Four Times the Minions were Really Involved in Historical Events

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The Minions are cute. They’re adorable. They’re evil. Well, maybe not exactly evil, but through their stupidity and drive to serve the world’s most powerful master, they usually end up not working for someone you’d invite to Thanksgiving (except the first guy on the list). As seen in the Minions movie last summer, they have been around forever. They first sought to serve a gigantic T-Rex, the world’s biggest and baddest dinosaur since no humans were around. They ended up accidentally killing him by pushing him into a volcano. Then came Count Dracula, who by all accounts, they served well. Unfortunately, when it came time to celebrating the Count’s 357th birthday, they killed him too by allowing sunlight into his castle. Lastly, they ended up in Napoleon’s Army during his ill-fated invasion of Russia. Napoleon’s fate was left up in the air, but it didn’t look good: totally by accident they kind of blew up the general with a cannon.

The Minions then wandered throughout history searching for their next “Big Boss”. After struggling, next thing you know, they end up in the 1960’s. First in New York, then in England. But what happened in the meantime? What mischief, destruction, and evil-doing were the Minions up to between the Napoleonic Wars and the 1960’s? They’re not exactly the best workers because their stupidity and absent-mindedness almost always leads to the death of their boss or some kind of massive catastrophe for whoever they are serving (and no, I checked; they never worked for the US Government). After doing some serious research and digging, I have uncovered four other instances of them popping up throughout history. So, peel back a banana, relax, and enjoy.

Continue reading “Four Times the Minions were Really Involved in Historical Events”

Interview with Author and Historian J. David Petruzzi

What exactly constitutes someone being considered an “expert”? There are many qualities you can contrive in order to define the word, but I am pretty sure, that at the end of the day, no matter what you think of, historian and author J. David Petruzzi would always be considered one when it comes to the American Civil War. He is the author of five books on the subject, including the freshly released New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook, which has been described as a must-read for diehards and newbies alike. With another trip to Gettysburg coming up in the next couple of weeks for me (have not yet decided on the dates), I think I am going to pick up a copy and take it along with me, because it seems to be the real deal according to the reviews.

All of Petruzzi’s hard work has led him to be selected as a historical adviser to the highly anticipated television miniseries To Appomattox (2013), which has been mentioned a few times on this blog. With many fans out there wanting to learn more about it, and his role, I asked him to shed some light on that, as well as his general opinion on various aspects of the Civil War and films made about it. He is also the author of other related works, including walking and driving tours of Gettysburg, One Continuous Fight, which details Lee’s retreat, and finally, Plenty of Blame to Go Around, which currently holds distinction as the only book dedicated entirely to Confederate cavalry General J.E.B Stuart’s famous, and controversial ride, from Virginia to Gettysburg. Mr. “Call Me J.D” Petruzzi also maintains a blog called “Hoofbeats and Cold Steel”, which I discovered after stumbling upon his review of the History Channel Gettysburg documentary from late May—both of us had choice words to say about that one, while his expertise took it even further! Below is our interview, which we conducted by email this afternoon:

GC:You are serving as a historical adviser to the upcoming mini-series To Appomattox. What exactly will your job entail?

