I know what you’re thinking: you’re the biggest Civil War buff on the planet, right? You consider yourself a hardcore fanatic, who eats, sleeps, and breathes Civil War. Well, maybe there are a few things for you to ponder before you declare yourself king. Reenactors notwithstanding, because those people really are in a world of their own, this list is designed to draw the line between the casual reader/enthusiast and the obsessed!
What is this fascination that the B-movie industry, and now, Hollywood, has with turning our historical figures into jokes? Personally, I guess you could say I do not really mind the fact that Tim Burton is producing a film titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, because it is an obvious horror movie and something that will obviously not be taken seriously. In case you did not know, a little war erupted on this blog in the comment section for one of the articles I had written a few weeks ago, discussing the topic of whether or not historically inaccurate movies are still good for increasing interest about the Civil War and other history, because even if the facts are not straight, it still might spark interest and prompt the viewer to look further, where they will then find the truth. While I completely disagree with this, there were a few members who felt the opposite, and an example was made of Gettysburg, by the Scott Brothers. My disagreement lies in the sense that people watch a documentary like that for information, and there should be no license taken, because although it is supposed to be entertaining, the gist behind a fact-based production should be, well, the facts. If the Scott Brothers had produced a made-for-TV movie ala Hatfields and McCoys, then by all means, give General Barksdale some rockin’ Elvis Presley sideburns and show Joe Davis as the only Confederate general to take part in Pickett’s Charge. At least now we could understand it better.
There are some interviews which just find a way to you and work themselves out on their own. Case in point, this one with film and television actor Fred Griffith (Brig. Gen. Robert Rodes, CSA), who upon reading my announcement regarding the Gods and Generals themed trivia contest we will be having here in March, contacted me and offered to donate an autograph for one of the prizes or conduct an interview. Surprised by this generosity, I took him up on both his offers, and here we are, learning of the filming experiences of yet another G & G cast-member. Though he did not have any lines in the film, he had plenty of screen-time and proved to be a tremendous presence working alongside Stephen Lang. Fred told me on Facebook, “Rodes did have lines in the original 250 page script, which I read! Welcome to Hollywood!”
Nevertheless, someone thought very highly of his role (his “big break”, as he calls it), because very soon after, he landed guest appearances on the hit TV shows Judging Amy, The District, and 24, and since Gods and Generals, he has appeared in ten films (including the Civil War related The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams), with four more closing production in the coming months. I guess sometimes it pays to be a quiet cavalry officer! I asked him about his filming experiences and more in our conversation below:
Being early usually pays off, and once again, it did on Friday afternoon. I was one of the first members of the press to arrive at the Premiere, and after we checked in, I noticed Ron Maxwell, who had entered the lobby and was standing and talking to someone. After waiting for him to finish, I walked over and introduced myself, and he knew exactly who I was. We chatted briefly before moving to another location to get some pictures together. I asked if it would be possible to ask a few more questions for my blog (we did an email interview a few weeks ago), and he pointed to some chairs and said, “Sure, let’s have a seat.” I made Jeff take some pictures of us so I had proof that I was actually “working” that afternoon.
Our interview is posted below, but it is what Ron told me after I shut the tape recorder off that I will never forget. He thanked me many times for coming and my enthusiasm for the film (just like I thanked him many times for inviting me!) and then he said that I had been on their radar for a while, and that “…the entire cast knows you, Warner Brothers knows you.” This would have made my day entirely, until he told me that he actually read my article on the importance of the John Wilkes Booth character to the director’s cut of Gods and Generals. This blew me away, because I had wanted him to read it, and was going to email it to him, but because I knew he was going to be busy, I never did, but he still found it anyway. He began by saying, “You got what it’s about.” Before adding, “You have a critical eye. It’s so refreshing that you are free of the political correctness of this generation.” He also went on to wish me good luck in the future as a teacher and historian.
GC: You have waited eight years for this to come out, so what is it like now that the day has finally come?
RM: For the longest time, we were not sure that the director’s cut would ever be released. It’s an unusual director’s cut because when people think in terms of these cuts, you think of maybe ten or fifteen minutes of more material, maximum, organized perhaps in a different way, but for a director’s cut to come out with an additional hour of new material, and that hour totally changes the entire film, reintegrating it, that is a rare event. So, we did not necessarily think that it would ever happen, but we kept that cut under wraps and no one had really seen it other than those who worked on the film. I think if it was not for the coincidence of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, there may not have been a trigger to consider releasing this. But that being the case, about a year and a half ago, Ted Turner decided the timing was right and that we should release the full version that we had scripted, filmed, and edited eight years ago. Happily, those of us who worked on the film, now have the film we really intended on making, and those who have been waiting for it, I know from the blogosphere and internet, and reenactors and history buffs, that there has been a lot of people hoping it would be released at one point, and here it is! I’m thinking over the long run, as one can anticipate these kinds of things, that this will be the definitive version of the film, and this will be the film that people will see going into the decades of the future.
GC: Of all the scenes you added, which is your favorite scene, if you had to choose one?
