In Defense of My Movie, Gods and Generals





Mr. Maxwell is the writer, producer, director of the movies GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, and the Writers Guild of America.

Debate about the Civil War movie Gods and Generals had largely subsided when George Ewert, director of the Museum of Mobile, weighed in recently with a scathing review published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The review nearly cost him his job, as we reported in HNN last week. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, already angry over the museum's exhibits on the Civil War, asked the city council to replace him. The council backed down in the face of public protest, but was his review fair? One person who thinks it wasn't is the movie's director, who asked us for a chance to respond.

When the Soviets took power in Russia, one of the first things they did was to open reeducation camps for adults and brave new schools for children. In these schools Russians were taught to hate their past, to reject their parents, to condemn and even to forget their history. Orthodox Priests, university professors, artists, writers, historians - these were among the first people executed by firing squads. The new leadership was going to rewrite history to prepare Russia for the new Soviet man. In the 1960's, during the Cultural Revolution, China endured a similar convulsion. Chinese were taught that their previous 3,000 year history was a huge mistake, a misguided journey of ignorance and oppression. As an artist and a filmmaker I am perhaps more sensitive than many in recognizing the embryonic murmurings of this pseudo-intellectual menace when it appears in our own society.

The Civil War is at the center of the American experience. It resonates across time. The war's issues persist in semi-resolved tensions. The war's players seem larger than life, its battles and campaigns were of an epic scale. Gore Vidal has called it the American Iliad. Should this filmmaker have indulged in the frozen triumphalist attitude of the victors, who are essentially ourselves as modern day Americans? Or should I have made an honest attempt to return to the actual people and conditions of 1861, when no one knew, and would not know for another four years, who the victors or the vanquished would be? I chose the latter, which meant good guys and bad guys would not be broadcast in advance. The audience would have to sort things out for themselves, scene by scene, character by character. This is a major violation of Hollywood storytelling rules and many movie critics called me to account for it.

People who are set in their ways don't like their cherished assumptions challenged. Especially when these assumptions are no deeper than acquired attitudes, unsupported by any real knowledge. This film challenges on both stylistic and material grounds. Hence the extremely harsh reaction from some quarters. I've always been of the opinion that film is a poor medium for answering complex questions, but an excellent medium for posing them. This film is not content to pander to contemporary expectations or to wallow in some amorphous American triumphalism about the War. It poses hard questions. It takes you by the shoulders and demands that you rethink everything you've ever thought about the War - or in the case of some critics - to think about it for the first time.

What interests me as a filmmaker and chronicler of the Civil War are the hard choices that real people had to make. Our film is populated by characters with divided loyalties and conflicting affections. Each character embodies his own internal struggle - his own personal civil war. The film begins with a quote from George Eliot's  Daniel Deronda, referring to the importance of place, of the local, of the particular. I included this quote because it sets up the central dilemma. Humans by their very nature are attached to place and home. These attachments can be powerful in both constructive and destructive ways.

People are also attached to family and to groups. They can be motivated by ideas and ideals. The characters in  Gods and Generals are not immune to these forces. They are all, to a man and a woman, pulled and pushed by these conflicting allegiances. What may be novel in this film is the revelation of the complex ways in which African-Americans, like their white neighbors, were confronted with their own hard choices.

Some critics have objected to the absence of scenes depicting the most violent excesses of slavery. Such scenes are not in this movie for two reasons. First, the film's main Southern characters, Jackson and Lee, were opposed to slavery, and although products of their time, saw blacks as fellow humans in the eyes of God. For them the War was not about the defense of slavery. Second, this film, perhaps for the first time, captures the perniciousness of the institution of slavery. That is to say, that slavery was not perpetuated by and did not depend on sadists. It persisted in America, as in many other countries in the nineteenth century, because of economics. Because of  cheap labor -- very cheap labor.