JDP: First, I’m really humbled and honored to be a part of this, which I truly believe will be the media event of the Sesquicentennial.  It’s all been very exciting, because I’ve never been involved in something of this scope and magnitude.  My initial duties a few months back entailed two things: First, I was asked to read the entire script and offer historical accuracy suggestions.  As an aside, I was hooked after the first few pages.  From the very first scene in the first episode to the last scene of the last episode, it is an amazing story.  Writer Michael Frost Beckner is a life-long student of history (he also has ancestors who fought in the war) and his research went extremely deep, so the writing was already very accurate from a historian’s point of view.  I just caught some things here and there and helped Michael do a few rewrites and modifications.  Second, I assisted in assembling a world-class team of consultants, each of them with a particular specialty.  We have a uniform expert, a flag expert, personality experts, battle/campaign experts, and so forth.  We’re all experienced enough to know that some historical boo-boos will creep in here and there, but our team is comprised of the finest in their fields.  Viewers will have the confidence knowing that in each scene, within the context of the dramatic storytelling, every word uttered by every character – every item in the shot – every military action portrayed – will be historically accurate and plausible. My primary duty now is to bind the script of each episode, and begin making a collection of them with all of my historical notes and supporting material with them.  For example, each episode, page-wise, runs about 65-70 pages.  By the time I’m done, each of my episode binders will consist of about 200 or more pages.  I’ll also be collating the material of the consultants.  Therefore, as each and every scene is being blocked and prepared, we’ll have information at hand which gives us all of the historical accuracy details ready and available.  If there’s a flag or flags in a scene, we’ll have the right ones.  If Robert E. Lee, during the Mexican War, is in a scene, it will list what he looked like at the time, and exactly what his uniform should look like.  When U.S. Grant’s home, “Hardscrabble,” appears in an exterior shot, there’s a photograph of it. Michael and I speak just about every day, often several times a day.  He has me participate in just about everything having to do with the historical environment of the series, and that means assisting with things like enlisting corporations that provided consumer goods during the war to be sponsors and/or advertisers.  I’ve assisted in preparing printed presentations submitted to many entities having connections with the series.  It’s been great fun, and I enjoy helping any way I can. Once pre-production begins in the spring of next year, my full-time work begins.  From pre-production through the end of filming, I’ll be full-time on the set.  I very much anticipate that, and it’ll be a lot of hard, long work but a great deal of fun.  As Historical Adviser, I’ll be working personally with the actors and actresses, helping them understand their characters and hopefully in some small way to help them give a believable performance.  Michael has written into this story no caricatures, no icons up on pedestals – these historical figures are shown as exactly who I believe them to have been in real life… human, fallible, successful, and failures.  Angels didn’t sing when Lee walked into a room, but his men loved him and his enemies respected him.  Grant wasn’t a slosh who spent all his time on the floor passed out (though some would have you believe that).  He had only periodic struggles with alcohol, and that because he was often very lonely – he dearly loved and often ached for his wife and family – and his internal conflicts with his failures in life.  I think when folks are finished watching this series, they will come away feeling that they understand Grant and all of these men and women much more clearly. On the set I’ll also be coordinating, as the head of the Historical Department, the efforts of consultants and the crew assembling sets, reenactor/extra coordinators, battle scenes, etc.  Basically, any way that I can assist the producers, director, and all departments regarding history and accuracy.  When I don’t know an answer, I have to find it.  But as I mentioned earlier, Michael has written such a wonderful script that my job won’t be nearly as difficult as it otherwise could be. Once filming and editing is complete, I hope to continue to be involved as Michael’s ambitious list of “extras” are worked on.  We plan to include, in the resulting DVD boxed set that will be released, to have a “Behind the Scenes” documentary, mini historical documentaries, educational tools, etc.  We really want the entire To Appomattox experience to be just that – an experience.  We don’t want it to be over for the audience once the final episode begins.  Truly, it is then that the real learning and teaching begins.

GC: As it stands in pre-production, what are your hopes for what this series will accomplish?

JDP: I touched on that a bit in my previous answer – I  hope that viewers come to begin to understand just in what environment the war took place, and who these people were who fought it, planned it, and those who waited at home and worried.  Today, we look at a picture of U.S. Grant and see a black and white, detached-from-us-today photograph.  But what was he thinking at West Point?  What was his relationship with James Longstreet?  What were his struggles with civilian life failures, alcohol, and loneliness?  What was it like to be in a room with George McClellan before or during the Civil War at particular times?  How did all these main characters – Grant, Longstreet, Lee, William Sherman – and all of their mutual friends interact with each other over several decades?  What did they laugh about?  What did they worry over?  What did the war do to their relationships?  All of these and more are dramatic limbs among the dramatic spine of the series, which is Grant’s memoirs. I also hope that it will go a long way toward getting young people more involved and interested.  It is they who will carry on the work of understand the war properly after us.  We are, after all, within the Sesquicentennial and interest in everything about the war is at an all-time high.  If one child turns to a parent and says “Let’s go visit Gettysburg – or Shiloh – or Chickamauga” then it’ll have all been worth it. Further, to be quite blunt, I believe the series and the portrayal within will knock a few pedestals out from under some “iconic” figures – as it SHOULD be.  It’s not an intentional effort to make any of these historical figures any less than what they were… quite the opposite, in fact it is to portray them (most often in their very own words) as they really were.  They laughed, they cried, they stumbled, they were successful, they failed.  And many of them leashed Hell upon the earth and to each other.  An enormous percentage of Civil War soldiers died on battlefields utterly alone.  In the dirt.  In their own blood.  Perhaps clutching a picture of their wife or a child.  And their everlasting legacy on Earth was to be tossed into a trench, their identity never to be known again.  Many families didn’t have even a grave to mourn over.  Thousands of soldiers today still lie in parts unknown, all but forgotten.  Theirs and many like stories are another foundation of this series.

