The same story… but different: when fiction is inspired by documentaries

04/09/2022 – 12:23 Opinion

By Diego Batlle

Cinema and series feed on multiple sources: popular myths and legends from different regions, novels, comics, journalistic investigations and lately stories that have even emerged on social networks or podcasts. But one of the most widespread recent trends has to do with fiction films and series that take stories already filmed by documentary filmmakers as their starting point. These real events that were recorded many times in a visceral, urgent and careless way are later recreated by directors and performers consecrated with the artistic licenses of the case, but aiming at a much broader potential audience.

Recent examples are innumerable, but we can start with a couple that is mainly sports: “Lakers: Time to Win”, a fictional series on HBO Max, and “They Call Me Magic”, a documentary series on Apple TV+. Although the first is more comprehensive because it reconstructs the emergence at the end of the ’70s of a multi-champion team that became one of the great dynasties of the NBA, and the second has as its axis the life and work of a particular figure , in both projects the presence of Magic Johnson is essential.

In fact, as in the middle of the fiction of “Lakers: Time to win” some archive images are included, it appears -as in “They Call Me Magic”- the moment in which the Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls a draw with a tossed coin! to define who would get the priority to select the then young Magic. Obviously, the Lakers won and that rookie would become the main star of an extraordinary team. And Johnson himself, of course, is the exclusive protagonist of “They Call Me Magic”, a four-part documentary that tries -with varying luck- to emulate the success achieved by Michael Jordan with “The Last Dance” (Netflix) recalling camera the milestones of his career full of triumphs and of his life, marked by the fight against HIV and the most diverse commercial ventures.

Another double program is made up of the fiction film “Todo sobre los Ricardos” (“Being the Ricardos”), by Aaron Sorkin, and the documentary “Lucy and Desi”, by Amy Poehler, both available on Amazon Prime Video.

In the first, the creator of series such as “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom” and of films such as “Red Social”, “Game of Fortune” or “The Trial of the Chicago 7” reconstructs key moments in the lives of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), capocomics who made “I love Lucy” one of the biggest events in television history. Poehler, on the other hand, focuses on Ball and relies heavily on previously unreleased recordings in which she exposes little-known details of her life, her career, and her relationship with Arnaz.

The recent “pairings” continue with “The Dropout” (Star+), a fictional series about the story of Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) and her medical company Theranos, which came to have a valuation of 10,000 million dollars, only to later prove that it was everything. a huge fraud, and “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley about Holmes and Theranos”, a documentary by Alex Gibney available on the HBO Max platform with the local title of “Bleeding Silicon Valley” which in 2019 had exposed the same hoax .

Something similar happened with “WeCrashed”, an Apple TV+ series with two stars (both Oscar winners) as Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway that tells the story of the rise, peak and collapse of WeWork, a coworking company (they rented large spaces in semi-destroyed buildings, recycled them and subdivided them into small offices for independent entrepreneurs) that came to be worth 47,000 million dollars; and the documentary “WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn”, shot by Jed Rothstein.

But, although this trend has been strengthened in this golden age of streaming that needs to produce increasingly and incessantly, the truth is that one could go back several decades and find dozens of similar examples: “Grey Gardens” (1975), a mythical documentary by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer and Ellen Hovde, inspired the 2009 film of the same name starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange; “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” (1997), by the great Werner Herzog, was recycled by himself almost ten years later in “Rescue at dawn”, with Christian Bale; “Man on Wire” (2008), by James Marsh, was the seed for “Walk the Line” (2015), by Robert Zemeckis, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt; “Dogtown and Z-Boys” (2001), about the skate culture in Venice Beach in the ’70s, was the origin of “The Lords of Dogtown” (2005), a film by Catherine Hardwicke with Emile Hisch and Heath Ledger; and “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), Rob Epstein’s portrait of the first openly homosexual man to be elected to public office in the United States (specifically in the city of San Francisco), prompted the fiction of “Milk” (2008), a feature film by Gus Van Sant with Sean Penn (Oscar winner for this performance), Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Alison Pill and James Franco. The so recurrent poster “based on a true story” should be replaced many times by “based on a previous documentary”.

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