Before watching the movie Zodiac, I knew nothing about what it was about or that it was based on a true story until I mentioned the movie to my parents and my dad said, “Oh, based on the Zodiac killings?” I decided to wait until after I finished the movie to make my assumptions, but if this movie was based on a true story, I was ready to argue that this movie was an archive itself.

Yes, absolutely, the Zodiac killings and the basis of Graysmith’s novel are completely supported by archives: each police department had their own set of files and evidence (a problem oft mentioned in the movie). Plenty of print evidence to help Graysmith try and identify Allen as the Zodiac killer.

The movie on its own, however, made in 2007, is absolutely a rather accurate archive of the events that happened in California in the 1960s and 1970s.

After watching the movie, I did a Google search for the similarities between the real events and the movie, knowing that often in “true story” films certain things are changed or altered up to the production team’s discretion to “make a better movie.” I found this link in particular that made me realize that David Fincher and his team did a great job at keeping it fairly accurate: http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/zodiac.php. Of course, I am assuming that all of the information here is trustworthy.

We have discussed that the make of the archive, what is in it, what is not… etc. is up to the archivist/curator taking care of the information. We as a class are proving that with making such different final projects for our fanzines. This also rings true for a movie adaptation– you want to keep true to the story, keep the most important details there, but if you need to make something a little more obvious to the audience or you want to add a scare tactic, you need to change some things.

Zodiac overall seemed faithful to the real event. I’d first like to point out how similar the actors look to the real people– definitely believable. You can tell Fincher and the casting department tried to keep the looks as close as possible.

Furthermore, as discussed in the article, many of the key moments and turning points in the movie did actually happen in real life. Yes, the Zodiac threatened to kill children off a school bus. Yes, he did mail a piece of the taxi driver’s shirt. Yes, he did call Melvin Belli on live television. A lot of the main details are true. Keeping the archive accurate to the real thing.

Some things on surface value were true, but the way they played out in the movie did not actually happen that way. For example, to quote the article: “Did Robert Graysmith really come face-to-face with Arthur Leigh Allen at a hardware store?

Yes, but not exactly how the film portrays it. At the end of the movie Zodiac, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes face-to-face with his prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, inside of a hardware store where Allen works. Graysmith described the real encounter during an interview with RopeofSilicon, “…I’m following [Allen] around in an orange VW Rabbit and I park outside of Ace Hardware and obviously he’s seen me from the big window and so I’m parked and he pulls alongside me so I can’t get my door open and he gives me this look like you wouldn’t believe.” In addition to his parking lot encounter with Arthur Leigh Allen, Graysmith attempted to obtain a sample of Allen’s handwriting by sending friends in to buy things at the hardware store in Vallejo.”

I personally believe that the way they portrayed it in the movie did not take anything away from how Graysmith explains it happened. I feel like perhaps they were going more for shock value than scare tactic (which is what would have happened if they had filmed what actually happened), or perhaps they did film both what was in the movie and what actually happened and felt this moved better with the rest of the film. No matter their reasons, it still worked well and they still had Graysmith coming face-to-face with Allen. The point still came across.

I think my favorite part about the film is that there wasn’t really a resolution at the end… just like there really wasn’t in the actual case. I think the way they chose to end the movie, with the intertitles at the very end explaining the rest of the case, and how it is still an open case, proves just how tedious and frustrating this case is and accurately represents the true story.

I thought this was a beautiful film and a wonderful archive of the true story. The fact that it made me want to research more about the actual events certainly proves that!

3 Comments

  1. I did almost the exact opposite of you while watching the movie. I had wikipedia and a bunch of other websites (including the vaguely untrustworthy sounding zodiackiller.org) open and I was fact checking everything while I was watching it. I agree with you that it was a pretty excellent archive of the actual events. One of the things I read about the movie was that because the movie was based on the book written by Robert Graysmith, it was focused pretty heavily on his perspective and his life, when in reality there were quite a few other people involved that were left out of the movie. I understand that it is a movie and they can’t always be 100% accurate all the time, particularly with a case such as the Zodiac killer, when even today not much is known, but I think it is worth noting that the movie is not a perfect archive.

  2. Emily, I absolutely agree! What archive is perfect? Graysmith was definitely the main character of the film, and things tended to be skewed his way. I wonder how drastically the film would have changed if it had been from another character’s perspective. Now I want to read Graysmith’s book… see how much of his influence was there and how that translated to the movie!

  3. Doing the same thing as Emily, I was on the wikipedia the entire duration of the movie, occasionally trying to tie characters into the actual crime. But yes, Emily brings a good point — this movie is a good archive, but it’s an archive of the book, so essentially – the audience does not get the full effect as they would if they archived other sources instead of primarily focusing on Graysmith’s book. The movie served as a good timeline — the events did occur in the right order like the movie, but as Emily stated, there are many different POVs that were left out mainly because a number of reasons — it could just been the fact that Graysmith didn’t encounter these people who were also involved, and so he did not write about them in his novel. Regardless, I would still consider this movie to be a good example of an archive, though personally – I would find it to be incomplete just due to the fact that the case itself is also incomplete and still open to this day. (Of course, I’m not completely sure if that’s a valid reason to consider an archive “incomplete” though.)

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