Monday, May 2, 2016

Nothing But the Best: "Braveheart" (1995)

Mel Gibson
Welcome to the series Nothing But the Best in which I chronicle all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners as they celebrate their anniversaries. Instead of going in chronological order, this series will be presented on each film's anniversary and will feature personal opinions as well as facts regarding its legacy and behind the scenes information. The goal is to create an in depth essay for each film while looking not only how the medium progressed, but how the film is integral to pop culture. In some cases, it will be easy. Others not so much. Without further ado, let's start the show.

Background Information

Release Date: May 2, 1995
Director: Mel Gibson
Written By: Randall Wallace
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Running Time: 178 minutes

Oscar Wins: 5
-Best Picture
-Best Director
-Best Cinematography
-Best Sound Editing
-Best Make-Up

Oscar Nominations: 5
-Best Original Screenplay
-Best Costume Design
-Best Sound
-Best Editing
-Best Original Score

Other Best Picture Nominees

-Apollo 13
-Il Postino
-Sense and Sensibility

And the winner is...

One of the most popular genres when it comes to Oscar-winning films is historical epics. One can look throughout history and see a variety of impressive titles that embody the capabilities of cinema. With that said, there are few that are likely to have the reputation as that of director Mel Gibson's Braveheart. When viewed as a piece of entertainment, it's one of the most violent war films ever to win. When judged for accuracy, things become even more problematic - as the history is notoriously wrong. Still, the film struck a chord with audiences, spawned interest in Scotland tourism, and helped to make "Freedom" the ringing cry of everyone with access to blue face paint. It may not be the most beloved Best Picture winner in history, but it's one of the most defiant and singular.

The story begins with screenwriter Randall Wallace went to Edinburgh in 1983 to learn about his own heritage. It was during this time that he came across a statue of William Wallace. It was a man who caught his fancy, and he did his best to do research on "Scotland's greatest hero." For a man with such a high moniker, the hero lacked any true biography. The screenwriter based his story around a poem written by Blind Harry simply called "The Wallace." Even then, the information is far from being entirely accurate - as the prose was merely a story with details expanded upon to make the hero sound way more impressive. This is strange, considering that William Wallace remained an icon in Scotland for centuries and served as a hero against oppression from British rule. 

Soon came Gibson as director. His initial plan wasn't to star in the film. However, the studio insisted that he do so, as it would increase potential earnings. There was an initial request that he also add a Lethal Weapon sequel to the contract, but Gibson refused. This was only the first of the many problems, as William Wallace was actually in his 20's whereas Gibson was in his 40's. From there, he shot the film for six weeks in Scotland, with major battle scenes being shot in Ireland. Despite being a film about the Scottish army, the majority of the extras were from the Irish Army Reserve with an estimated 1600 extras. Gibson also used mechanical horses that ran along tracks. When he was accused of abusing horses, he tested detractors to point them out in the film. He claims that nobody has found the dummies yet. He was also a prankster and spread the false rumor that Sophie Marceau was mime Marcel Marceau's daughter.

The film has been regarded as one of the most inaccurate historical epics in history. While there are too many to list here, there are some significant changes. For starters, the life of William Wallace is misconstrued greatly, including the fact that in the timeline that his son would've been born 10 years after his death. Also, the iconic war paint used actually went out of fashion 800 years prior to his existence. The nickname Braveheart actually belonged to Robert the Bruce. Also the line "Every man dies - but not every man lives." is falsely credited to him. It actually belongs to William Rose Wallace, you lived in the 1800's and is most famous for writing "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." Likewise, the choice to make Edward II effeminate and a homosexual is merely based on speculation. What is Gibson's defense in all of this? This whole film is meant to be an experience.

The film's violence notoriously didn't test well with audiences, which almost caused the film to have an NC-17 rating. However, Gibson chose to have the graphic violence, including in the brutal torture scene that ends the film, happen predominantly off screen to get around this. The soundtrack by James Horner would also become a big commercial success, becoming one of the best selling scores in history. While the film failed to garner much traction during awards season, it ended up leading in Oscar nominations with 10. In second place was Apollo 13, which also featured similar music by Horner and was directed and produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer respectively. These two were working with Gibson at the time of the nominations on Ransom. When Gibson heard this, he gave his collaborators and competitors a memento: a "Best Moon Picture"featuring the Scottish army mooning the British, as a play on Apollo 13's space story.

Of the 10 nominations, the film won five including Best Picture. It was the only time during that awards season that it won a Best Picture (or equivalent) award. Two weeks prior, Gibson was in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Braveheart was the ninth film to win Best Picture without any acting nominations. Even then, Gibson's Best Picture and Best Director win remains one of the rare times that this has happened for a film to win while starring its producer/director in a prominent role. While there's plenty of fodder for other historical epics, the film is also considered to be one of the most historically inaccurate films to win big at Oscars. By some luck, it was also voted in 1995 as the best movie of the year by Empire, but later considered one of the 10 worst Best Picture winners. 

The film's legacy has been mired by Gibson's real life penchant for offensive comments towards women and minorities. Following the film's release, Gibson admitted regret for his homophobic portrayal of Edward II, even going on to host a GLAAD event. However, he never apologized for the performance. The film also sparked a 55% increase in tourism to Scotland and inspired Tom Church to create a "Freedom" statue of Gibson made out of sandstone to place near the original William Wallace one. However, vandalism and complaints quickly followed and the statue was chained off at night. Eventually it was just taken down. Beyond this, Braveheart is considered to be influential in getting Scotland in the late 90's to fight for independence. There was even a book about it called "From Hollywood to Holyrood." The film itself remains divisive for its inaccuracies, violence, and problematic portrayals of characters.

Braveheart is a film that seems like a strange Best Picture winner in hindsight. With an impressive amount of gore and very little accuracy, it's the type of film that doesn't normally get attached to Oscar-winning statuses. However, there was some magic to Gibson's brutal direction that stuck with audiences, making them shout "Freedom" and charging at anyone who was game. Despite all of this, the film helped to paint Scotland in a bright light despite having a predominantly Irish cast (and an American-born director). The film may be an artifact of its time, but it definitely comes across as a passionate display of rebellion the likes of which few Best Picture winners could achieve. Maybe that's enough to justify its legacy. 

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