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History vs Hollywood (Hardback)

How the Past is Filmed

Military > Pre-WWI > American History P&S History > Social History World History > The Americas > USA

By M J Trow
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 264
ISBN: 9781399066501
Published: 5th March 2024



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Film studios have been making historical movies now for over a century. In that time, thousands of films have been made covering not just centuries but millennia. Did Neanderthal woman really look like Raquel Welch in her bearskin bikini? Did 6,000 rebellious slaves claim that they were Spartacus? Did Berengaria complain to her husband, Richard the Lionheart, ‘War, war; that’s all you think about, Dick Plantagenet’? Was El Cid strapped to his horse’s saddle to lead his army after he was dead? These aren’t questions of history; they are questions of Hollywood.

Charlton Heston was a foot too tall for General Charles Gordon. John Wayne was a tad too American for Genghis Khan. Eric von Stroheim’s bald head was an odd choice for the perfectly hirsute Erwin Rommel. And Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway were far too gorgeous for bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde.

Hollywood never gets it right. History and its characters are endlessly complicated, and producers, directors and screenwriters have a simple story to tell. They have a maximum of two hours to explain what happened over weeks or months or years and many of it give it their best shot.

Yet for all Hollywood’s shortcomings in recreating the past, it has managed to evoke eras and people long dead in a magical way that has kept millions of us enthralled for generations.

5 out of 5

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be rereading it as well as seeking out some of MJ Trows other work

Read the Full Review Here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

In our house there is a popular saying. Hollywood has never let facts or history get in the way of a good story. Or a bad one as this book points out. There is always going to be some literary license when you tell a “true” story. In fact, as the book points out again, sticking too much to the facts can often drag down the pace or the characterizations.

If you are both a history buff and a movie buff you can rattle off lists of movies that got it wrong. Some get little details wrong and some get the whole shebang wrong. Reading the book hit a lot of the ones that have started our teeth grinding. No book could cover it all. But it certainly does give a comprehensive collection, done in chronological order when possible, of the films that include gaping holes, wrong technology and simply a complete misunderstanding of what really happened.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

Hollywood historical movies are often a fantasy that make us think that historical characters were like those we see in the movies or thinks worked according to Hollywood.
Entertaining and well researched

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

I find the line between history and Hollywood's history fascinating, and I was glad to find M.J. Trow's non-fiction book. Starting at the beginning of the film industry to the present day, Trow makes compelling arguments and observations about Hollywood's tendency to glamourise and stretch history to fit their film's narratives (not to say it is a bad thing, but it does beg the question if history can truly be learned from films). I found History vs Hollywood an interesting read with tidbits of history that I didn't know were added by Hollywood and become part of how we view history.

I highly recommend History vs Hollywood to any film history or history fanatics who want to learn how Hollywood merges imagination and fact into their films.

NetGalley, Megan Rose

A fascinating trip through history via the cinema. The author looks at the films made about historic events in the past & what they got right & what they got wrong. It's a good book to dip in & out of - reading a few chapters & returning later - but the sheer amount of information can become a little overwhelming if you are trying to read it straight through.

If you have read anything by the author before you are probably familiar with their slightly sardonic tone, if not then do check out their series of historical mysteries featuring Christopher (Kit) Marlowe. Overall I enjoyed this one & I have a list of films to watch at some point now.

NetGalley, Gayle Noble

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I thought this was a really interesting concept for a nonfiction book, it had everything that I was hoping for from the history vs Hollywood. I always enjoy reading what Hollywood got wrong because I know Hollywood isn't perfect, M J Trow writes this perfectly.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

A fun and interesting read. This book covers movies from all different periods of time as well as genres. Especially enjoyable when they are movies that you have seen. There's a fairly large amount of casting the wrong actors for a part but that was not unusual in early Hollywood when actors were under studio contracts. Sad to see that historical inaccuracies still exist today. I hope this author writes more on this subject.

NetGalley, Christine Cazeneuve

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I think it would be a fantastic conversation piece, maybe a great coffee table book.

