At work we often think about stories inheriting from other stories. Usually this is with prototype stories, like genres. For example, in the date movie genre, there is a boy and a girl. They meet, break up over a misunderstanding (usually one character is pretending to be something they’re not), and then get back together at the end with a public declaration of love. Any specific date movie will inherit from that prototype story. That is, take it as a skeleton and elaborate on it or perhaps give a variation or twist on it.
Some movies’ stories inherit from real life, so-called “based on a true story” movies. But a really interesting thing is when a real life story inherits from a movie’s story. This falls under the general category of “life imitating art”, but I’m specifically thinking of a more direct inheritance, when the situation surrounding the making of a movie inherits from the movie’s story.
Werner Herzog plays with this in almost every movie he makes, and it is absolutely essential to the effects he achieves. For example, in Fitzcarraldo, the main character in the story convinces a tribe of South American natives to help him move a steamboat over a mountain using a system of pulleys (to gain access to a river on the other side). He does this by showing off Western art and technology (opera played on a phonograph), convincing the natives he is a god of sorts.
Herzog uses shots that show that this feat was not done with special effects (like miniature replicas) and that the natives are not played by actors. So you know that in real life, Herzog actually convinced a tribe of South American natives to actually move the steamboat over the mountain, which is really what makes the movie so incredible.
Rescue Dawn has a great chain of inheritance. Dieter Dengler was a person in real life who was captured as a POW in the Vietnam War. In 1997, Herzog made a documentary about Dieter’s experiences called Little Dieter Needs to Fly. This movie inherits from a real life story (and if you’ve seen a Herzog documentary, you know that “inherits” is a good word here). Herzog then remade this story into a hollywood war movie, Rescue Dawn. So Rescue Dawn’s story inherits from Little Dieter Needs to Fly’s story which inherits from a real life story.
But in a recent special on Herzog, it was mentioned that Rescue Dawn is perhaps closer to reality than Little Dieter Needs to Fly, because it documents the real experiences of Christian Bale (who plays the role of Dieter in Rescue Dawn). We see Bale actually walking through the Vietnam jungle barefoot, actually getting really skinny, actually picking up a live snake out of a river, actually biting the snake and tearing its skin off (well, there’s a cut here, so it’s probably a fake/dead snake, but the snake in the river is definitely real).
Real life inheriting from Rescue Dawn inheriting from Little Dieter Needs to Fly inheriting from Real Life.