GC: What is your favorite Civil War movie of all-time, and why?

I love so many – The Horse Soldiers, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Glory, you name it.  But probably my favorite is Gettysburg, based on the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels.  Much of the dialogue is just plain silly, but it was Shaara’s interpretation of those characters and they’re simply wonderful.  Admittedly, the movie has set standards by which many reenactors and living historians now do their craft.  For instance, Longstreet never wore the huge hat (it should have been given its own zip code) that actor Tom Berenger wore in the movie.  Longstreet typically wore a regular kepi.  I’m told that while in the town of Gettysburg prior to filming, Berenger went into the store Dirty Billy’s Hats and asked for the biggest hat in the place.  Folks tried to tell Berenger that it would be inaccurate for Longstreet, but he wore it anyway.  Now, when you see one of the dozens of Longstreet portrayers around, they’re all wearing one of those huge hats for fear of not being “recognized.”  Many of them know better, but it is “Longstreet pop culture” to wear a big hat even though it’s utterly silly and inaccurate.  But if a Longstreet portrayer showed up at a reenactment wearing the correct kepi, no one would know who he was.  And that’s understandable.  But in our series, Longstreet wears the right clothes during the war, and none of the uniforms will look like they were just pulled off a Hollywood wardrobe rack. But all of that aside, every time the movie Gettysburg is on, I can’t take my eyes off it.  All of the actors are simply fabulous and I utterly enjoy watching it.  And if the pre-Pickett’s Charge bombardment and the Charge itself doesn’t touch your heart, then you need to check your pulse immediately.

GC: You recently just published another book, “The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook”. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

JDP: Thanks for asking about that – folks who know me know that I never turn down an opportunity for shameless self-promotion!  In the Savas Beatie “Handbook” series, it’s a neat little companion to The Complete Gettysburg Guide that I also did with master mapmaker Steven Stanley.  It contains a lot of material that we couldn’t include in the Guide – things like Gettysburg Campaign facts, trivia, personalities, and even Medal of Honor awardees.  There’s a photographic study of the entire five weeks of the campaign.  There’s also a comprehensive Order of Battle that is the most accurate and up-to-date available.  Steve designed the entire book for our publisher, did all of the maps (he’s the best in the business bar none) and it’s simply gorgeous to look at.  Steve and I are working hard on many more books – such as a Maryland Campaign Guide and others – and I’m simply blessed to be partnering with him on these projects.  Between the two of us, Steve has more talent in his little finger than I’ll ever have, period.

GC: Back in May you wrote a scathing review of the History Channel documentary on Gettysburg (as did I). How is it possible, with so much information out there, for a major production to be so misinformed and inaccurate?