This was interesting to read and see all the differences in how people were in real life vs. how they were portrayed in movies. I liked the little facts at at the end of the book with the images. Like what characters played Queen Elizabeth I in the movies and who was too tall or too short.
This isn't a book I could read in one sitting as I noticed myself googling little facts, or looking at the costumes in the movies. It made me think and research and I felt like it took over my whole life as I was reading it.

The writing is great, and there is some humor mixed in the book. 10/10 I absolutely would recommend.

NetGalley, Stephanie Pontarollo

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Nobody expects Hollywood movies to be historically accurate (despite my always joking how that’s where I get all my knowledge), but I had no idea how strongly they have influenced widespread history! The author loves movies, but he is also a historian so, when he says that Billy the Kid was not a leftie, he explains how it is known. The writing is humorous and approachable. From Genesis to Vietnam, Trow discusses films and describes what really happened. Or what can be proven. Or what is impossible to know. As well as what definitely was not possible because the characters in the film were dead by then. To limit the page count, he focusses on real characters who existed in real life (alas, no William of Baskerville), and chooses mostly Hollywood films, with a few exceptions. Readers who still choose to believe that Napoleon was a great rider, Rasputin a monk who dabbled with the supernatural or Cleopatra a great beauty may want to skip it (learning the truth about the shield maidens was worse than finding out about Santa Claus. For real). It is a fascinating history lesson for movie buffs.

NetGalley, Elisa Rambacher

This title has loads of examples of historic inaccuracies in films, from choice of actor, accuracy if an event, dress faux pas, location choices and much more. It’s a genuinely interesting exploration of films and poetic licence.

NetGalley, Anita Wallas

For the reader who wants to know more about the films Trow covers, this book in a treasure trove. It also provides a wonderful perspective on the historical authenticity, or lack of authenticity, on a multitude of films in a wide range of genres. It is fun to read, and I enjoyed doing so.

NetGalley, Robin Joyce

History vs Hollywood is a fascinating journey through the movie industry's treatment of the facts in its pursuit of the next historical blockbuster. From Spartacus to Bonnie & Clyde, The Longest Day to Cleopatra, the cinema has played fast and loose with the facts of history. Yet historical films continue to draw big crowds, win awards and fascinate the public -- nevermind accuracy. M. J. Trow sets the record straight in a light, easy-to-read book that I found particularly interesting in regard to the movies of the first and second World Wars, but as a history buff, I must say the entire book was engaging. Far more than a dry reference book, the reader can enjoy the author's dry sense of humor and the sense of the inevitablity of the movie process and it's ongoing mission to make our history and heritage better, more visual, more memorable or perhaps more interesting than it might have actually been. A great read for anyone who loves film, history or just wants to take a literary stroll though some of Hollywoods best -- and worst -- efforts.

NetGalley, Leslee Borger

This was an ideal choice for me as I love reading books about cinema and I’m really interested in history.
This was a really informative and entertaining read and I think it was written and researched very well.
I wasn’t surprised because I’m a big fan of the variety of Pen and Sword publications.
Highly recommended

NetGalley, Alison Bevington

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

History v Hollywood is a fascinating account comparing the delights and inconsistencies between history and the big screen.

Well-written and an interesting account. Recommended.

NetGalley, Wendy M Rhodes

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book that examined different historical themed films over time. It was well written and accessible to audiences regardless of their historical knowledge or their knowledge and understanding of film.

NetGalley, Emily Walker

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a very interesting to read to learn about the fact vs fiction in Hollywood and see how sometimes they have got it right or very incorrect!

NetGalley, A D

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What a unique book! I love Hollywood themed books and acquiring them for our readers and to see this really cool one which combines history with Hollywood is so very cool! Readers are going to love this! I know I do!

NetGalley, Jill Speedman (Librarian)

About M J Trow

M.J. Trow is the author of nearly 100 books covering crime fiction, true crime and historical biography. He is a military historian by training, lectures extensively in the UK and overseas, and has appeared regularly on the History and Discovery Channels. He can be heard in podcasts on all the usual platforms, both as a guest and the main presenter on both historical and true crime subjects. He lives in the Isle of Wight.

The Hollywood Sign is officially dedicated in the hills above Hollywood, Los Angeles

13th July 1923

It originally reads "Hollywoodland" but the four last letters are dropped after renovation in 1949

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