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Films >> 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) >>

[1]  1492: Conquest of Paradise was written by Roselyne Bosch.  Prior to screen writing Bosch was a journalist for the Paris weekly magazine Le Point.  Bosch emphasized that she based her screenplay on Columbus's letters that she went to see first-hand at Seville.  Although Bosch has been championed largely by the popular press as a thorough researcher, her investigation of Columbus only through his letters implies that she did not take into account Columbus's own agenda in writing the letters and the contradictory accounts of the Conquest held by other writers at the time--including Columbus's own Diario edited by the priest Bartolome de Las Casas.  For example, by reading Columbus's first letter of "discovery" to the queen and king of Spain, one hears how Columbus left the Santa Maria at the New World to establish the colony of La Navidad.  But when reading The Diario one sees that the Santa Maria crashed into some rocks in the middle of the night while Columbus was asleep.  Since the ship was unseaworthy, Columbus then established La Navidad.  But even more troubling is the movie's insistence that all three ships returned back to Spain.

[2] Bosch takes liberties with the facts of Columbus's letters by compressing his four trips to the New World into two. The desire to compress and edit leads to inaccuracies throughout the film, as can be seen by comparing the movie's "facts" to the histories of Columbus provided by Samuel Eliot Morrison's book Journals and Other Documents On The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: Heritage Press, 1963) and Kirkpatrick Sale's book The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Knopf, 1990). For example, although history does agree with the film's assertion that Adrian de Moxica led a rebellion against Columbus (though it was a lesser rebellion than the one led by Alonso de Hojeda), Moxica did not commit suicide as the movie suggests but was either shoved off a fortress wall by some of Columbus's men or hung by Columbus himself. Furthermore, Columbus never punished Moxica for cutting off a Taino's hand-- which was Columbus's own policy-- but for challenging Columbus's own authority and wealth. Some other historical inaccuracies with the film are: Columbus never served time in prison; he never once considered any native as an equal; barely anyone at the time held that the world was flat; he did not receive large fanfare when he returned to Spain after his first trip; Columbus did not return to Spain after the first voyage because of Alonso Pinzon's sickness-- Pinzon, captain of the Pinta, mutinied against Columbus in the New World-- but because of his own desire to take credit for discovering the New World.

[3] The title of the movie is a strange choice since it alludes to Kirkpatrick Sale's book The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Knopf, 1990). Sale, founder of the New York Green Party, portrays Columbus largely as a sea-going idiot who had little sailing experience and a shady past that he wanted to keep shady. Overall, according to Sale, Columbus was obsessed with god, glory, and gold (not necessarily in that order). Unlike the movie that portrays Columbus as a man beyond his times, Sale shows that Columbus was a man deeply stuck in the mind frame of his times--which Columbus's own letters support--and should hold no more or less blame than the environment that produced him. The movie's script shows no evidence of familiarity with Sale's work. Scott's title seems more of a coincidence than a planned allusion.

[4] Interestingly enough, 1492: Conquest of Paradise shares less resemblance to Columbus's letters and more to Washington Irving's three-book history of Columbus called The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: G & G Garvill, 1828). Irving, also, through the use of selective material (e.g., emphasizing the positive and distorting the negative), portrayed Columbus as a romantic pioneer of his time. Irving creates a fictional account of Columbus's return to Spain and tries to absolve Columbus from his harsh dealings with the natives. Yet Irving does implicate Columbus having a certain degree of culpability for slavery, whereas Scott sets Columbus mostly in opposition to slavery. Irving concedes that Columbus did have a "hard hand" against the natives, but his intentions were never cruel--suggesting that Columbus's intentions supercede his actions. Scott, on the other hand, portrays Columbus as mostly sympathetic to the Tainos. Columbus's goodness was, supposedly, thwarted and defeated by the more vindictive sailors that he brought with him to the New World. Although Roselyne Bosch might have no familiarity with Irving's work, 1492: Conquest of Paradise shares the same sympathies of Irving's text: selective uses and distortions of historical accounts that keep Columbus in the pantheon of "heroic" explorers who are trying to enlighten the rest of civilization.