RM: I don’t know if I have a favorite scene, per se, but what I really appreciate is that, first of all, everything in the film makes more sense now. We’ve restored the historical integrity and continuity of events, number one. Number two, to have the whole Antietam sequence back, which again, the reason it is there and the four battles are there, is that they unify the main characters of Chamberlain, Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson. Antietam was the place where they were all present again. We obviously don’t pretend in this film that it is the battle of Antietam—you could do a whole big movie on just the battle alone, but it is just the grace notes to show where our characters are. Another thing I was gratified to bring back was the whole subplot with John Wilkes Booth, because every time you see him on a stage, that is historically where he was. He was on that stage, in that theater, in that play, playing that role, as he is shown to be. And so we have, in retrospect, and of course, no one knew it at the time, but when we juxtaposed the images of Booth on the stage with the events of the Civil War, you have, in effect, William Shakespeare as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on what is going on in the war, because Booth is playing regicides over and over again. Now, this obviously does not mean that any actor who plays a regicide is going to act it out in real life (laughs), but it is curious that he is given the words of the greatest poet in the English language, and those roles, of Brutus in Julius Caesar, Hamlet in Hamlet, and Macbeth in Macbeth, are the rationale for regicide. They are the most potent rationales for bringing down a tyrant, and he is saying this over and over again, so one must ask the question, did Shakespeare influence him in his ultimate political act? We see him gradually becoming radicalized. The film is over in May of 1863, so that is two years before he assassinates Abraham Lincoln, and he is not yet radicalized to the point, to the act that he ultimately commits, but he is on his way. I think the film accurately portrays him as a totally rational, totally sane, extremely talented, very popular, and very successful matinée idol, who is not just a matinée idol, but also someone who is a highly esteemed Shakespearean classical actor in a long family tradition. His brother Edwin and his father Junius Brutus Booth, were a great tradition of the stage, so he was a kind of like royalty. The equivalent today would be someone like Robert Redford, someone who is a very good actor, and also a matinée idol back in his day, who suddenly becomes an assassin. I think understanding how these things work, which is completely different from justifying political murder, is fascinating, cause obviously the whole exercise in making Gettysburg and Gods and Generals is to go where those people lived, to try to understand what made them tick and what was in their minds, not to bring or hold them up to the judgment of the 21st century, but for us, in this century, to go where they were and to try to illuminate that for ourselves and understand it. So to bring Booth back into it, it really makes the whole film work for me—it kind of locks it in perspective, to have this Greek chorus, the words of Shakespeare, commenting on what is going on in the American Civil War. Finally, we have restored a lot of the tender moments: Jackson and his wife baptizing their baby, Jackson getting his photograph taken, Jackson with his aides-de-camp, and when they are punning and joking around, and when he gets a new uniform; Joshua Chamberlain and his brother, who cannot figure out how to load a musket as quickly as he should, which is a matter of life and death as we later see, when he has to load it quickly when he is on the front lines in the battle of Fredericksburg. All those personal, familial touches, back in the film, humanize the characters and make it work a lot better.
GC: One last question, and it has been beaten to death, I know, so if you don’t want to answer it, that’s okay. The Last Full Measure, any chance at all that it will be made?
RM: This is where I find that I kind of laugh—I laugh at the people who should know better, who say with great authority, “This film will never be made.” Maybe they have a direct line to the Almighty, I don’t (laughs). I know that making Gods and Generals was miraculous, making Gettysburg was miraculous, like any of the films in that genre that we could talk about, whether its Glory, or you name the title, even The Charge of the Light Brigade. These are not films that are talked about. There is nobody at a studio meeting in Hollywood who goes into their weekly meetings and says, “Does anybody have a Civil War project today?” It does not happen that way. So, for people who say that the odds are long, therefore you will never see it, is just silly. People who make that statement are just ignorant. I work on it every day. You know, maybe it won’t get made in my lifetime, maybe it will be made after my lifetime, and maybe it will never be made, we don’t know. What we do know, is that sometimes, these forces line up and these movies get made, but they do not get made with defeatist attitudes. They do not get made when you don’t suit up and go on the battlefield. They get made because you believe it can be made, you believe in the possibility of getting it made, and you will it into existence, by finding the right financing team, the right distributor, and the right actors who agree with you. That is how my two Civil War movies were made, and that is exactly how The Last Full Measure will be made. What I can tell the fans of the film and those who hope the movie will be made, is that there is not a week that passes where I do not work on it, and one of two things will happen: either I will die, or the film will be made. But, until I die, I will never cease my efforts to get the last part of the trilogy made.
Once again, I thank Ron for taking some time to talk to me. His answer regarding The Last Full Measure was very passionate, and is definitely hopeful. When we were all done, he said, “If we decide to make it, you’ll be the first to know!”
As we near closer and closer to the May 24th release of the Director’s Cuts for both Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, I have been trying to track down as many people involved with the films as I could, and while most of you know of my upcoming interview with Patrick Gorman, who played Confederate General John Bell Hood, I was able to get another one with Bo Brinkman, who played Robert E. Lee’s aid Major Walter H. Taylor in both films. The reason why I did not get a chance to promote this one is because it happened so quickly. I contacted Bo a few days ago, and he responded to me today with his number, and we agreed to do the interview this afternoon. Very rarely does that happen, and I thank Bo for doing so because my five-days-a-week class schedule really limits the time I have to interview people.
This is really special to me, getting a chance to talk to so many people who I grew up watching. Brinkman’s portrayal of Taylor was something I always noticed, at least in Gettysburg, because I am so fond of Lee, and to see the way these two characters interacted really opened my eyes to what the relationship is between a general and his close staff members. Taylor got plenty of screen time in the first film, and reprised his role in Gods and Generals, though his role was slimmed down. We can only hope that he will be given more screen time in the extended cut, because his acting ability deserves it. He has appeared in ten films since 1988, including An Occasional Hell with Tom Berenger, and Laws of Deception with C. Thomas Howell. I asked him about his filming experiences and much more, in our interview below:
GC: First of all, I want to thank you for the interview and just to say that I grew up watching “Gettysburg”—I think I watched it until the tape wore out, and then “Gods and Generals” of course, and its a great honor to get a chance to talk to some of the actors that I grew up with.
