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Indiana Jones and the Urban Legend

I’m a big Indiana Jones fan. And I’m awfully damn psyched about the next movie. So I was excited to find this link to a Vanity Fair article about how George Lucas and Steven Spielberg went about making the fourth film in the franchise. (Thanks, Whitney!)

That said, early on in Jim Windolf’s piece, I stubbed my toe and couldn’t keep reading, because I was too distracted by these parts of the article’s early backstory:

    At age 18, Spielberg sneaked away from the tram route of the
Universal Pictures tour and stepped onto a soundstage. He was a
movie-crazed kid who had already made a full-length feature, Firelight, an 8-mm. sci-fi extravaganza starring his sisters, and he wanted in.

    The next day he showed up on the lot wearing a suit, his dad’s
briefcase in hand. It was a disguise good enough to get him past the
guards. He settled into an empty office and “worked” at Universal all
through that summer of 1965, making himself known to the
cinematographers and directors, creating for himself an unofficial,
on-the-fly internship.

It’s a good story, but what stopped me cold was that just within the past week or so, I read the Snopes entry discrediting this tale.

Now, in the big picture, is this a huge deal? No. Not by even the longest of long shots. (For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed the rest of the article, and Mr. Windolf still gets a belated thank-you for introducing me to Raiders:The Adaptation with his 2004 VF story.)

Yet the inclusion of this little bit bugs me.

Assuming for a moment that Spielberg actually told that story first-hand to the writer, then I think the mistake was in not quoting the director either directly or resorting to some indirect attribution. Why? Because then, true or not, the tale remains his. It’s the difference between writing John Doe says he didn’t shoot anyone that night, or "I didn’t shoot anyone that night," John Doe said, and writing John Doe didn’t shoot anyone that night.

I’ve been interviewing and writing long enough to know that somewhere along the way, somebody I has probably lied to me about a fact they knew I couldn’t prove, or, more likely, stretched a personal anecdote to make a point. Either way, I’d like to think that I made sure the reader knew those words and ideas belonged to the interviewee, and not to me.

In an entertainment feature like this one, there’s clearly room to allow the subjects to tell their stories without hammering them about every single detail from long gone California afternoons. But if, on the other hand, this backlot story simply made its way into the writer’s research file and he slapped it in as a fun little factoid without mentioning its source, then I’m a bit more rankled. A couple extra minutes of searching and all he would have had to do was include something about the tale either  being well-worn, or oft-repeated-and-sometimes-varied or even simply, "sometimes disputed." (For that matter, he could’ve even just cited a source if the story appeared in a biography or another profile. Anything but present it as his own fact.)

Why does it bother me? Because whether the story’s true or not – and I’m not saying that a website like Snopes
is the final arbiter of truth, but merely noting that its article raises valid
questions – the way the magazine presents this Spielberg tale as pure fact strikes me as a little bit careless or lazy, and writers and editors on the Vanity Fair level should be neither.

January 3, 2008 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek | Leave a comment


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