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    Default A Cinematic History of the World

    A Cinematic History of the World



    A while ago (i.e., grade school), I realized that a shockingly large percentage of American adults have little to no understanding of the historical origins of modern-day laws, customs, religious beliefs, social movements, and violent conflicts which fill our newspapers every day. While part of the blame for this ignorance can be laid at the feet of the American educational system, this doesn't address the issue that lots of people living in this world don't know why things work the way they do, and hence, don't know how to change them, or whether attempting to change them is a good idea.

    So I thought to myself, maybe if there were a syllabus out there which people could use to fill-in the gaps in their historical knowledge, maybe that could help reduce ignorance in the world, and help people to better-understand the world they live in, and how to live more effectively within it.



    My goal here is to compile a list of films, which when viewed in roughly chronological order, would provide the viewer with a generalized understanding of history’s major characters and events, from the earliest civilizations to the modern world. Ideally, I'd like to give the average person an understanding of history as a living, vibrant, and above all exciting field of study.


    Guidelines: This list is not meant to be comprehensive, nor does it aspire to scrupulous historical accuracy. The main intent of this "playlist" is to entertain, and thereby inform, purely as an incidental effect of viewing. As such, historical comedies and farces (such as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, or Dr. Strangelove) are not automatically disqualified, as long as they provide some historical perspective to the viewer. Documentaries, though highly informative, are often stale and boring to those who do not study history, and as such should not be added to the list – we’re looking for action here, not just factual information. We want to include the twists, the turns, the inexorable marches towards destiny, the sudden unexpected reversals of fortune, and all the crazy chapters that make up the story of human beings on Earth.

    Organization: Films will be organized in rough chronological order, from the earliest human societies to the middle of the 20th Century (probably ending with the Space Race - it seems as good an ending-point as any. And we really need a cut-off point, because if we don't have one, this list would go on literally forever). Viewers who wish to increase their knowledge of history would select one or more likely-looking films from each historical era, and watch them in chronological order. Watching all of them wouldn't be necessary; realistically, one film of the viewer's choice from each historical era is probably more than optimistic.
    Last edited by SuperDave; 2012-07-22 at 12:15 PM.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    I was hoping for a remake of this.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Films by Historical Era

    Last edited by SuperDave; 2012-08-28 at 11:04 PM.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    There's only one problem -- there are no films out there that can cure historical ignorance, even when watched in thousands, compared to one good history book.
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    So the song runs on, with shift and change,
    Through the years that have no name,
    And the late notes soar to a higher range,
    But the theme is still the same.
    Man's battle-cry and the guns' reply
    Blend in with the old, old rhyme
    That was traced in the score of the strata marks
    While millenniums winked like campfire sparks
    Down the winds of unguessed time. -- 4th Stanza, The Bad Lands, Badger Clark

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Impressively non-Eurocentric. I approve.

    Not sure how you're going to avoid the constant "Actually this isn't how things really went" caveats that end up in historical movies, but hey, I love a good historical movie, so!


    One of the best historical movie/shows I ever saw is Canada: A People's History. 17 episodes, 32 hours. One of the best dramatical retellings of the history of an entire nation that I've ever seen. It was actually put together by CBC, the government-funded television and radio network, and it's probably the reason why we still HAVE the CBC: this program was so popular it led directly to increased CBC funding.

    I'll list the episodes by where I would classify them by Era and subject.

    Episode 1 falls under The New World.
    Episode 2 falls under The New World/Elizabethan Era
    Episodes 3 and 4 deal with New France up until it's taken over by the British, so I'd probably put that under The New World
    Episode 5 is The American Revolution
    Episode 6 is the Wild West
    Episode 7 is the French Revolution (well, not really, but being that it deals with the attempted revolution and the Springtime of Nations in Canada, it's the best place for it to go)
    Episode 8 is the American Civil War
    Episode 9 is Imperialism I suppose, being as it deals mostly with the country taking over the west... By the way, you should move the Russian Revolution bit after the Imperialism and WWI, and maybe also fold Imperialism more broadly into European Colonialism?
    Episode 10 is probably Imperialism as well.
    11 and 12 are WWI (and the leadup to)
    13 is the Great Depression
    14 is WWII
    15 is the cold war
    16 is loosely Civil Rights movement
    and 17 is Space Race (in era, not in theme. In theme, closer to Civil Rights movement)

    It's basically the most complete and most interesting and captivating history of my country ever made, and one of the most, if not THE most well-done history documentaries EVER.

