April 28, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Historical Movies

If I wanted my brain washed, I'd wash it myself.

Most kids have a parent they can model themselves after. If papa is a carpenter, then junior will learn how to be a carpenter and how carpenters behave. When I was growing up I had no idea what a scientist was like nor what he did. The only image that I had was of Louis Pasteur as acted by Paul Muni. It was very real to me. I didn't know then that the only parts that were real were the factual events that had actually taken place. The rest, the action and the dialogue, was invented. In other words, it was fiction. Fiction that was based on a thin tissue of facts.

When DNA evidence finally showed that Thomas Jefferson had indeed sired one of his slave's children, and may well have sired all of them, it didn't take long for the media moguls to make a film of it. I know for a fact that the only things that were actual known were that Jefferson's slave Sally Hemings accompanied his daughter, to be with her father in Paris. When they returned from France, Sally was pregnant. One of Sally Hemings' children later stated that his mother had told him that Jefferson was the father of all of her children. That's it! That is all of the actual information that that is available. Neither Hemings nor Jefferson ever said another word about it. Yet, out of that flimsy tissue of fact, a two part TV movie was created.

True, Jefferson was a prolific letter writer and many of his letters have been preserved, but he was wisely silent about his love life, except when it came to his love for his wife, who died at a relatively young age. Neither he, nor any other president, has ever written about his love life outside of marriage. I am using the expression "love life" in its carnal sense.

Sally Hemings was his wife's half sister and we can assume that Jefferson found her physically attractive; but it is only an assumption. She may have been merely a convenient and safe sexual object when Thomas got horny. Hemings was Jefferson's house slave and lived in close proximity to him for all of the time that he was in Virginia. Of course, it isn't fitting to create an image of one of the fathers of his country as horny old goat like two of his successors, Kennedy and Clinton. Hollywood loves romances and a romance between a slave and her master is great stuff for attracting an audience. On the other hand, a master screwing his slave is the stuff that porn movies are made of. I suspect that it won't be long before some enterprising porn entrepreneur makes a film about a white master and a black slave, if it hasn't already been done. It will never get the audience that the TV movie did, nor will it make as much money. And money is what the film industry is all about.

I read Faun Brodie's excellent biography of Jefferson, but I drew the line at watching the Jefferson movie. If I wanted my brain washed, I'd wash it myself. No Hollywood fiction writer can do that for me. Sure I was curious about whether the film makers would have them frolicking naked in bed; but if I want a pornographic movie, I know where to get one; or I can watch any R rated movie made in the last 10 years for the softer stuff. Either alternative is more honest than what is presented as "history" and isn't history at all, but fiction.

I like fiction, but I have a hang-up about truth. I respect and love it and I don't like having fiction presented as fact; even as a reasonable facsimile (a good fake) of fact.

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