JDP: Oh yeah, I ripped that show and to think of the thing still makes me ill today.  It was that bad.  How something like that can air?  I think much of it has to do with marketing and trying to appeal to an audience which today is pretty inflicted with ADD.  And I also know that the writers and producers didn’t consult with the historical advisers and consultants beyond just their few minutes of speaking throughout the episode.  If they had – consulted with knowledgeable folks like Garry Adelman and such – most or all of the garbage that aired wouldn’t have seen the light of day.  It was filmed in South Africa literally on the cheap, so the terrain looked nothing like Gettysburg (unless Gettysburg is comprised mainly of acres and acres of sand and pine stands and I’ve somehow missed that).  If you read my review of the show, you’ll see that I point out an error committed just about every minute, and I actually didn’t include most of them.  The show was very, very hard to watch, and my wife kept running into the room thinking that I was screaming in physical pain rather than mental.  I’ve seen only a couple positive comments about that show, and universally everyone trashed it.  All the CGI and graphics done by the Scott Brothers studio – which was brought onto the project only at the very last second in order to do the CGI and attach their names to it – couldn’t save that show from making everyone’s eyes bleed.  The History channel can only do the right thing by burning all copies of that program and never allowing it to see the light of day ever again. It also bears mentioning that such historically deficient tripe places even more expectations on us and our series, and we plan to rise to it.  Glaring historical inaccuracies in personalities and the set will only distract viewers, and we don’t want that.  We want everyone – student and scholars of history to those who know very little about it – to enjoy it and learn from it.  The demographics of our expected audience are enormously broad.  Not only will Civil War folks watch this, but, for instance, fans of Rascal Flatts (who is doing the music score and acting in it), fans of NASCAR drivers participating, and fans of the particular actors and actresses.  We have a heavy responsiblity to each of them to do this right and honorably.

GC: Lastly, aside from Gettysburg which you have invested so much time in, which is your favorite battle? Who is your favorite general? And why?

JDP: I dearly love Antietam.  It’s so quiet and non-commercial there, a stark contract to many things about Gettysburg.  Watching the sun set from Little Round Top is always awesome, but watch the sun come UP from the area of Burnside’s Bridge, and now you’re talking my language.  The area of the Cornfield there always gives me goosebumps, and I can’t help when walking the length of the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane) and just nearly tearing up as I look around an envision all those dead young boys of both sides that were in and around that.  Because of my interest in the cavalry, another favorite field is Brandy Station.  For us “Cav” folks, Brandy is the Motherload.  There, the cavalry of both sides brought “Thunder on the Plains.”  When I’m standing up on Buford’s Knoll or near Fleetwood Heights, nothing else in the world matters at that moment. If you asked others about my favorite general, they’d all probably assume John Buford.  And they’re probably right.  I admire the guy.  Soft-spoken and reserved, but he’d dangle you from the nearest locust tree if he suspected you just didn’t smell right.  I’d have loved to have been on a battlefield with him.  I also like Winfield Hancock.  Guy always had a clean white shirt on no matter what, and he could swear a blue streak said to have made flower wilt at his feet, and if any ladies had been present they’d have fainted dead away.  His men felt invincible near him, and that fella would have been one to have shared a wee nip with.  I bet he had stories. I also like to study the cads, the scoundrels.  Speaking of having a whiskey with someone, Dan Sickles would probably be the ultimate party dude.  And a fellow like Judson Kilpatrick fascinates me.  Snarky, shrill, but hell-bent-for-leather.  It’s why Sherman wound him up and turned him lose.  Kilpatrick had a habit of getting just about everyone and everything around him send to Providence, but his personal traits are both confusing and fascinating.  Truly, I like ’em all.  Everytime I discover an officer or common soldier with an interesting story, I just have to know more.  That’s what keeps this so exciting and endless – there are quite literally millions of stories out there, and millions more to find. Among those millions of stories, our To Appomattox series will bring some of them to people’s living rooms – and hopefully their hearts.  It is there that the seed of curiosity is born.

I would like to thank J.D for an absolutely enlightening interview! Reading and digesting this really makes me excited for 2013, when we will see this television series released. I had been trying to keep up with it, but with different updates being posted daily from their Facebook Page, I figured one day, I would just sit down and browse through all of it. This interview has given me just-cause to do that, because I don’t think I have felt this much excitement since 2003, when as a 12 year old, I waited with anticipation for my favorite Civil War film, Gods and Generals, to reach theaters. I cannot promise to provide as much coverage for To Appomattox as I did with G & G, but this is as good a place as any to start. Many thanks again to J. David for taking the time to type all of this out and send it over—this could have been a book in itself!

Blogging Manassas (Vol. 6): One-on-One with Director Ron Maxwell

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!”