In Gods and Generals we meet two Afro-Virginians who, despite being treated with respect and even love by their white masters, still have no confusion whatsoever about their desire to be free. Who among us would want to live in slavery no matter how benign the immediate situation? This unusual cinematic treatment, though historically more typical of the Tidewater and Shenandoah Valley small town relationships among blacks and whites during the War, was misinterpreted by these critics as"glossing over" slavery. Where were the floggings? The rapes? The chains? They obviously missed the point.

In the simplistic moral outrage of their reviews they deprive African-Americans of their full humanity -- and in their own unintended way reveal a bigotry of appearances. They expect nineteenth century blacks to be portrayed in one dimension only. In reality the research shows that blacks, just like their white neighbors, felt conflicting allegiances. Yes, a racial attachment to their fellows held in servitude, but also an affection for the white families with whom their lives were intertwined, and yes, patriotism -- a love of the places in which they lived -- and in many well documented cases, a willingness to defend their country, the South.

In this film"patriotism" metamorphoses from a philosophical abstraction to an organic life force. For many nineteenth-century Southern whites patriotism expressed a love of state and locality that seems strange if not incomprehensible to inhabitants of the new global community. For nineteenth-century Unionists, who found themselves on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, patriotism constituted a love of the entire country, from Penobscot Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. For African-Americans patriotism could mean all of the above, further leavened with the group identity and group allegiance fostered by slavery in the South and prejudice in the North.

Martha, the domestic slave in the Beale family (a real life-person), has a genuine affection for the white children she has helped rear alongside her own. She is also tied by emotion, tradition and circumstance to the larger community of blacks, whose fate she shares. When Yankee looters come to ransack her home in Fredericksburg she will not let them pass. A few days later, when Yankee soldiers seek to requisition the same home as a hospital, she opens the door and attends to the wounded.

Historians write about the forces of history, about ideology and determinism. Whatever truth there is in such analysis, it is not the place where individuals live out their lives. Ordinary people like you and me and the characters who inhabit this film live their lives day by day, hoping to make the best of it with dignity, hoping to get by -- in the context of this film, hoping to survive. They in their time, like we today, have bonds of affection across racial, religious, sexual, and political divides."To experience the full imaginative appeal of the Civil War," says Robert Penn Warren,"...may be, in fact, the very ritual of being American."

Mr. Ewert, by his own published words, shows he is possessed of a narrow, simplistic view of the American Civil War. Moreover, as a self-proclaimed champion of the brave new south he would like to run a reeducation camp for adults and a brave new school for children so that Alabamians can be taught to hate their past, to reject their ancestors, to condemn and even to forget their history. Most disturbing, from the point of view of a filmmaker and a seeker of the truth,  Mr. Ewert  would like to intimidate anyone who doesn't see the world through his narrow spectacles. Why else would he have sent his provocative and incendiary so-called  review of the film to the Southern Poverty Law Center? Isn't this the organization that exposes Klan members, hate mongers and racists?

Does Mr. Ewert really want to include Ted Turner, a former member of the national board of the NAACP, the actress Donzaleigh Abernathy, who plays the domestic slave Martha, and is the proud daughter of the great Civil Rights leader Ralph Abernathy, and even my humble self in such disreputable company? Does he have any historical memory whatsoever? Does he not know the short distance between such denunciations and the scaffold, the guillotine, the firing squad? Is this the kind of rhetoric one expects from the director of an internationally recognized institution of learning and cultural preservation?

Luckily for me, my self-esteem does not rest on whether or not I have the approbation of such a man.  I have survived thirty years in the film business and take my fair share of criticism and praise. If  Mr. Ewert's comments related only to me they would not be worthy of a response. The reason I have taken the trouble to write this letter is because his comments cause me concern for what indoctrination he may have in store for the children of Alabama. Mr. Ewert has defiantly proclaimed himself as one of the praetorian guards of the rigidly politically correct. I can only hope from afar that his neighbors remember the cruel legacy of the Soviets and Red Guards -- and that as Alabamians and Americans they protect intellectual freedom, the unbiased study of history and the cherished memory of their ancestors.


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deborah ann johnson - 2/4/2007

I loved Gods and Generals! Thank you for telling the truth that the war was not just about whites wanting to keep slaves and that not all whites are racists and that the south was doing what they felt was the right thing for many reasons. I can't wait until "Last Full Measure" comes out.

