As a fiction writer, I’ve had the “lie to tell the truth” conversation many times with other artists. Sometimes, it is the lie, the fiction, the thing that never happened, or just didn’t happen when you say it did, that speaks the greatest truth. That’s the luxury of a fiction writer – we get to play with the facts and make things up. We are telling the truth of the heart, not pretending to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as seen objectively (is there an objective truth?).
Since Treme started production in New Orleans, and especially as it’s gotten closer to premiering, several people have asked me, “So, what do you think. Will it be good? Will it tell the truth?”
I don’t know, is my truth.
I’m fascinated by the “translation” between books and movies and I’ve often said that a movie adaptation of your favorite book cannot be the same. It can’t. It has to change because of the basic, irrefutable, physical fact that a movie is not a book. Successful adaptations, to me, are the ones that keep the feeling, philosophy and heart of the original work, not just try to re-create written scenes as action.
The same could be said for history, for facts, I imagine. In order to tell the story of people who didn’t exist–but probably could have–in the aftermath of Katrina (or any historical period), you’ll likely have to tweak the facts a little in order to tell the thematic truth.
Hey, I watched K*Ville, even though I cringed when the title was announced, even though one of the first episodes make it look like the airport was off of Tchoupitoulas Street. Mostly, I was enamored with the possibilities. And Cole Hauser. I always had more confidence in Treme than K*Ville, mostly because of the good work done on The Wire, and really the titles of the two New Orleans-based t.v. shows do speak volumes. And at least it’s not The Big Easy, eh, especially as a diabolical reference to post-Katrina New Orleans.
So, tonight, I’m watching Treme. And I’m doing it with more assurance having read David Simon’s open letter in today’s Times-Picayune, which makes the argument about lying to tell the truth very well.
Your sensibilities matter to us because we have tried to be honest with that extraordinary time — not journalistically true, but thematically so. We have depicted certain things that happened, and others that didn’t happen, and then still others that didn’t happen but truly should have happened.
This is a nice way of saying we have lied.
Why? Why not depict a precise truth, down to the very Hubig’s?
Well, Pablo Picasso famously said that art is the lie that shows us the truth. Such might be the case of a celebrated artist claiming more for himself and his work than he ought, or perhaps, this Picasso fella was on to something.
That’s just a sample from the middle. Check out the whole thing at the link above. Enjoy. Hope it makes you want to get a Hubig’s pie and watch Treme.
And here’s another great example of lying to tell the truth. Students of a popular show choir talk about the differences between their reality and Glee. I’m not sure who thought Glee was realistic, but as one student says, there’s one thing Glee gets right, “People from different backgrounds can come together and make some cool music,” he says. “The Classics has athletes, speech club people, drama club people, and if we didn’t have show choir, we probably wouldn’t make eye contact in the hallways. But because of show choir, we hang out and we’re actually friends.” That kinda sounds like the point, the truth in all the flash.