Despite Hype, History’s “Gettysburg” Fails to Deliver

While I applaud the filmmakers of Gettysburg for finally giving us an accurate depiction of Civil War violence, with plenty of blood, guts, and limbs flying everywhere, I cannot help but feel that the audience was deprived of highly important information, especially if someone was watching this who did not know much about the most important battle in our nation’s most important struggle. For a documentary that came with so much promise and hype, it ultimately failed to deliver, almost mocking the New York Post’s review from this morning that said this documentary “will change the way TV documentaries are made from now on.” If by change, they meant including all of the facts next time, then by all means they are correct.

Despite my disappointment, this was not the worst documentary the History Channel has ever produced (can anything rival Life After People?). It began at such a high level, in tackling an often shunned portion of the battle, which is the Railroad Cut on the first day of the fighting. The combat scenes were hard-hitting and intense, and as I settled down on the couch, I had a smile on my face that this was finally going to be that one Civil War film that was both fair and accurate, yet grizzly in showing the horrors of war, not the Lost Cause fantasy world that some Southern Apologists feel to this day. This foreshadowing was only partially fulfilled. Bullets tore through bodies, cannon balls severed limbs, and shrapnel knocked down rows of lined soldiers. But at the same time, information crucial to understanding this battle at its full capacity was left out. Whether or not this was intentional is beyond me, but had it been included, I would be singing songs of praise right now.

This is not a nitpick here, folks. The information left out includes not one single mention of McPherson’s Ridge, Devil’s Den, or Little Round top, and not one utterance of the names John Buford, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (who saved the Union Army’s flank with a daring bayonet charge), John Bell Hood, Lewis Armistead, Richard Garnett, James Kemper, Isaac Trimble, Lafayette McClaws, E. Porter Alexander, J.E.B Stuart, or Winfield Scott Hancock. Other crucial players, such as George Pickett and James Longstreet were mentioned in passing, only once, with them not even being characterized as part of the docudrama aspect of this film. How any motion picture relating to the entire Civil War, let alone this battle, can be made without these men and locations being focused on is incredible.

The one thing I did notice, however, was that the parts of the battle shown in this film (Pickett’s Charge aside) were not depicted at all in Ron Maxwell’s 1993 feature film Gettysburg. While that one drew upon the fighting in the three aforementioned locations, this newer film was about the first day’s fighting in the town, along the Railroad Cut, and Culp’s Hill. At first, I thought that the filmmakers did not want to show anything that was already done, but then I thought that this was a documentary—it is supposed to include everything. Now, for someone who wants to get a perfect picture of what the battle of Gettysburg was really all about, they will have to watch this film along with a nearly five-hour Maxwell version. Spending seven hours viewing films may turn more people off of the Civil War than inspire.

To further reinforce what was left out, there was not even a mention of the fighting at the Peach Orchard and the Wheat field. One could basically argue that this film left out more about the battle than in included, and that is very sad, because it kick’s off the highly anticipated “Civil War Week” on History in a bad way. Tomorrow night’s special is Lee and Grant, and I am almost afraid to watch it.

In getting to the actual information about the parts that were represented, the narrator went out of his way to mention slavery as being the sole cause of the Confederacy’s fighting every chance he could. When profiling William Barksdale, his ownership of 40 slaves was cast into the spotlight, as was a Confederate doctor’s earlier in the program. Another aspect that I would like to critique, regarding a battle scene, was Pickett’s Charge. While ignoring every general present with the exception of Brigadier General Joe Davis, who apparently led the charge all by himself,  it showed a group of about ten men marching near the base of a mountain. In reality, the charge comprised of 12,000 men marching on rolling farmland, with no mountain in sight, and no trees except for where the Confederate army deployed from. I understand that they could not use thousands of extras for this small scene, but how about some CGI figures that littered the screen in cheesy overhead shots as troops closed in at the stonewall?

One last item that I question, was the decision the filmmaker’s made to spend a little more than five minutes on the Confederate’s “Rebel Yell”. What was in real life, a shriek to inflict intimidation and fear into the hearts of enemies, was shown in this movie as a bunch of hillbillies with no teeth in their mouth cackling out turkey gobbles. I sat in disbelief that human beings could even make such an atrocious attempt at trying to get it right. While the closeups of rotting teeth and gums were accurate, I felt myself more prepared for Thanksgiving dinner than waiting behind an entrenchment for an enemy to charge and try to kill me. If you DVR’d this special, please hit fast-forward when you get to this part. Die-hard Civil War buffs and historians can just hit delete when you get to the menu.

