History, Not Your Story
Later today I’m going to spend 4 hours of my life (or as Tom Daschle might say, “invest” 4 hours of my life) watching the Civil War movie “Gods and Generals”. I’m seeing it despite the Roger Ebert review (cited below) and the near unanimous beating it’s taking from the rest of the critical press. Most of these critics seems to be judging this movie not on its own merits, but rather because it’s not the Civil War movie they’d like to see. The movie where 19th-century men, institutions, warfare and culture are portrayed through the disapproving lens of 21st-century morality and social standards, as articulated in the pages of the Nation magazine or the Star Tribune editorial page. While that may indeed be an interesting movie, one where all Southerners are racist, ignorant war criminals and all Northerners are racist, ignorant, profiteers, it’s not history! It’s pure fiction and the worst form of sneering generational hubris (wasn’t everybody so stupid in 1861!).
Gods & Generals is based on a book, which is a history of battles and the men who fought them. Granted, it is a narrative history, meaning the author freely embellishes some of the details. But there is a commitment and a responsibility to portray the overall facts. And while it may be a lousy movie, that judgment needs to be based on its effectiveness in telling this story, not because it didn’t properly explore all the revisionist theories favored by the critics.
I’m also seeing Gods & Generals despite the fact that its predecessor, “Gettysburg,” was basically a 4-hour-long documentary on shockingly bad fake beards. Gettysburg featured some of the worst on-screen facial hair since Charleton Heston was making talking ape pictures. Or since Charleton Heston was seen purposefully striding down mountains carrying stone tablets. Jeff Daniels looked as if his upper lip was engaged in coital relations with a sick ferret. Tom Berenger appeared as if a badger crawled onto his face and died, yet retained a death grip on his nostrils.
Their two glued-on furry mugs are featured in this poster. Unfortunately history never allowed their two characters, Col. Joshua Chamberlain and Gen. James Longstreet, to actually share a scene together. But if somehow that could be arranged, that’s one piece of revisionism I’d enthusiastically applaud, as I may need some laughs come about hour three.