Deb Johnson


Steve M. Laden - 5/14/2005

I won't get into symantics and try to respond to every ignorant posting I have read while researching this film.

All I can say is that I salute Mr. Maxwell for the courage to make this film and the fact that Dr. Robertson and Col. Gibson from VMI were involved in this film shows me that they sure did do "Their homework" to get it right.

If getting it right does not get the desired politically correct 4 star review, I would take Historically Correct over politically Correct every day.

If Mr. Maxwell has suffered because he did not cave into these very powerful forces in making this film,I would give him the balance in my bank account to do it again in any future film as opposed to the alternate.

This film should be of required learning in every social studies class in this Country, but we know the truth is not what our powers at be, be the requirement in public education these days.

smladen@snet.net


robert allen - 12/14/2003

i think it is counter productive to carry blame over a 138 yr period .no southern man today is responsible for the actions of his forebears. besides if you,re going to go that route can the northern man be forgiven? the northener of 1861 treated people of color as bad if not worse than the south ever did.some northern states had anti black laws toprevent blacks from working cheaper than whites. iwould submit that history is just that .history .it happened but it is over and the time to move on is clearly here. rob allen


HITLER - 11/15/2003

SHUT UP NIGGER


Joyce - 11/14/2003

November 14, 2003

Today I watched Gods and Generals for the first time. It had been recommended to me about a half a year ago by a dear friend. Now I know why my friend liked this movie. The reason is two-fold; we are both Southerners and Christians.

As Southerners, we have been constantly and consistently exposed to propaganda that depicts the South in an entirely unattractive way. For the record, we are not full of uneducated "Bubbas." The rag-tag team of rebels who fought in the Civil War, were in fact, deeply committed and several brilliant strategists were among them. This movie "allows" for pride in our ancestors and in our heritage.

This movie depicts a different facet of the Civil War story; a glorious attempt to know the "minds" of the key players. The motives and reasoning behind the commitments are beautifully portrayed. In my world, praying is commonplace and frequent, I especially enjoyed seeing Gen. Stonewall Jackson pray with his wife. Knowing Gen. Jackson truly was as a deeply religious man, I was pleasantly surprised to see the actor, true to his character, lifting his arms to God. It made me want to lift my arms too!

True to history, Gen. Jackson enjoyed his lemons. This was a real treat.

Expectantly, I await the next installment. I am thankful for the glorious entertainment experience. Please add my name to the fan list.

May God bless you in your endeavors,

In Christ, Joyce J. Cave


David n Weber - 11/2/2003

Josh,
Where are you coming from? Neo-Confederate to me is a term that is misused. Neo means new. To me it is used by people who hate southern history. I feel it is used to define some sort of modern day political group. When I see neo-Confederate I think it is used as one would use the term neo-Nazi. In other words a negative term.

True history is what needs to be taught. Not the hyperbole I read in the various points made in these discussions. If you are calling the myth according to Ewert true history you are wrong.

I still don't know any more about who or what a "neo-confederate" is! All I can say is the term is thrown around as much the term "racist" is thrown around. Both are hate words and anytime I see them I see the user as having an agenda.

Just stick to historic facts without the hyperbole or the agenda language and a true disussion on the subject will take place. Stay as neutral as possible so the subject is discussed on its merit.

The present day south should not have anything to do with the historic south. History is the subject here.

David Weber
Taylor, Texas


Josh Greenland - 10/30/2003

"Comments by Ewert such as "Whitewashing the Confederacy", "... twists American history ...", refering to positive reviewers as "...their ilk ..." are part of the anti-southern vocabulary. Also to be considered is the use of the term neo-Confederate."

Sorry, but you're wrong. All southerners don't buy into Confederacy-boosting. (Virtually none of the black ones do.) And some neo-Confederates are non-southerners.

Identifying the present day South with the neo-Confederate movement is neo-Confederate propaganda.


Tom Keith - 10/29/2003

refering to positive reviewers as "...their ilk ..." are part of the anti-southern vocabulary.

