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David Simon on getting it right--and wrong

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"The Hurt Locker" had been getting a lot of flak in military circles about providing an inaccurate depiction of combat, and so as I began researching a story about the role reality should play in war films, I reached out to David Simon, the former journalist turned screenwriter.

He had a reputation for getting the details right—in his books and television shows. When he made the HBO series “Generation Kill,” for example, he said he wanted above all for Marines to regard it as an accurate portrayal of their experience and ethos. But when I asked to chat with him for my story, he declined, saying he had not yet seen “Hurt Locker” and did not, as he wrote in an email, “want to be used to cudgel another filmmaker.”

Perhaps expecting to be cudgeled himself over the inaccuracies in Treme, the series about post-Katrina New Orleans that debuted Sunday night on HBO, he wrote a smart essay in the New Orleans Times Picayune that serves as a preemptive defense against all the kind of nit-picking that surrounded “Hurt Locker.”

Yes, they got things wrong, he wrote. They know this. “We have trespassed throughout our narrative,” he wrote. But "Treme" is a fictional drama set amid real events, not a documentary. There is a balance, he wrote. And there are rules:

“If we are true to ourselves as dramatists, we will cheat and lie and pile one fraud upon the next, given that with every scene, we make fictional characters say and do things that were never said and done. And yet, if we are respectful of the historical reality of post-Katrina New Orleans, there are facts that must be referenced accurately as well. Some things, you just don't make up.”

Very well put. Too bad the old reporter wouldn’t talk to me for my story. I would have loved to quote him.

By Christian Davenport  | April 13, 2010; 10:07 AM ET
Categories:  More on the story  | Tags:  david simon, hurt locker, new orleans, treme  
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