BB: Well, yeah I’ll tell you they’re a great bunch of guys and I stay in touch with some of them, and as a matter of fact, I’m directing a film right now with Morgan Sheppard (Isaac Trimble) who did both films and then Jeremy London (Sandie Pendleton) who was in Gods and Generals.
GC: What’s that film going to be about?
BB: It’s called The Mark, and it’s a movie I wrote about a gambler who disappeared and left his son who was a child, who is played by London, and the old man, Sheppard, is the side-kick to the legendary gambler, and he is trying to help this kid change his life by revealing some secrets he has never told before about his dad. We’ve been shooting it for the last six weeks, we’ve got three more days left on it and it has turned out very well.
GC: That sounds very interesting. I hope it’s on DVD and Netflix will have it because I would like to check it out.
BB: It will be, next year I’m sure.
GC: When were you first offered the role of Major Taylor for “Gettysburg”?
BB: Oddly enough, I was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988 because I had two movies there, and Ron Maxwell was at the Carlton Hotel having dinner, and I was with some actor friends and he was watching us, laughing, and he finally waved me over to his table and said, “I directed a movie called The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, with Dennis Quaid, and you remind me of him.” So I said, “Oh, well he’s my cousin, my first cousin.” He started laughing and says, “You know, I’m making a little Civil War movie and I would love to find a place in it for you.” And I said, “Wow, great!” As it turned out, we both lived in New York City, and so we both hung out in Cannes for a couple of days, and we got together in New York and started hanging out in the city, and then a couple of years later when the movie got ready to roll, he offered me the part of Walter Taylor.
GC: Now, you said that Maxwell said “a little Civil War movie”. Did you have any idea that it would turn out to be as epic a film as it ended up being?
BB: I had no idea. He gave me a script, and I thought it was a pretty big script, but yeah, that’s what he said at first: “I’m making a little Civil War movie”. He had been working on it for years and years and years, and he had gotten very close many times to getting it made, and then really what happened was that he met Ted Turner, and he made it happen for him.
GC: Did you know anything about Taylor or the Civil War before Gettysburg?
BB: Not a lot. I had not done a lot of research, other than what I studied in college, and I really did not know until I started to delve into research for the film. It captivated me for years because I love the history, and I thought that Walter Taylor was a fascinating historical character.
GC: How much research and preparation did you do to get ready for this role?
BB: Wow, we’re talking 17 years ago, but I read My Four Years with Lee, that Taylor had written. I read everything I could on Walter Taylor, who was an amazing man. I did a lot of research because I did not want to go in unprepared, and I knew I was going to be up against a lot of actors that were going to be very prepared, like Tom Berenger and those guys, and I really wanted to be on top of it when I started working with them.
GC: In each film, your character works very closely with Robert E. Lee. In “Gettysburg” you worked with Martin Sheen, in “Gods and Generals” you worked with Robert Duvall. What was it like working with those two great actors?
BB: Actually, I had known [Martin Sheen] before, I had met him several times, and my ex-wife [Melissa Gilbert] had actually worked on a movie with him, so I had the chance to know him pretty well before we started. He’s just an amazing man, he’s a sweetheart and a true humanitarian, he’s a religious man, and just a good guy. I loved working with him, and I was pretty young at the time, and very subtly he would help me—he would say, “Oh, you’re working too hard, don’t work too hard”, because I was so eager to please (laughs). He would give me little tidbits like, “You don’t have to work too hard on this line here. Just take it easy.” And of course there’s Robert Duvall, and there is not an actor in the world who doesn’t want to work with him because he’s such a genius. I learned a lot by watching these guys. They’re both fantastic actors, and just to be in their presence, to work with them, and to watch how they approach the material. And I think both Lee’s approached the material very differently, which was interesting to see as well. You had two different actors with two different performances playing the same role—it was pretty fascinating to watch.
GC: This may be a tough question, but in your opinion, which one was more accurate?
BB: They were both very accurate because at the time Lee was at Gettysburg, he was ill, so Sheen was kind of playing reluctant to go into war, and he was also playing his illness a little bit, because historically, all during the battle, Lee was not at a hundred percent. Some people feel that he gave this vague performance of Lee, but he did not have a vague performance at all. He was playing Lee’s illness, and Lee was a humanitarian, he truly was—he was way above his time, and at the time of Gettysburg there was a certain reluctance, and Sheen was playing that. With the performance that Duvall turned in, he was more of a war-horse, and he, not to critique Duvall, seemed to have less humanitarianism. He approached it as a warrior, and not a reluctant warrior, as did Sheen. Does that make sense?
GC: Yes, it does, because I always thought that Sheen was very passionate and Duvall was more calm and reserve. Both performances are fantastic, but personally, I think that Duvall’s performance may have been more accurate because of that.
BB: Yeah, it’s really hard to compare the two because for one thing, it was Lee at two different times, and the war changed Lee, as it does everybody, and so I think they both turned in amazing performances, and if anything hurt Sheen it’s that he was playing the illness and the humanitarian Lee maybe too much. Nevertheless, they are both amazing actors.
GC: I would also like to ask your experience in working with the reenactors. Both of these films had casts of hundreds or thousands, whereas a normal film does not. So what was it like in dealing with all of those people?
BB: Oh, man, they are just the salt of the earth. These movies could have never been done if it wasn’t for the reenactors, and they were kind and a lot of fun. I really enjoyed working with them—they’re just great.
GC: The one thing I have to ask, and people always make fun of “Gettysburg” because of this, and that is all the beards that the actors are wearing. A lot of people call the movie “Gettysbeard” because of some of the obviously fake beards. You had a mustache in both films. Was yours real?