Here's the "neo-Confederate ILK" Mr.Ewert is referring to:

DAVID SHEEHAN / CBS -TV
"A big, ambitious, sweeping epic !”

JEFFREY LYONS / NBC-TV
"...powerful, riveting, monumental... “

JIM FERGUSON / FOX TV
Surpasses even Gettysburg as a Civil War film masterpiece."


JIM SVEJDA/ KNX-CBS Radio
“Vast in scale, brilliant in its detail. ‘GODS AND GENERALS is not only a great movie
--but it’s also what America is, brought thrillingly to life.”


LEONARD MALTIN / HOT TICKET
"Writer-director Ron Maxwell paints an incredibly vivid portrait of such legendary men as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

PATRICK STONER / "FLICKS" PBS
"...sweeping, yet sweet; it's an epic with emotion."

MIKE SARGENT / WBAI-FM
"Visceral, engrossing and highly entertaining."
"Epic in scale, universal in its humanity."
"Superb performances from an exceptional cast".

STEVE SAILER /UPI
“’GODS AND GENERALS’ is one of the more remarkable movies of the decade!”



MICHAEL MEDVED / SRN Radio Network
“’GODS AND GENERALS’ constitutes a perfect film...impeccable art direction, costumes, make-up and sets.””

PETER HOWELL / Toronto Star
“Maxwell and his crew have shown commendable zeal in maintaining the authenticity of the costumes and staging. The picture looks fabulous.”


STAN URANKAR / CLEVELAND SUN NEWSPAPERS "Stirring, spectacular epic achievement…
a movie experience that is awesome to behold."


MICHAEL WILMINGTON / CHICAGO TRIBUNE
"...remarkable battle sequences..."
"Maxwell's grand design makes this movie special -

STEPHEN HOLDEN / NEW YORK TIMES
"The populous, precisely choreographed battle scenes, transport you directly to the front lines..."

KEVIN THOMAS / LOS ANGELES TIMES
"...an awesome sense of authenticity and scope..."

ELEANOR RINGEL GILLESPIE / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
"If you love history...you'll want to see GODS AND GENERALS."



TOM SIEBERT / CITY PAPER
"...strong performances..."
"...massive, incredibly rendered sequences of sustained warfare."


KAREN BUTLER / UPI
"GODS AND GENERALS is an extraordinary achievement in filmmaking.

JIM SVEJDA / KNX-CBS RADIO
"Stunning, inspired, and inspiring, GODS AND GENERALS is the finest Civil War movie ever made - including Gone With The Wind."

RICHARD CROUSE / REEL TO REAL
"Daring film-making about a war American's should never forget."
"GODS AND GENERALS is a rarity, a historical epic that stays true to the facts.



SUSAN GRANGER / SSG SYNDICATE
"...a landmark epic".

BILL KAUFFMAN / AMERICAN ENTERPRISE MAGAZINE
"GODS and GENERALS is not only the finest movie ever made about the Civil War, it is also the best American Historical Film. Period."




Robert Koehler/Daily Variety
“Van Oostrum’s rich and full-bodied cinematography, Richard LaMotte’s costumes and Michael Z. Hanan’s designs are craftwork at their best. The staging, music and editing come vividly alive…”



Kevin Thomas/Los Angeles Times
“Kees Van Oostrum’s cinematography, Michael Z Hanan’s production design and Richard LaMotte’s costumes reflect Maxwell’s abiding concern for authenticity.”



David N. Weber - 10/28/2003

Josh,
Comments by Ewert such as "Whitewashing the Confederacy", "... twists American history ...", refering to positive reviewers as "...their ilk ..." are part of the anti-southern vocabulary. Also to be considered is the use of the term neo-Confederate.

His desire to point out that the film is told from the "Confederate perspective" which is "hogwash" and that the film includes "... stilted speeches ..." continue on the anti-southern diatribe.

What is missing in this review, if one would call it such, is any real attempt to support his objective of calling the film technically and dramatically bad! It is a movie so I would expect comparison to other movies about the period i.e. Glory or Gettysburg. There are none. Exactly where are these technical flaws?

