Some People Really Get Straight To The Truth: Tom Stoppard on “Accuracy”

Sometimes when I am babbling on, in the back of my mind a little voice is shouting: Steve, for heaven’s sakes, someone with half a brain could use three words to say what it just took you 15 minutes to express. Often, after the fact, I realize what those three words might have been.

Well,  today I heard the playwright Tom Stoppard make a comment that is at once incredibly simple and astoundingly profound. It puts in one sentence so much of what I have struggled to say about making documentary films and art in general.

I may not get the quote right, so I am including a link to the radio program on which he said it.  But what he said was essentially this:

Accuracy is not the same thing as truthfulness.

Accuracy is not the same thing as truthfulness

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

The search for precise facts and documentation is extremely important, especially when some form of unethical or possibly illegal misconduct might be involved.  But doing this well requires that you be accurate.

Truthfulness, as Stoppard described it so beautifully,  requires reaching for the richer complexities and human contradictions that are embedded in sheer and mundane accuracy.

And that is why I have always felt that the question of what is true in a documentary is, while certainly important, not as important as the ability of the filmmaker to grasp and share the underlying truthfulness that gives those accurate facts deeper meaning.

You might want to listen.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Some People Really Get Straight To The Truth: Tom Stoppard on “Accuracy”

  1. Thanks for this Steve. Here are some other quotes along these lines. Both people are talking about relating actual events truthfully.

    “…it is difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seemed to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” — Tim O’Brian (How to Tell a True War Story)

    “By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones.
    Facts create norms, and truth illumination.
    There are deeper strata of truth in cinema., and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It’s mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” — Werner Herzog

    From Herzog’s “Minnesota Declaration.” http://www.wernerherzog.com/52.html#c93

    • Mick: thanks so much.

      The Herzog quote is absolutely brilliant:

      “By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones.
      Facts create norms, and truth illumination.
      There are deeper strata of truth in cinema., and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It’s mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” — Werner Herzog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s