BB: No, it wasn’t real, but Taylor had that little goatee thing going on and when I showed up to do the film, I was really young-looking (laughs). They put the goatee on me and I went straight to Ron Maxwell, and I said, “Ron, I look like a kid in a high school play. This doesn’t fit me. Can’t we just go with the mustache? I know it’s not a hundred percent historically correct, but this thing looks terrible.” He agreed, and thank goodness that I got away with the mustache, which actually looked pretty good. You couldn’t tell.
GC: That’s why I asked because yours and some of the others looked real. Was Martin Sheen’s real, because his looked really good?
BB: Yeah, he had the real thing. Oh, wait, let’s see…I’m trying to recall 17 years ago…I don’t remember now, to tell you the truth. It seemed to me that his was real, but I’m not quite sure. I know Stephen Lang’s was real, certainly not Berenger’s—he had the worst beard in the movie.
GC: It’s a shame because he was the central character and they couldn’t do any better with his beard.
BB: A lot of that is TNT’s fault, I’d say all of it is, because Ron had the best beard guy in the business…the BEST beard guy in the business, and they didn’t want to pay for it, which happens in film. Budget is everything and they just did not want to pay for it. Unfortunately, they were what I call tripping over dollars picking up nickels and dimes, because I feel the beards pretty much hurt the film, horribly. You have “The Movie about Beards” and “Gettysbeard”, and it’s tough because the performances were so solid, the script was so good, the direction was excellent, and yet all those things together and the critics knock the beards. It was really sad that happened, it truly was, because it didn’t have to happen. TNT and the production company that did it were not saving that much money, and we hired a guy that didn’t do beards, but was a great make-up artist and did special effects, but he just did not do beards. The result is now forever on celluloid (laughs).
GC: Now to the “Gods and Generals” director’s cut. Everyone has been waiting eight years for this to come out, there is going to be an extra hour added. Do you know anything about this final cut?
BB: No, I haven’t talked to Ron in about six months. I go see him in Virginia, once a year at least, but I’ve been living in Kenya for the last couple of years, so I haven’t been around much. I knew that he was talking about doing a director’s cut, and actually this week is the first week I have ever heard about it coming out now. I’m very excited for Ron. [Antietam] was not included in the studio cut, and I can guarantee that is going in there. I would also love to see Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. The actor that played Booth was brilliant at it.
GC: Did you have any scenes that were cut?
BB: I don’t recall. I had a lot of scenes that were cut in Gettysburg. My role was a lot bigger in the script and when we started, and when we ended, the director’s cut was around five hours. The same thing with Gods and Generals—it was really two movies. I think the first edit was over seven hours, it was pretty wild. There might be some stuff in there that was cut, but my role had been diminished because the movie really wasn’t about Lee. The movie was about “Stonewall” and his guys, and so the focus centered around him. I think I only had 12 scenes in the whole movie and I think Duvall only had about 14 or 15 scenes. I was really hoping they would do the next film and novel, [The Last Full Measure], and I guess because Gods and Generals really did not do too well at the box office, it was shelved.
GC: When I spoke to Jeff Shaara, he said as of right now there is absolutely nothing-doing with that.
BB: It’s a shame. It would have been nice to see the trilogy, but it’s tough these days. The general public is more interested in watching Transformers than a historically correct, well-made, Civil War film.
GC: Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. I hardly go to the movies anymore because I don’t like what’s out there. I would much rather watch older movies.
BB: Same here. I don’t know the last time I went to a movie. Actually, I will tell you, I do remember the last time. It was when my 21-year-old son dragged me out to see Avatar (laughs).
GC: I still haven’t seen that.
BB: Well, you know, it’s okay. It’s another thrill-ride. Basically, if you go to Universal Studios and get on one of those rides, that’s kind of what it’s like. It’s like cowboys and Indians in the future. The cinematography is amazing, and all that, but it’s just not my kind of movie.
GC: You mentioned earlier that you were living in Kenya, and I’ve seen some of your pictures on Facebook, so can you tell us what that is all about?
BB: Oddly enough, I met this guy Brad Phillips on the set of Gods and Generals, and he invited me out to Sudan and it was kind of strange because I literally went from a movie set about the Civil War to a foreign country in the middle of a civil war, a real one. That was about eight years ago, and I fell in love with east Africa, and I developed a water-based Pyrethrum Mist system that runs on solar power, and I manufactured 40 systems, and I went over there and tested it, and went back many times. Every year I spend the summer or a half of summer there. After my son graduated from high school, he and I both went over there, and I stayed for two years and he stayed for three or four months, and I was doing mist systems over there, installing them in Sudan and all over Kenya. It was just a nice getaway and I got out of the film business for a while and thought I would experience a different life. I’ve been back since last April and am slipping back into the film business with this film, The Mark, and it’s been a lot of fun getting some of the veterans from Gettysburg and Gods and Generals to be in the film.
GC: It’s like a little bit of a reunion.
BB: Yeah, and there is going to be a reunion in Los Angeles, but I am not quite sure when.
GC: One last question that I ask everybody, what is your favorite film and why?
BB: Being There. Have you ever seen it?
GC: No, but I’ve heard of it.
BB: It’s got Shirley MacLain and Peter Sellers and it was done in 1979. Love the film. I love it—it’s well done and it has a great message. That one, and another, and this is kind of hokey, It’s a Wonderful Life. That would be my second favorite.
GC: A lot of people like that movie, and I’m going to have to see “Being There” because I am a fan of Peter Sellers and a big fan of “Doctor Strangelove”.
BB: This movie was something that he tried to get done his whole life, it was based on a novel, and he died not too long after the filming was completed. It was his swan-song. It’s just a very interesting film. You should go out and find it, get it on Netflix, because it’s such a good film.