All was not lost in this film, however. The visual effects and action scenes were top-notch, made even better by a glorious high-definition television. Had everything I mentioned been included, then this would have been a masterpiece. Instead, it slides down the mounting slippery slope of Civil War related movies and television specials that “could have been”. I will give this a rating of 4 out of 10, and make the insignificant suggestion that this should have been at least a two-part series, so that everything could have been covered. There was a lot that was right with this program visually, but even more that was wrong on the fact-side, and I cannot let that slide.

Four New Scenes from “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” Released

Thanks again to a reader named Blake, I can now show you four more clips that have been released by Warner Brothers, two from Gettysburg and two from Gods and Generals. They are very short, but it is still better than nothing. In a way, I do not even want to see a sneak peak of the Antietam scenes, because I don’t want to ruin it—I have waited eight years and figure I can stand to wait another twenty days. Click on the pictures to view video.

Gods and Generals

The Union band at Camp Mason

The 20th Maine is being recruited as a newly formed band is playing. Colonel Adelbert Ames (Matt Letscher) walks towards them, looking little more than peeved at the awful sound coming from the band. He then yells at them to, “Stop that damn drumming!”

The 20th Maine at Fredericksburg

The regiment is marching through the town on their way to the front, when Ames and Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) are confronted by their commanding officer, Charles Griffin (a new character added to the film, played by Matt Miller). He then tells them, “They drove my first brigade to hell”, signaling that they are next. There is also a shot of a Union hospital at the beginning.

Gettysburg

Buford’s Cavalry Enters the Town

This is a fantastic scene that encompasses so much, where John Buford’s (Sam Elliot) cavalry rides into Gettysburg, where they are confronted by townspeople who can’t believe that the war has come that far north. When asked how serious the situation is, Colonel Devin (David Carpenter) remarks, “Nothing the cavalry can’t handle.” But the best line is spoken by Buford at the end.

Longstreet and Freemantle on July 2nd

I’ve always loved the scenes with the British character of Arthur Freemantle (James Lancaster), and his discussions with James Longstreet (Tom Berenger). They always turn the movie from rough and rugged to a bit debonaire, by adding a touch of class. Here, the two are discussing military tactics.

Making the Case for Richard Jordan’s Oscar Worthy Performance in “Gettysburg”

Can you believe that Gettysburg did not win one single award in 1993 or 1994? Watching this film leaves me frustrated every time, because the movie is so full of great performances. I know it did not get much time in theaters because of its running time, but I still consider it a travesty that this movie was ignored by every motion picture awards association, with the exception of the Chicago Film Critics who nominated Jeff Daniels for best supporting actor, even though it stayed in the Box Office Weekly Top Ten for several weeks, an incredible feat when you consider it could only be shown twice a day.

Even the critics who did not like Ron Maxwell’s epic 1993 Civil War film Gettysburg still agreed one on thing, that it was just that, an epic. From the costume design to the size of the cast, right on through to the scope of the battle scenes, it is fair to say that this movie is a one of a kind in the subject field it tackles, and is also the last of the good old-fashioned epic war films. No longer are movies made with a cast of thousands—the humans have been replaced by animatronic figures or computer generated images. No longer are battlefields used, where the soldiers march actual distances—there is now only a small area of real ground surrounded by green-screens. This is why Gettysburg stands out to me, that and the fine acting performances all around, given by Tom Berenger as James Longstreet, Jeff Daniels as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee, but there are also a few others that stand out and go underrated when viewing this film.

The entire group of Virginian brigade commanders have an excellent chemistry that unfortunately could not get any more screen time in this film already loaded with speaking roles. A young Stephen Lang (who actually grew his own beard, according to Bo Brinkman) plays the division commander of Andrew Prine (Garnett), Royce Applegate (Kemper), and of course, Richard Jordan as Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. While Lang plays Pickett’s eccentricity and personality to perfection, and the others combine to be humorous and serious as the film progresses, it is Jordan who steals the show as the passionate commander who loves his men and his Confederate country, but also loves his best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock (played by Brian Mallon) who is fighting for the Union.

