Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 16:23:59 -0600


Subject: Re: Ebert and anachronism

I read Ebert's article in the Sun-Times last week. My impression was that

he was tongue-in-cheekly telling ADS to **** ourselves with his followup

question about when well-bred young ladies began to have vertical, public

sex. As best as I can tell, based on my own experience and observation

(and I'm always on the lookout for this kind of thing), vertical, public

sex is not common even among the lower classes, even in our enlightened age.

More importantly, when discussing anachronism in films and television, it

seems to me that we should not fret so much about things like language and

gesture. Movies and such are aimed at today's mass audiences, and so

words, idioms and gestures must be translated.

Many of us (myself included, at times) are quick to jump on diachronic and

regional intra-language issues, but have no problem when we are dealing

with translated dialog. When all the Russians speak to each other in late

20th-century English in "Anastasia," no one complains about anachronistic

use of language or gesture (I know, it's a cartoon, but it's just an

example of a common practice). But if filmmakers make a movie about a

historical event that happened in an English-speaking environment, they

should be historically accurate in their portrayal of the language at that

date? Why?

I'll grant that a certain amount of historical accuracy regarding

language/gesture is often necessary for verisimilitude, but no one

producing Beowulf or Chaucer (extreme examples, fer sure) for modern

audiences could afford to adhere very closely to a historical standard.

If Winslett's character would more likely have stuck her thumb up to her

nose in the early 20th century, and if director James Cameron had known

this, he would still have been wise to have her go with the finger. The

former gesture would not have had the power with today's audiences that it

would have had in the early 20th century--to communicate that power, you

must use a gesture the audience will "get," regardless of its chronological