I would like to that Bo for taking the time to conduct this interview. This is why I love talking to people who have been in both films, because they always have so many great stories to share, and some that you do not hear anywhere else. Best of luck to him in his future ventures, and his film coming out next year, called “The Mark”!
Thanks to a reader named Jeff, who did some searching on Germany’s Amazon website, he discovered that the Gods and Generals Director’s Cut (or Extended Cut as it is officially being being labeled) is scheduled for a May 27 release, with pre-ordering available now. However, this cannot be found on the American version of the website, nor is their a picture of the DVD cover yet available, except for this tiny image on iTunes (another find by a reader):
You can see a different design, which includes Lang as Jackson, Duvall as Lee, and Daniels as Chamberlain, with what appears to be a shot from the deleted Antietam footage pictured below. The one thing I do not understand is why Jackson gets the smallest amount of space, considering he has the most screen time in the movie. Oh well, it’s not that important anyway. I guess this is the last bit of evidence needed by the doubters as to the legitimacy of the highly anticipated director’s cut of the film. All that we really wait for now is the official announcement from Warner Brothers. Being less than three months away, I would imagine a press release to surface shortly, where hopefully we will learn of more details.
That’s all for now. Hopefully everyone had a good weekend.
EDIT: It does appear to be on the American website as well (per a reader known as “Gettysburg Resident”), but with the same information as the German one. Now that I am actually able to read the wording (understanding their language does not apply to my many talents) it appears that only a Blu Ray is available at this present time. I hope that a DVD will pop up at some point, though, because to be only put out on Blu Ray will ruin many chances of this film being able to be shown in a classroom setting, because schools have not become that technologically advanced. There is mention of a book packaged with it, so that should be a very interesting addition.
For additional reading, please view the other articles in the Civil War section.
A few weeks ago I was contacted by an extra who appeared in the film Gods and Generals, who after reading my string of articles on the coming Director’s Cut, thanked me for keeping the film alive, and also offered to tell me anything I wanted to know about his filming experience. That man was a member of the United States Military, Sergeant Benjamin Kullman, and I asked him to send me anything he wanted, and told him I would publish it. He finally got back to me today, with a long list of scenes he remembered filming, that were either shortened or omitted from the final print of the movie. There is no telling if every one of these will be in the extended cut, but it is definitely interesting nonetheless, and I sure hope they are included.
The release of this extended cut will be unprecedented, because 90 minutes (the supposed amount of time that will be added) is long enough to be a film in itself, yet alone get deleted from an entire movie. The descriptions below will finally give us an idea of what was originally filmed, after years of people guessing and assuming what Ron Maxwell shot. Sgt. Kullman has also appeared in others films, including The Pain Within, The Battle of Chantilly, No Retreat from Destiny, and a documentary titled Manasass: End of Innocence. Not related to the Civil War, he played the roles of Galileo Galilei and Alfred Wegener in Bill Nye’s 100 Greatest Discoveries. Below is his description of the many scenes he filmed as a member of the “core reenactors”, which were a separate, and more-used group from the regular reenactors used:
Thank you for your enthusiasm about Gods and Generals, and as much as you are looking forward to the release of the director’s cut of G & G, it is matched and surpassed only by those of us who worked on the film and have patiently waited to see the the result of our hard work in for what was for many of us a labor of love. Many of us that participated in the film still feel it’s impact to this day, and look forward to having the film get the appreciation it deserves. As a proud member of the core company of reenactors for the project, I worked on the film from September to December 2001 which was almost the entire production with the exception of the first two weeks. Since then, I have agonized to see the completed version, knowing how many incredible scenes we shot and how much of a more complete film it is.
As a historian and film buff, the production of Gods and Generals, for me, was one of the most incredible times of my life, and ended up supplying me with life-long friends within both the reenacting and film and television communities. The production also provided me with the opportunity to go on to work on several other film and television projects over the years, and I am happy to say that I have had the honor of working with Stephen [Lang] on two different shows, and he is truly one of the most talented and nicest people you would ever meet, which is why it cracks me up every time I see him play an angry bad guy (Avatar) when his actual personality is closer to his portrayal of [George Pickett, in Gettysburg]. It has now become an inside joke to myself and almost a reality that I can no longer watch any film or TV shows dealing with the Civil War without seeing people I know.
The Core Company, to this day, are very good friends and still keep in regular contact. We even have a large amount of “behind the scenes” footage and pictures from our personal collections that really show what it was like on set, and what an amazing, funny, and meaningful time it was. True fans would find this footage absolutely fascinating. Ever wonder what it was like to be in the middle of one of those formations taking fire charging up the slopes of Fredericksburg? One of my prized possessions is my paperback copy of G & G signed by almost the entire main cast, including some amazing actors who are no longer with us, like Royce D. Applegate.
I will list the scenes that I can remember, off the top of my head, that we filmed but were not included in the theatrical cut as to give you and your readers an idea of some of the things they can expect in the full cut of the film:
- Many more scenes that take place pre-war and the aftermath of secession
- Several scenes that take place during the build up to first Manassas, where many recruits are brought in to enlist.