    If you want to list each episode seperately (they are 2 hours long each, and pretty much count as movies), then I can get the episode names for you, or you can just look at the wiki page.
    Last edited by Gwyn chan 'r Gwyll; 2012-07-22 at 12:00 PM.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Now a problem is that you have to judge events as significant or not significant to something.

    Explaining how Europe or North America came to be as it is now is one thing. There you can make a reasonably continuus string of significant events.

    But supposed you live in India or China. The American Civil Rights Movement or the Empire of Charlemange have no significance at all. If America would still be segregated, what would have changed in China in the last 40 years?

    And in respect to "the world", these two regions make up less than 20% of all people. A history of the world from the perspective of China and India would explain the world of over 50% of all people. And during the 1000 years of the middle ages, progress didn't stop there and they also had another 1000 years head start.

    In regard to the world, our little corner on the North Atlantic played a major part only for the last two centuries, and is now returning to the second row.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    Now a problem is that you have to judge events as significant or not significant to something.
    Isn't that the definition of the discipline we call "History"? I'm sure Winston Churchill and Liu Bei and Haroun Al-Raschid all spent plenty of time on the toilet or brushing their teeth. It's the historian's job to cut out all the parts that are irrelevant for the story they're telling. The hygeine of these men probably wouldn't find its way into histories of military conquests, but if you were writing the biography of the man, it might be significant.

    I realize that there's absolutely no way we'll ever come up with a comprehensive history of the world here. That would require filming everybody who ever lived on earth, for all of their lives, in full-immersion IMAX 3D, and even then we'd still be missing a ton of information.

    I'm just looking to touch on a few of the high points of history, for the benefit of those who don't have the privilege of knowing much about it. A basic understanding of history, painted in broad strokes, is better than no understanding at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    But supposed you live in India or China. The American Civil Rights Movement or the Empire of Charlemange have no significance at all. If America would still be segregated, what would have changed in China in the last 40 years?
    What would be different now? Well, for starters, dissidents like Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese lawyer who fled from home arrest a few months ago, would have fewer successful role models to base their efforts on. Also, if America were still segregated, then that would mean one less member of the UN Security Council who's willing to put pressure on China to "lighten up" on its citizens.

    Second, I think that as long as there are people out there who live their lives as second-class citizens, that makes life worse for the rest of us to, because that throws off a lot of anger and frustration and crime into the world, not to mention the fact that the discriminated group feels less incentive to improve the world around them, since they gain only a small benefit, if any, from doing so.

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    And in respect to "the world", these two regions make up less than 20% of all people. A history of the world from the perspective of China and India would explain the world of over 50% of all people. And during the 1000 years of the middle ages, progress didn't stop there and they also had another 1000 years head start.

    In regard to the world, our little corner on the North Atlantic played a major part only for the last two centuries, and is now returning to the second row.
    What eras would you suggest I add to the list? Do you know of any movies to fill those categories? I'd love to hear them

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Would Ice Station Zebra qualify as a Cold War film? It's about as historically accurate as Dr. Strangelove, coming from a thriller/action angle instead of a black comedy angle, but does have some mild historical basis.

    Though in terms of submarine Cold War movies, Hunt For Red October is far superior, and again roughly as historically accurate as Dr. Strangelove.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    I'd like to suggest:

    The Alamo (the one with Thornton, it's actually excellent and I can't see why it's disliked so much) -- probably Victorian.

    Open Range -- Wild West.
    Spoiler
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    So the song runs on, with shift and change,
    Through the years that have no name,
    And the late notes soar to a higher range,
    But the theme is still the same.
    Man's battle-cry and the guns' reply
    Blend in with the old, old rhyme
    That was traced in the score of the strata marks
    While millenniums winked like campfire sparks
    Down the winds of unguessed time. -- 4th Stanza, The Bad Lands, Badger Clark

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    To Live.
    It's a film about a family in China going through the Chinese Civil War and the rise of communism from the 40s to the 60s.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    I thought that Hunt for Red October was pretty good.