What we read are other reviews pro and con and Ewerts' contention that the movie does reflect current historical views of the War Between the States. Since he implies that it is a twisted view it must have no merit!

I on the other hand have not seen the movie so I see this as a review without substance. A review without context. I will see this movie and make up my own mind.

There was a lot of effort put into it and it may give the Southern view since it is about the south. Take a look and if it interests you read some history. You may find out that Ewert is in "left field".

David Weber
Taylor, Texas

David Weber


Josh Greenland - 10/28/2003

Barbara, I've just re-read Ewert's review and I don't see anything anti-southern in it.

There is no inconsistency in recognizing prejudice against white southern people in the US on the one hand and recognizing on the other hand that the neo-Confederate movement is trying to push a socially regressive and false view of history. In fact, I think one of the best things that many white southerners could do for the way they as a group are viewed is to drop the Confederate battle flag as an emblem and to stop pushing neo-Confederate positions, which inevitably rest on the idea that "slavery wasn't so bad."

I think white southerners have wrestled with the ghosts of their rebel ancestors long enough. It's time to accept what happened and move on.


Barbara Cornett - 10/27/2003

I agree with you Josh and the reason I spoke up about it is because this issue ties in with all of the other anti-southern positions taken by people like Ewert and Ebert and so many others. Southern people get treated very badly by the rest of the country. We are scapegoated and used as a whipping child as well as being the symbol of bigtory while everyone is bigoted against us.

Its too bad that Julia Roberts and other people reject their heritage in order to make it in NY and California. The history of the movie industry has been to pretend that southern people don't even exist.

It would be nice if Maxwell would try to change that but I'm not holding my breath.


F.H. Thomas - 10/27/2003


That is a very good question. Both of these fine generals succeeded outstandingly when times were good: enough supplies, numeric superiority, weapons superiority, etc. Both did less well when they lacked these advantages.

Although little known, 3/4 of the "falls" (cases) studied at the German General Staff College are withdrawals or retreats, since these are so much more difficult to control than attacks or static defense. Guderian seems not to have been as avid a student in that portion of his study, as he was for the offensive.

Since Stalin murdered most of his senior military in 1937-38, Zhukov was one of a younger group of officers who came up the and had to learn the hard way. From 1942 onwards, he clearly knew how to very precisely how to apply his massive numeric advantage in the best possible way.


Josh Greenland - 10/27/2003

Barbara,
I didn't see the movie, but agree with you about Hollywood and southern accents. I've heard some painfully bad ones over the years, including Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias, and the woman who played one of Jim Garrison's staff in JFK (her saying the word "extreme" made me cringe). I think recognizable southerners have mostly been banned from TV and film, with only a few exceptions. If I was a southerner, this would bother me.

One problem I think is that Hollywood is based in California. In the urban areas, certainly in the north that I know best, most southerners lose their accents quickly, and I think intentionally. Also, Hollywood for decades was colonized by northeasterners. Until the 1950s you couldn't get away from northeastern accents in the movies. I think I'm right when I say that northeasterners tend to have the worst anti-southern prejudices.

Occasionally, though, I hear what sound like real southern accents on the screen. Demi Moore comes most quickly to mind. But I agree with you that southerners should if possible be hired to play southern-sounding parts.

Appropos of being trained out of and then back into an ethnicity, a few years ago I saw a monologue about a gay Latino actor who was very neurotic about hiding his nationality and sexual orientation, who went into a rant about how a director didn't choose him for a part because his real name "wasn't Latino enough"! A lot of people get stepped on in the corporate media's search for greater profits through maximal homogeneity most of the time.


Josh Greenland - 10/27/2003

How do you think those guys compare with Guderian or Zhukov?


Grant Fritchey - 10/25/2003

Sorry, didn't mean to imply there were no Northern historians, but that the field was dominated by people of a more southerly orientation.

Again, my post wasn't meant as an attack on the South, merely questioning the fact that the Southern point-of-view needs representation because it's been ignored.