- Lots of extended dialogue pieces and scenes where ["Stonewall"] Jackson meets his staff
- A scene that takes place outside of a theater in Richmond, during a recruitment drive, where John Wilkes Booth leaves the theater and speaks to several women. -”Don’t you know? Mr. Booth is the finest actor in all of Richmond” . (Dialogue from the scene if memory serves). Booth is then is asked to give a rousing speech to those assembled to encourage them to enlist, the Richmond Greys (we called them blue balls), are in attendance as well as several Confederate muster officers
- Several scenes involving the Liberty Hall Volunteers (featured during First Manassas) during which a chorus of “Cheer Boys, Cheer” is sung as we marched. The Core Company of Reenactors learned this song, and was recorded for use in the film which we were told at the time was to be also included on the film’s soundtrack (kind of like the field music was included in “More Songs and Music from Gettysburg”)
- A scene leading up to First Manassas in the train yard at Harper’s Ferry where Jackson purchases his horse ‘Little Sorrel’, originally for his wife (a brief glimpse of the beginning of this scene can be seen in the theatrical cut)
- First Manassas is longer; at least it felt like we had filmed a longer sequence then has been seen
- A much longer subplot involving the formation of the 20th Maine. Scenes in which new members of the 20th Maine are issued their uniforms and equipment with a cameo by the cook from Gettysburg (can’t recall the actor’s name but he had the line involving “Best darn cusser in all of Maine”). More scenes involving a character that was cut out of the film: a slightly overweight private that seems to have many problems dealing with his new role as a soldier. And a very funny scene in which Albert Ames is disgruntled at the lack of ability of his new troops and new field musicians that play the marches horribly (it was hard for the actual field musicians to play intentionally poorly during filming, but the scene was very amusing)
- Of course all of Antietam, including: Lee details to his staff his reasons for invading Maryland, a picture of this scene and shots from it have appeared throughout media for the film and it’s trailer. The 20th Maine stands on a hill observing the battle as they, along with the rest of the 5th Corps, are held in reserve. The 20th Maine observes a conversation between an angered Hancock and an over-confident General McClellan. A rogue artillery shell from the battle takes the head off one of the men in the 20th Maine’s formation. Another shell impacts near the line throwing up small bits of shrapnel causing the overweight private to throw down his weapon, grasp his hand and scream. Kilrain yells at him, in one of the best pieces of cut out dialogue, “Quit your whining! You’re making more noise than the man who lost his head, PICK UP YOUR MUSKET!”
- A very nice scene that takes place during the night in which Jackson’s staff (as Stephen Lang called them ‘the Jackson five’) has a very funny conversation involving puns, philosophy, and some other subjects, during which JEB Stuart’s foreign aide, the Prussian, Heros von Borcke, arrives and presents Jackson with the new officer’s tunic Stuart had made, much to Jackson’ s bewilderment and embarrassment. (I’m looking forward to the scene personally as it is the only one in which I played an officer)
- Build up to Fredericksburg is longer with extended dialogue scenes between Couch and Hancock
- General Hood’s scenes before Fredericksburg are much longer and more involved
- The crossing into Fredericksburg via the pontoon bridges is longer
- The scene where the boy is knocked down by the spent artillery shell as the family escapes the town is longer, and explains the bruise on the boys chest as his brother picks up the cannon ball and is told by Pastor Lacey to put it down
- The scenes involving the Union plundering of Fredericksburg are longer and more detailed with several pieces of minor dialogue
- Union assaults on the Fredericksburg heights might be longer as a lot of time was spent filming this portion of the battle
- Lots of extended dialogue pieces all throughout the battle
- The nights spent by the 20th Maine pinned down in front of the stone wall are longer with more dialogue, the retreat from Fredericksburg is also extended
- Several scenes in and around the field hospitals were filmed and extended leading into the deleted scene with Jim Lewis and the grave diggers, a portion of which has already been seen and posted on your site.
- The Minstrel show scene (Bonnie Blue Flag) is longer with more dialogue and music
- Longer scenes around the tobacco/coffee trade including Ron Maxwell’s cameo
- The much talked about scenes between Harrison and Booth (none of which I witnessed filming) and Lincoln attending Booth’s performance
- Battle plans and build up to Chancellorsville longer
- More scenes around the Chancellorsville house before the mass panic from the retreating 11th corps reaches it and the fall out afterward
- Jackson’s death scenes are extended
I would like to thank the sergeant for sharing this with me and it truly sounds like an incredible experience. All of these scenes would seem to amount to more than 90 minutes, so it appears unlikely that everything here will be in the final cut, but we can only hope that the majority will be. We have now been waiting eight years to see this footage, and this description makes it sound like it will be worth it.
I don’t know how this eluded my reach, especially with all I have been doing for the release of the Gods and Generals Director’s Cut, which Jeff Shaara has announced on his website, is slated for May (he said he heard directly from Warner Brothers), with the theatrical premiere coming in July. Blog reader Steven Hancock put these two clips up on his Facebook and I clicked them eagerly awaiting to see what I had missed, and how new they were, but then I saw that the first one is from 2009 and the second is from 2007. Both have plenty of hits, so I don’t know how I missed them, especially since I have been on Youtube now more than I ever have.
These, he tells me, were included on the bonus DVD that came with the soundtrack that was released before the movie came out. The disc included the music videos for both Mary Fahl’s opening credits song of “Going Home” and Bob Dylan’s closing song “Cross the Green Mountain”. But along with those came several other scenes. I had this soundtrack, but the second disc was lost (or so I think) when the case broke and was replaced. I currently only have the music disc, but will do some searching for the second one. These are two very nice scenes, and I hope they are included in the final cut.
In this scene, the character of Jim Lewis played by Frankie Faison, gets more screen time as he talks to a fellow African-American Confederate, who has just seen his master’s body placed in a casket, after being killed in battle. I will assume this came after the Fredericksburg scenes, because smoke can be seen coming out of their mouths. There are also more black Confederates singing “Steal Away to Jesus”. This is a pretty moving scene because after Lewis takes somewhat of a cynical approach to his friend, saying that he “master” had been killed, the young man tells him that the soldier had just given him his freedom papers, meaning he wasn’t a slave, and he was on his way to delivering the body to his family in Winchester.
