In the Gore Verbinski version of "The Lone Ranger," the final spike in the transcontinental railroad gets hammered into place in 1869 to the martial sounds of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" -- which John Philip Sousa wrote 27 years later.
This doesn't put the movie in the same moronic class as "Django Unchained," where Quentin Tarantino had characters use dynamite before it was invented and put them in Civil War uniforms three years before that war was fought. (He also got the starting date of the war wrong.)
I know we're not supposed to learn our history from movies. But do storytellers have to be so willfully stupid or obviously careless? Or do they think most Americans won't know when the North and South fought each other?
Sometimes a Baz Luhrmann or Sofia Coppola will intentionally throw us off guard: We all know rap and pop music weren't sung during the eras in which "The Great Gatsby" and "Marie Antoinette" are set. Those artistic decisions may or may not work, but they're choices worth weighing.
But most anachronisms in fashion, music or dialogue are just mistakes. Occasionally, when I grumble about these to a fellow moviegoer, I'm asked, "What difference does it make if it's right or not?" Well, if we extend that argument, what difference would it make if an airplane dive-bombed The Lone Ranger? (The Wright Brothers flew just seven years after Sousa wrote that march.) Hey, maybe Tonto could fight off a dinosaur!
Each of his us has his own tolerance for deviations from fact, and mine may be narrower than yours. But why don't filmmakers just get things right? The Internet makes chronological and cultural accuracy easier than ever to achieve. If Beethoven was born in December of 1770, don't show American patriots being inspired by his music during the Revolutionary War, however "effective" the scene may be. (That war was fought from 1776 to 1783, in case anyone didn't know.)
I remember interviewing Dale Dye, the much-decorated Marine, on the set of "The Last of the Mohicans" 21 years ago. He was its military technical advisor, a title he's held on movies from "Platoon" to "Tropic Thunder." I asked about a blunder that my dad (also a decorated veteran) had noticed in one of Dye's movies.
He laughed. "They pay me for advice," he said. "They don't have to take it. They'll tell me, 'It works better for the story if we change it.' Then they do whatever they want, and I grit my teeth."
I do too, Dale. I do, too.