When I first walked into the theater and got situated on Friday afternoon, a lady came up to me and asked how I was doing and proceeded to tell me about what was going to happen that evening, and how exciting this event was. Not wanting to seem rude, I kindly asked her, “Can you tell me what your name is?” She said that she was Cate Magennis-Wyatt, and that she was the founder and president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, the non-profit organization that was co-sponsoring the Gods and Generals premiere, as well as different events in states stretching from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Not wanting to take up any more of her time, I asked for some contact info, which she gave me, so that we might have an interview in the future. As more people started to make their way into the theater, it was fun mingling and getting a chance to talk to fans and other members of the press. By now, you have read my interviews with actors Bruce Boxleitner and Alex Hyde-White, along with director Ron Maxwell, as well as my encounters with other actors and historians, so I will not elaborate on that again.
It truly felt as if I was in Hollywood, if not due to the presence of the massive background for press picture-taking, but from all the cameras flashing and world-renown actors walking around talking to us as if we were just “one of the guys”. The panel itself was enlightening and hilarious, all in one shot. The award for funniest actor would have to go to Alex Hyde-White who made a comment to elder historian James I. Robertson, saying something to the effect of, “The reason why he knows so much about the Civil war is because he lived through it.” Overall, there was so much said during the one hour discussion, moderated by the vice president of JTHG, that I cannot recount it all. There were a few professionals there recording video, so hopefully it will be available online real soon, because I would like to watch it again.
The first crew member to make his way onto the stage was Maxwell, who received a nice round of applause. All other members were told to stand and introduce themselves, telling the character they played, along with a thirty-second sound bite, giving some information about themselves. This was done after a quick video was shown onstage, which is included in the bonus features with the G & G director’s cut. As the event went on, Robertson even poked fun at himself, saying, “I made a final pit stop before the panel, and my zipper got stuck.” Les Kinsolving, another actor I interviewed a few weeks ago, told stories of his distant cousin, Confederate General Barksdale, as well as his own wounding while filming a scene in the movie Gettysburg. Both stories he told generated some laughter from the audience.
Patrick Gorman also made a very passionate statement about the importance of making history interesting to the youth of America, citing how most people find it boring and could not care less about it. He brought up acting and theater as an example, because that is what he can relate to the most. But perhaps the most interesting bit of info shared at the panel was from Robertson, who delved into Jackson’s religious beliefs. He noted how the general never got to know his own father, or mother, for that matter, and had a rough childhood, and so that was the reason he became religious. He did not refer to God as “Heavenly Father” out of euphemism, but because he truly felt that God was the father he never had. This also explained his love of children, and his relationship with little Jane Corbin in the film. This really clarified a lot, and is important to understanding Jackson’s character, regardless if you yourself are religious.
Audience members were also allowed to ask some questions, and one was a reenactor who participated in the filming as an extra. He asked what it was like on the set on September 11, 2001, because production had already began. Maxwell reveled that they were in the midst of filming the Antietam scenes, and it was historical adviser Dennis Frye who broke the news. He had been listening to the radio while working in an office, and because the film crew and actors were in such an isolated place (which was needed so no wires or telephone poles were visible in any distance-shots), no one knew until Frye jumped in his car and rode over. It was a touching moment on stage, as the historians and actors recounted where they were, if they were on the set that day. It was also said that the crew had arranged a prayer service at a local church, and all cast members were invited. They all showed up in their uniforms, and many were wearing bloody bandages. The priest remarked that the last time men with bandages were in that particular church was right after a battle in 1864. When the autograph session took place minutes later, I heard one of the film’s advisers thank the man who asked the question, because it brought up a lot of memories. However, the panel did not end on a gloomy note, as a few minutes later, Maxwell closed it off by saying, “When we found out that we were going to make Gods and Generals, I called up all the cast members from Gettysburg and said, ‘Go on a diet, get on a treadmill, cause we’re going into production’!”
The autograph session then came after that, and hundreds of box sets and books were sold in the lobby, many fans getting them signed by the cast. The start of the film was delayed a half hour so that as many people as possible could get their items signed. When the film began, what happened during the opening credits was pretty cool. As you know, the credits contain the flags of different units and states, and sometimes people would let out a mild cheer when their state’s flag came on the screen. There was also applause for Ted Turner’s name as well as Bruce Boxleitner’s and Maxwell’s. When the title card for “Part One: Manassas” came on the screen, again there was applause, the same occurring for when the part finished. We were watching the film from a box on the right side of the theater, a little bit elevated from the bottom area of seats, and sectioned off from the rest because it was reserved for the press. Because there were not that many reporters, we were able to spread ourselves out, which was very welcome because of the length of the film. I made sure to take an end seat on the last row, just in case I needed to stand up and stretch.
The quality of the film projection was also amazing. It was great getting a chance to see this film on the big screen one more time, the first being when I was eleven years old and in sixth grade. It brought back some memories of when I went to the theater in my hometown of Hazlet on opening day, in February of 2003. The film also received applause at the intermission, and once again upon the conclusion. The actors stayed for the first half, before leaving for dinner. Patrick Gorman, however, stayed for the entire film. I ran into him during the intermission and he told me that he wanted to stay for the whole thing, and I heard someone from WB saying that they would arrange for his dinner when it was over. There was one small problem with that, though, because as he was trying to leave the theater at the end of the evening, people were still coming up to him taking pictures and getting autographs. Patrick, being who he is, was too kind to say no. I just hope he got to eat something after that ordeal! I said goodbye to him before we left, and he told me to stay in touch for another interview.
So now it appears the journey is complete for me. It lasted from November until July, and once again, I want to thank everyone that made it possible, including Warner Brothers and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. They treated me very well, and I have nothing but nice things to say about everybody involved. These nine months have led to interviews, articles, and opportunities of a lifetime, and I will never forget any of it. Now in the future, when I become a history teacher, and show this film when we get to the Civil War, I will have to take some time to tell my students of my involvement with this film, something that will stay with me as long as I live. Thanks to everyone who has been coming on this site all this time, helping me to build an audience and send my links to people all over the country. The Civil War coverage will continue, and perhaps there will still be more about this film, I do not know right now.
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