This second scene shows the Confederate Irish Brigade in what I will guess is before First Bull Run, because Stephen Lang, as Jackson, is still wearing his blue uniform. This depicts a soldier, Fitzgerald, singing the “Song of the Rebel Irish” which was played by Confederate Irish soldiers.
To Civil War enthusiasts, director Ron Maxwell is seen as a Godlike figure. First he gave us Gettysburg in 1993, after several failed film projects of his own. The film came out of nowhere and took the movie industry by storm, and today is regarded as one of the last true war epics ever made, because of its grandiose shooting style and use of thousands of extras instead of CGI. Ten years later, he would give us the much awaited prequel to this film, Gods and Generals, based on the novel of the same name written by Jeff Shaara, the son of Michael, who wrote the original book.
For me, Gettysburg was the movie that turned me on to the Civil War, so naturally I could not wait for this film to come out. I still remember going to the theater on its opening day, with my mom, who was also interested in the subject due to my curiosity as a youngster. The movie left a profound impact on me, because it was everything I imagined, including the running time which clocked in at more than three and a half hours due to the intermission. Several times the audience wept, then laughed, then were amazed by this massive piece of storytelling. This film, too, is shot on an epic scale, but unfortunately it is weighed down by religious overtones, which ultimately led to the film’s downfall in this politically correct world, and subsequent termination of a follow up project and sequel to the trilogy, The Last Full Measure.
Gods and Generals was released with such promise—it was to appear in theaters, be released on DVD, shown as a two-night event on TNT, then a year later, a six hours director’s cut was to be released, giving us the full story. But only the first two would be realized, as the film quickly bombed and was yanked out of theaters. The reason for this was politics, and the fact that this movie, although about the Civil War, was extremely religious. Here we see Jackson, Lee, and even Chamberlain constantly bringing God into the equation, and while these men were very religious in a much different world (personally, I did not mind it one bit, although it did get preachy more than once), it truly led to the film’s negative critical reaction. The trailer even stated that, “One side fought for God’s glory, while the other fought for his kingdom on earth.” In reality, even though they were religious, I highly doubt they were fighting for God himself.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable film, despite its faults, but unfortunately, it can probably only be enjoyed by Civil War buffs, an amount of people large enough for a small film project or low-budget affair, but not big enough to make or break a $60 million spectacle, all personally financed by Ted Turner, who produced related films Ironclads, Gettysburg, Andersonville, and The Hunley as well.
The story begins with showing Robert E. Lee as a Colonel in the United States Army and the decisions he made that brought him to the Confederacy. We get very interesting back story on all major characters, including Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, played by Stephen Lang who was Pickett in Gettysburg, and of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels as he reprises his role from the original. The one thing that Gettysburg lacked that this film makes up for is character development—here we see why the soldiers are fighting, instead of seeing a bunch of guys in blue and gray thrust onto a battlefield. The film also does a very good job in showing both sides as being right, while not vilifying either side. To many, this was seen as a fault more than an asset, but I think it helps in understanding the causes of this great war. The audience can then make up their minds as to who was right, and who was wrong.
This film was a very difficult story to tackle, mainly because it had to focus on three years of the Civil War, rather than just three days. The Battle of First Bull Run, while instrumental in showing Jackson’s first taste of combat as well as the first major battle of the war, is almost randomly inserted into the movie and seems out of place. It is also only about ten minutes in length, and features only one part of the battle. This film could have really done without it, and would have been better served with having the characters simply talk about what happened off-screen. The insertion of this also left out any possibility of having Antietam in the film, something that was filmed but left on the cutting room floor (multiple people who worked on the film said that the action scenes for Antietam were the best in the entire film). We will just have to wait and wonder about it until a director’s cut is released.
The best part of Gods and Generals is by far and away the Fredericksburg scenes. Here we finally get an in-depth look at the tactics and troop movements behind one of the most famous and costly battles of the war. General Burnside is shown perfectly as being incompetent, while the generals around him, namely Winfield Scott Hancock, played by the severely underrated Brian Mallon, disagree with his plans to attack General Lee’s entrenchments at Marye’s Heights head-on. The battle is shown to be brutal, and combined with the terrific score of Randy Edelman and John Frizzell, make the Fredericksburg sequence a form of art. It is hard not to tear up during this battle, because as wave after wave of Union troops are cut down by the Confederates, we see the Irish brigade of the Union make their charge against the stonewall. Unbeknownst to them, the Irish brigade of the Confederacy, led by Colonel Thomas Cobb, awaits them. One of their commanders actually breaks down and cries at the thought of shooting his own countrymen, as bullets strike the wall he is leaning on. The music, once again, is spectacular, with a very sad sounding bag-pipe tune. We also get to see Chamberlain’s first action as a Union colonel, with his brother Tom and old Sergeant follow by his side. Those two actors are the same from the original, with C. Thomas Howell and Kevin Conway coming through with superb performances.
Gods and Generals then takes a jump to 1863, following the aftermath of Fredericksburg, and takes us to Chancellorsville, which was Jackson and Lee’s daring surprise attack of the Union left flank under Oliver Howard, with Joseph Hooker now the commander-in-chief. The music played over this scene is very slow, and increases in pace as Jackson’s men jump out of the trees and begin their assault. We then see the very sad and unfortunate wounding of Jackson by his own men, and his death about twenty minutes later in the film. It was during these final scenes where people began to weep, as I did the first time I saw it, and still get choked up to this day.