    Another Cold War film I might suggest is Thirteen Days. I remember watching it in history class when we were studying the Cuban Missile Crisis, and IIRC it captured the feeling of the time pretty well.

    EDIT: Another Holocaust one I remember watching a long time ago: The Pianist. I personally don't remember how good it was, but it's on imdb's top 250, so it can't be that bad (IIRC depressing, though that is hardly surprising).

    Also, for Cold War/East Germany: The Lives of Others. Haven't personally seen this one, but I know lots of people who thought it was very good.

    Also, To Kill a Mockingbird for Civil Rights?

    Not based in any history at all AFAIK, but Gladiator for Rome (I don't know how many movies there are set in the Roman Empire; probably quite a few, but I can't think of many).

    For some perspective from the German side in WWII (at least a submarine crew): Das Boot, for another, the oft parodied Downfall (haven't seen this one personally). And for the Russians: Enemy at the Gates. POWs: The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai. Americans: Patton, and those already mentioned.

    Vietnam War: Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, or Apocalypse Now (and a whole ton of others). For a TV series that is a documentary but still very interesting, the recently aired Vietnam in HD (all real footage too).

    For the Wild West: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
    Last edited by Madcrafter; 2012-07-22 at 01:24 PM.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    A few WWI films: Lawrence of Arabia, All Quiet on the Western Front, War Horse, and Paths of Glory.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Roman Empire:
    I, Claudius: A TV series, but such a classic that I must mention it. Shows an (admittedly stylized) look at Roman court intrigue during the imperial era. Includes such important figures as Augustus and Caligula.

    Combines Rome with New Testament:
    Ben-Hur

    American Civil War:
    Gettysburg: An amazing depiction of one of the deciding battles of the war. Doesn't have an overview of the war as a whole, but a very good ground floor look at it.

    Cold War:
    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Shows the fatalism and disillusionment that characterized much of the Cold War.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    *The Cold War
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Now a problem is that you have to judge events as significant or not significant to something.
    Except by invoking the medium of cinema, that gives am inherent cultural context.

    Wild West is a very niche topic as far as world is history is concerned. But it is one that has had a lot of cinematography devoted to it, so it can easily justify being in the list. Probably more so than much more historically significant events.

    As defined in the original post, this is a thread giving people a cinematographic jumping off point to understanding world history. Sparking interest and discussion, and maybe being a handy point of reference. With that in mind, I don't think it's terribly productive to get into "The nature of world history" discussions. Although I'm sure if you have periods and movies to add, they could well be included in what looks more like a framework than a strait jacket.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    "The Lives of Others" can give a good insight into life in the GDR, but also into the life in a paranoid communist country in general, as well as the move "The Inner Circle" for Soviet Russia.

    "The Downfall" is a good, if long and heavy movie about Hitler's last days, which isn't a whole lot of history, but it's well made and shows the German side, which is quite rare.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    The BBC has made quite a few docu-dramas that are as entertaining as most of the movies you mentionned, while being a lot more historically accurate (Even though of course, they are not as informative as a good old book). You might want to take a look at Ancient Rome: the Rise and Fall of an Empire (6 one hour films of critical moments of ancient roman history), Heroes and Villains (6 one hour films of various historical figures such as the Shogun Ieyasu, Hernan Cortez, Richard Lionheart,etc) and Hannibal: Rome's Worst Nightmare (1h30m film of Hannibal's campaigns), and there are some others I forgot.

    They're made like movies, with some action-filled scenes, great soundtrack and excellent acting, while teaching a lot more about actual history than cliched hollywood movies.
    Last edited by Caivs; 2012-07-22 at 04:53 PM.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Quote Originally Posted by Selrahc View Post
    Wild West is a very niche topic as far as world is history is concerned. But it is one that has had a lot of cinematography devoted to it, so it can easily justify being in the list. Probably more so than much more historically significant events.
    I've been having similar thoughts myself. The whole Wild West era is a really culturally-biased term; the English just call the same span of years "The Victorian Era". Furthermore, except for Native Americans, it didn't really have a huge impact on people outside the United States and Mexico. While a section on the destruction of native peoples would certainly be relevant, I unfortunately know very little about Native American cinema. I'm not certain I've ever seen an Indian-directed film, to my knowledge, and never one about the Pre-Columbian Americas.