Armistead recollects the time he spent with Hancock, and the last night they were together before they went off to fight against each other in the War Between the States. They were at the same house with their wives, when Myra Hancock sang “Kathleen Mavourneen” and played it on the piano, and they all began to cry. It is here when Armistead swears to Hancock that he wishes the Lord would strike him down if he ever has to fight him on the field of battle. While both soldiers faced off against one another at Fredericksburg (in the same exact way, just in reversal of who had the stone wall), their troops did not directly clash with each other. But at Gettysburg, Armistead is worried that he will have to “raise his hand” against his old friend, and in a very emotional conversation with Longstreet, gives him a package to be delivered to Myra in the event of his death. It seems that the only two times in the film where I teared up are when Jordan is on the screen. The first is this scene, and the second is as he lays dying on the battlefield.

The sadness is escalated, perhaps, because Jordan himself was dying of brain cancer while filming this movie, and actually had to be hospitalized for a brief time at Gettysburg Hospital. To keep this in mind while watching Armistead’s final on-screen moments (the general would live only three more days in real life) makes it even worse, and it is possible that Jordan was able to play this to perfection because he knew that he was dying. In a way, this all has to do with fate, and you can see in Armistead’s eyes before the charge that would kill him, that he knows he is not going to live. It is because of this belief that he was able to fight so bravely, and when getting to the Emmitsburg Road on his way to attack the Union line, he sees his men have slowed down, but he stands up, sticks his hat on his sword and yells for his Virginians to follow him. They do, prompting a roar from Pickett, and a final push that actually broke through the Union line. Unfortunately, just as it seemed the Confederates would accomplish what they set out to do, the Union would send in reserves to quell the attack. It is here that Armistead would be shot, in his upper chest area, before falling down next to a cannon. Even so, it was his men that would get farther than any others in “Pickett’s Charge”.

Every time I visit Gettysburg, and go near “The Angle”, where Armistead fell, I have to stand next to his monument that looks very plain, and simply reads, “Brigadier General Lewis Armistead Fell Here. July 3, 1863”. I stand there for a few moments, after placing a small Confederate Flag at its base, and try to take in all that he accomplished, how he could be so brave to run in front of his men, and lead them straight into a barrage of a thousand firing rifles. I always ask myself, if I could do what he did, and my answer is always, “I don’t know”. I like to think I could be as brave (I think we all do) but I just do not know. We are in a much different time frame and society, and the answer is unknown to us all. But when I pause, I am just not remembering Armistead, but the man who personified him, Richard Jordan, who did not get a chance to see the finished product of his performance, because he died in August of 1993 (Gettysburg premiered in October). Here was a great actor, who gave what I feel is the best and most complex performance in this mammoth film. According to IMDB, Ron Maxwell actually got the news of Jordan’s passing while editing Armistead’s death scene, which just adds to the irony.

And so, I make the case, nearly eighteen years later, for Richard Jordan to have received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It does nothing now, to sit here almost two decades later, but it brings awareness to the fact that sometimes the best films/actors/actresses do not win (Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole would agree with me, I think), no matter what the case. If you have not seen Gettysburg, then obviously I encourage you to do so, because no film has had a greater impact on my life than it, and if you have seen it, then watch Jordan’s performance even closer next time, because you may be amazed at the high level of acting that can so easily be overlooked. Jordan’s performance is equal to that of John Wayne’s in The Shootist, in terms of “farewells” and that makes it all the more special.

Rest in peace to both Lewis A. Armistead (1817-1863) and Richard Jordan (1937-1993)

Movie Review: Gods and Generals (2003)

EDIT: Read my review of the 2011 extended director’s cut!

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.

Duvall, as Lee, enters Chancellorsville like a conquering hero.

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.

Daniels, as Chamberlain.

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.)

Seated front row, from left to right: Boxleitner as Longstreet, Duvall as Lee, Lang as Jackson, and London and Brinkman as adjutants Pendleton and Taylor. Ted Turner is seated behind Boxleitner.

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.