The scene with Jackson dying is very emotional, because you can see the Confederacy dying right along with him. Robert E. Lee, played by Robert Duvall, is asked if he will see Jackson on his deathbed, but says no, not allowing himself to accept that fact that his right-hand man is dying. The movie closes with Jackson’s funeral, as a riderless horse and carriage passes by and heads toward Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson was a professor.
Even with all its faults, and it heavy dialogue (mostly consisting of too much preaching), Gods and Generals is still a superb piece of film making. People also criticize the casting of Duvall as Lee, stating that he was too old for the part. Duvall, a descendant of Lee, was older than the General, but when you look at pictures of the real Lee, he looked older than his age. There are just certain shots in this movie where he bears striking resemblance to him, and I personally like his casting over that of Martin Sheen, who actually wanted the part again but could not accept it due to scheduling conflicts. The film is also great because it is a reunion, of sorts, of the Gettysburg cast that we all know and love. Besides Daniels, Lang, Mallon, Howell, and Conway, Royce Appelgate and Charles Lester Kinsolving return briefly as Generals Kemper and Barksdale, respectively, Joseph Fuqua as J.E.B Stuart, Patrick Gorman as John Bell Hood, Ted Turner himself as Waller T. Patton, David Carpenter who switches from Colonel Devin to Reverend Tucker Lacy, and Buck Taylor, who switches from Colonel Gamble to General Maxcy Gregg. (There are others, too many to name.)
We also see some new faces as Bruce Boxleitner takes over for Tom Berenger as Longstreet, and veteran character actor William Sanderson plays A.P Hill. Mira Sorvino also makes a brief, and exquisite cameo appearance as the wife of Colonel Chamberlain (they too had additional scenes that were lifted).
It truly is a shame that a film with such potential, and such work recieved such low acclaim from critics, and I cannot even imagine how great the director’s cut of this film is. It was only screened once, several years ago, and was met with a standing ovation. It includes a subplot of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, the entire battle of Antietam, and a friendship between Booth and Henry Harrison, played by Cooper Huckabee as in the original. Andrew Prine also reprised his role as General Garnett, but he too was edited out.
My final rating of this film will be a 9 out of 10, because of its accuracy and epic scale. This is one of those rare films that can be shown in a history classroom without much explaining, because with the exception of the insertion of Jane Corbin and her relationship with Jackson, everything depicted is, for the most part, exactly what happened. I recommend it to all that have an interest in the war that cost America more than 600,000 deaths in just five years. I also hope that one day we will see the director’s cut of this film, because knowing Maxwell, it is sure to change our view of the Civil War and enlighten us even further—and with the 150th anniversary of the war happening in the next five years, it is either now or never.
Check out my review of Gettysburg here.
EDIT II: There have been a lot of updates since this was first published in November. Please visit the Civil War section for more up-to-date information. Thanks, Greg.
Gods and Generals is one of the greatest movies ever made about the Civil War, mainly because it did not conform to Hollywood standards and put forth a highly accurate depiction of the characters and events surrounding the first three years of the American Civil War. It includes many memorable scenes of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his first Virginia brigade, the tragic battle of Fredericksburg that resulted in an embarrassing Union defeat, the triumphant Confederate victory at Chancellorsville, and finally, the sad, accidental death of Jackson at the hands of his own men.
The film is dramatic, humorous at times, and deeply saddening. The constant use of captions, which some call distracting, further enhance the accuracy of the film, as those who are not Civil War buffs can know what regiments are where, and what day of the battle it is.
But even with all that this film excels in, it is highly fragmented. The film was sent to theaters with the audience full-well knowing that this film is only a fraction of what was originally filmed. It was released with the intention of it appearing on TNT for a network airing following it’s DVD release a few months later, and then the following year, a full director’s cut of what Ronald F. Maxwell initially shot, a film project running around six hours, would be put out. Unfortunately, the film bombed at the theaters, and even sent Turner Pictures into bankruptcy (Ted Turner, who produced Gettysburg, the prequel, paid the entire $60 million budget for Gods and Generals out of his own pocket.)
With the film a monumental failure to everyone but Civil War enthusiasts, the thought of releasing this massive director’s cut was shelved indefinitely. But now, according to a source on IMDB, this cut of the film is now not only in talks, but is actually going to be released in 2011.
According to a poster, who was a student of James Robertson, a professor at Virginia Tech and a Civil War historian and scholar with ties to Maxwell, he emailed Robertson asking if this director’s cut story was true, after being tipped about it on another web-page. The response he got was as follows:
“(W)arner Bros. plans to release the unabridged edition of “Gods and Generals”
sometime in 2011. Later this month, director Ron Maxwell, Col. Keith
Gibson, and I will record a long commentary/conversation that will be an
extra on the DVD. The uncut version will not be shown in movies houses
because of its length (6+ hours). Rather, it will be available in a DVD
Even though the way this post is set up seems credible, I will still attach a “grain of salt” warning to this, but I am very happy about this, and hopefully am not being let by false hope. Gods and Generals was a film that had so much passion behind it, but one that was flawed because they cut this massive project down into just more than three hours.
The deleted scenes include the entire battle of Antietam, a sub-plot between John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln, a friendship between Booth and actor Henry T. Harrison, who served as a Confederate scout, and additional scenes in and throughout the film.
With 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, I had been thinking earlier that if there was any time to release this film, these next five years would be it. I can only hope that this source is true, and that the email correspondence between he and Robertson is not fabricated. Gods and Generals is a film that can both entertain and educate, and it needs to be seen in it’s full six hour glory.
The entire cut of this film was only shown once, several years ago as part of a personal screening by Ron Maxwell. It ran well over five hours and upon it’s conclusion, it was met with a standing ovation. When released, Gods and Generals will be a treat for as all.