    Maybe the whole Wild West section should be changed to reflect the native perspective more fully, or else be cut out entirely.

    In fact, I've been wondering if the American Civil War was really an event of truly international significance for world history. Sure, it ended the market for slaves in one of the larges (and last) nations where slavery was legal, but what about Great Britain's peaceful struggle to abolish the practice? I'm sure that that had much greater resonance for a much larger population of enslaved Africans living in the world's largest empire.

    (The same might also be said about the American Revolution, too.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Selrahc View Post
    As defined in the original post, this is a thread giving people a cinematographic jumping off point to understanding world history. Sparking interest and discussion, and maybe being a handy point of reference. With that in mind, I don't think it's terribly productive to get into "The nature of world history" discussions. Although I'm sure if you have periods and movies to add, they could well be included in what looks more like a framework than a strait jacket.
    You're quite right, Selrahc. I concur!
    Last edited by SuperDave; 2012-07-26 at 01:52 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Weezer View Post
    Roman Empire:
    I, Claudius: A TV series, but such a classic that I must mention it. Shows an (admittedly stylized) look at Roman court intrigue during the imperial era. Includes such important figures as Augustus and Caligula.
    While I like the sound of the series, based on how you describe it, I think that we've got to exclude serieses (sp?) from this particular list. Even attempting to assemble a list like this might be aiming a bit high. If we throw serieses into the mix, we'll be here forever.

    I guess I like the idea of just sticking to movies for now, because they're self-contained and easy to digest. As soon as people see that a series is 30+ episodes long, they're likely to feel nervous about how long this is all going to take, and then they'll turn the TV back to Real Housewives. It should be easy to come in at any point in the list, and be done with each section in just a few sittings at most.

    That said, I think that a thread for outstanding documentaries and/or historical-fiction TV series' would be an excellent idea.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    You can also consider them just be era rather than by event, that's how I was. The American Civil War section dealing not just with the war, but with a whole pile of things happening in the 19th century at around the same time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    Now a problem is that you have to judge events as significant or not significant to something.

    Explaining how Europe or North America came to be as it is now is one thing. There you can make a reasonably continuus string of significant events.

    But supposed you live in India or China. The American Civil Rights Movement or the Empire of Charlemange have no significance at all. If America would still be segregated, what would have changed in China in the last 40 years?

    And in respect to "the world", these two regions make up less than 20% of all people. A history of the world from the perspective of China and India would explain the world of over 50% of all people. And during the 1000 years of the middle ages, progress didn't stop there and they also had another 1000 years head start.

    In regard to the world, our little corner on the North Atlantic played a major part only for the last two centuries, and is now returning to the second row.
    Isn't that kind of an understatement? Industrial Revolution changed the world perhaps more than anything else ever and that started in Europe. Other continents might have had more advanced technology in middle ages but that technology consisted mostly of novelties that didn't really impact the lives of normal people. Even if Europe was blasted sky high right now, its impact was huge, regardless of whether or not you agree it's for the best. That's why history is so often eurocentric.
    Last edited by Raimun; 2012-07-26 at 02:09 PM.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    How about Dr. Zhivago for your Russian Revolution category? It could go under World War I as well but let's flesh out a presently empty category.

    Thought of another: Zulu for the Victorian Era. It's a bit like Saving Private Ryan meeting Seven Samurai all in the backdrop of the Anglo-Zulu War.
    Last edited by polity4life; 2012-07-26 at 02:25 PM.
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    I found this really useful list of Old Testament movies, but I've never watched any of them. Has anyone else seen a few of them, and would be able to make recommendations about which ones are the best?

    (At first it looks like there are only two movies in the list, but if you scroll past the eBay ads you'll be able to see the rest of them.)

    -----------------

    Also, I think we're good on WWI and WWII films at this point. Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions! If you can think of any more, feel free to post your suggestions. I'm just noticing that we've got a lot of 20th-century movies, but we don't have as many concerning the rest of the bulk of human history.

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    For BC era China, however you want to categorize it, you could put in The Emperor and the Assassin. That's one of the best pieces of east asian cinema I've ever seen.

