale of docudrama, the nine essayists in the first part discuss the history and development of docudrama on TV and in film; they also consider the place of truth in docudrama, the main critiques of the form, and the audience's susceptibilities and expectations. In investigating the actual filmmaking process, the eight essays in the second part focus on how "docudrama as a 'commodity' is created in the United States and England." Part essay, part case study, and part interview, this section also explores how Hollywood and the commercial networks as well as producers and writers work and think. The final part presents an in-depth critique of a number of controversial docudramas that have helped form and shape public opinion, including Battleship Potemkin, Roots, Reds, JFK, Mississippi Burning, Schindler's List, and In the Name of the Father.

In addition to Rosenthal, the contributors are John Corner, George F. Custen, David Edgar, Leslie Fishbein, George MacDonald Fraser, Todd Gitlin, Douglas Gomery, Richard Grenier, Sumiko Higashi, Tom W. Hoffer, Jerry Kuehl, Steve Lipkin, Yosefa Loshitsky, Ian McBride, Richard Alan Nelson, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Derek Paget, Robert A. Rosenstone, Betsy Sharkey, Irene Shubik, Jeff Silverman, D. J. Wenden, Sita Williams, and Leslie Woodhead.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The emerging genre variously called "docudrama," "dramatic reconstruction," and, as editor Rosenthal likes to define it, "reality-based stories," has become the most popular kind of drama on U.S. and British television. The frequent criticism of its potential to misguide audiences by erecting a fictional structure around historical events is well examined in this collection of nearly 30 probing essays by a well-credentialed mix of contributors from the entertainment industry and academia. What emerges from these analyses of such landmark TV and cinema docudramas as Roots, Patriot Games, and Schindler's List is the value of reaching a wider audience for important historical topics than would be achieved by conventional documentaries. Also explored are the ethical issues involved in controversial fictionalizations, such as Oliver Stone's JFK. A prolific filmmaker himself, Rosenthal has authored several books on documentaries and taught at several film schools. Highly recommended for academic libraries and cinema collections.--Richard Warren Grefrath, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809321872
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Rosenthal is the author of Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos. He is a documentary filmmaker, teacher, and author active in Israel, Britain, and the United States and a winner of the George Foster Peabody Award for journalism for Out of the Ashes. His films have appeared on Channel 4 UK and Israeli television and on the American networks NBC, PBS/WNET, and ABC.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Taking the Stage: Developments and Challenges 1
1 Hollywood and World History 12
2 Clio in Hollywood 19
3 British TV Dramadocumentary: Origins and Developments 35
4 Tales of Cultural Tourism 47
5 Docudrama on American Television 64
6 Brian's Song: Television, Hollywood, and the Evolution of the Movie Made for TV 78
7 The Guardian Lecture: Dramatized Documentary 101
8 Where Are We Going and How and Why? 111
9 Lies about Real People 119
Pt. 2 Docudrama at Work: Practice and Production 125
10 Hollywood and the Research Department 133
11 Making Bitter Harvest 146
12 And the Band Played On: Searching for Truth 160
13 Murder and Mayhem Stalk TV 167
14 Theater of Fact: A Dramatist's Viewpoint 174
15 Death of a Princess: The Politics of Passion, an Interview with Antony Thomas 188
16 Writers in Action: Ernest Kinoy, Michael Eaton, Michael Baker 201
17 Tony Parker and the Documentary Play 221
Pt. 3 Criticism: The Quicksands of Politics and History 229
18 Battleship Potemkin: Film and Reality 236
19 Rule Britannia! 260
20 Roots: Docudrama and the Interpretation of History 271
21 Reds as History 296
22 Patriot Games 311
23 In the Name of the IRA 316
24 The Making of Hostages 324
25 JFK: Historical Fact/Historical Film 333
26 Walker and Mississippi Burning: Postmodernism Versus Illusionist Narrative 340
27 Fantastic Realism: Schindler's List as Docudrama 357
28 Defining Docudrama: In the Name of the Father, Schindler's List, and JFK 370
List of Contributors 385
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