Analyzing docudrama as a mode of argument, Steven N. Lipkin explores the ethical, historical, and ideological functions of docudrama to discover why these films based on true stories offer such appealing story lines. That appeal, Lipkin discovers, is rooted in docudrama’s representation of actual people and events by means of melodramatic narrative structures that play on the emotions of the viewer.
The dual nature of docudramas—blending narrative and documentary style— argues for a moral view of reality-based subject matter. The ethics, the ideology, the very presence of docudrama on television and the range of topics and problems that appear in contemporary feature film docudramas indicate how this form of presentation appeals to its audience. Docudrama offers a warranted, rational view of what the story material might suggest initially to be an irrational world. Through its moral agenda, docudrama ultimately allows the possibilities of understanding, optimism, and hope to emerge from “real stories.”
Real Emotional Logic traces the development of docudramas into contemporary movies of the week and feature films, including Schindler’s List, Amistad, JFK, The Killing Fields, Quiz Show, A League of Their Own, In the Name of the Father, Call Northside 777, 13 Rue Madeleine, Cheerleader Mom, Shine, Rosewood, A Civil Action, and October Sky.
Lipkin provides further insight into the genre by identifying and describing the commonalities connecting ostensibly different docudramas through their shared themes and narrative techniques. In doing so, he exposes the persuasive rhetorical strategies at the heart of docudramas and reveals the constructed emotional appeal inherent in films “based on a true story.”