    Edit: Let's throw in Mongol for good measure. It's primarily based on the early life of Genghis Khan.
    Last edited by polity4life; 2012-07-27 at 02:26 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SuperDave View Post
    (The same might also be said about the American Revolution, too.)
    In what sense? For better or for worse, the United States has has an enormous impact on the face of the rest of the world. So the American Revolutionary War has an international significance because it's responsible for the creation of one of the biggest pieces on the board in the 20th century.

    Besides that, would you even have the French Revolution without it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by VanBuren View Post
    In what sense? For better or for worse, the United States has has an enormous impact on the face of the rest of the world. So the American Revolutionary War has an international significance because it's responsible for the creation of one of the biggest pieces on the board in the 20th century.

    Besides that, would you even have the French Revolution without it?
    The most important thing with the American Revolution would be it's influence on liberal ideology and revolutionary ideals across the world. Of course, most of American Revolution movies you find are going to be chest-thumping nationalism though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gwyn chan 'r Gwyll View Post
    The most important thing with the American Revolution would be it's influence on liberal ideology and revolutionary ideals across the world. Of course, most of American Revolution movies you find are going to be chest-thumping nationalism though.
    Part of it is that it's probably easier to make a film of the second on than the first.

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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    You want to expand the French Revolution section into a French Revolution & Napoleonic Wars section, which Master and Commander fits into (good movie, but it doesn't really show much actual colonialism). I would also propose "The Duellists" for that section, though that is a sometimes contentious pick.
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    Got some nominations:

    Gangs of New York: Tells the story of the Union Home Front in New York during the Civil War. Quite authentic, if not wholly accurate (huge difference) portrayal of life at the time and the underlying social issues of the day.

    HBO's Rome: Rome is a miniseries (~20 episodes) that seeks to show the Fall of the Roman Republic, from the end of Julius Caesar's Gallic campaign to Augustus' rise to imperial power. Again, the emphasis of the series is the day-to-day lives and society of the common people of the city of Rome.

    The Twelve Chairs: The Russian Revolution as told by an ex-noble who seeks to reclaim his lost fortune. Aided by a homeless con-man, the ex-noble sees many aspects of early Soviet Union life as he tries to recover a set of Twelve Chairs his mother sewed her diamonds into to escape the mobs.

    Reds: This movie details the life of one John Reeds, the only American buried under the Kremlin. John Reed wrote a first-hand account of the Russian Revolution entitled, Ten Days that Shook the World, and the movie follows him as he reports on the Revolution, tries unsuccessfully to apply communist ideals to America, and then dies of kidney failure in the aftermath of the Revolution
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    Default Re: A Cinematic History of the World

    As an historian, I'm wary of including stuff like Braveheart in the list because they're almost offensively inaccurate. They're fine as fantasy in a quasi-historical setting but there's nothing about it that's really historical. I don't just mean the anti-English propaganda, either, I mean everything. It's a 19th-century romanticised ideal of Scotland with Hollywood characters pasted over the top. The same goes for The Patriot, obviously.

    However, if it's going to be included I'd reservedly recommend Gallipoli, the best of the Mel Gibson Anglophobic pseudo-histories, which takes fewer liberties than those above and also had a significant impact on the recent development of independent Australian culture.

    Taking my "I hate Mel Gibson" hat off, I haven't seen it but Australia migh be worth a look. Hero isn't a bad take on (a mythologised version of) the story of the unification of China. And, from left field, if you're looking for a potted and entertaining ride through some of the defining moments of postwar American history, you could do worse than Forrest Gump.

    There are a number of decent film versions of Shakespeare plays dealing with the Middle Ages. For a brief summary of the Hundred Years' War, Henry V (I think the Hollow Crown version is actually superior in most respects to the Olivier one) isn't too bad.

    If you want something on the English Renaisssance, Anne of the Thousand Days is probably a better bet than The Other Boleyn Girl. The Elizabeth films are pretty awful but probably just about accurate enough to qualify.

    Alexander and Kingdom of Heaven are definitely worth a look. Neither are amazing films but they're not terrible, and they're about as historically-accurate as films get.

    To really put the cat among the pigeons, how about 300? It's stupid, and I can totally see the arguments about borderline racism, but the overall story isn't really any further off the mark historically than many films already suggested.
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