F.H. Thomas - 10/25/2003


Thanks for this interesting digression.

Clearly the American military dream team includes MacArthur and Lee, with Patton, Jackson and Longstreet as army commanders.

To this must be added the recently retired Texan Gen Franks, whose motto, "speed kills", combined with artful use of remarkably advanced weaponry, made GW II so mercifully short. One must recognize Franks' genius regardless of one's opinion on the war itself.

But, Patton compared to Kesselring, Kleist, Rommel, or for that matter Ludendorff? Very tough. He had the same tactical innovativeness, understanding of the value of speed, mass, and focus, concern for his men, etc.

As you suggest, George Patton had logistical advantages which the others did not, and I guess that fact and his occasional boo-boos might make me swing slightly in the direction of the best of the Germans. Like some of the best of the Germans, notably Rommel, he was a romantic and a mystic, who "communed" with Hannibal while in North Africa, and with Charlemagne in Europe. For that alone, you just gotta love the guy.

Please continue in your voyage of discovery.


Barbara Cornett - 10/25/2003

the patton posts are not mine.


F.H. Thomas - 10/25/2003


Jeff Shaara (son) and Michael Shaara (dad): "The Killer Angels", regarding the battle of Gettysburg. Made into a movie called "Gettysburg" by Ron Maxwell, which must be seen whether the book is immediately at hand or not. Arguably, the main character is Joshua Chamberlain, an academic from Maine, who won the CMH for his valiant defense of Little Round Top, against the equally valiant assault by John Bell Hood. Beautiful treatment of Lee and Longstreet, based upon Longstreet's controversial memoir.

Jeff Shaara, "Gods and Generals", focuses upon the early part of the War in the eastern theatre, and upon the personalities of Lee and Jackson.

Jeff Shaara, "The Last Full Measure", carries the war in the eastern theatre to its end.



Barbara Cornett - 10/25/2003

How does Patton compare to the best German generals? Patton was operating
from a situation of being well supplied etc. against a badly damaged enemy,
while the Germans generals were often dealing with a bigger and better
supplied enemy.


Barbara Cornett - 10/25/2003

Mr Maxwell thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I am really looking forward to seeing the next two movies in this trilogy and I'm glad you decided to do this project.

I think I have seen Robert Easton on tv but I always resented his use by Hollywood when he trained people to use southern accents since hollywood could easily cast southern people and I wonder why they don't.

Stars like Julia Roberts are trained to lose their accents which is insulting to southern people and demonstrates bias against us and then Hollywood hires someone to train actors to speak them. Does that make sense to you?

There doesn't seem to be a need in Hollywood to train people to speak with a Bronx accent. Easton is only needed to train in foreign and southern accents and I regret to have to tell you this but the southern accents do not sound authentic. They are phony and Easton does not know what he is doing. I do believe your efforts to get the accents correct regarding civil war times is sincere though.

I may be the only person who is bothered by this bit of Hollywood political and historical policy but I did want to take the opportunity to tell someone in Hollywood that the accents of southern people in movies are pure Hollywood and I should know. Real accents are trained out of southern actors and hollywood versions of southern accents are trained into actors. ggrrrrrr

I also still think that southern people should be hired for southern characters. Some of these actors are familiar to us and its hard for me to think of them as Rebels when I associate them with someplace else. Why not hire southern actors? Is there a reason? Were the Irish characters Irish or American? Did Easton train them?

Could you tell us how you first got interested in doing this? Was it your idea which you brought to producers or were you sought out by them? Did you ask for Robert Duvall to play Lee?

There is one more thing which bothers me. I don't know if anyone else worries about these things but I noticed that horses were used in some scenes and were part of violent actions. When I see animals in movies with scenes like these I am taken out of the movie by my concern for them. I know that humane groups are always overseeing movie making involving animals but I'm not certain that animals are not harmed and this bothers me. Where did the animals come from that were in the movie and were they all kept safe?


Barbara Cornett - 10/25/2003

"Gods and Generals" is part of a trilogy and will be followed by "Gettysberg" and another movie. I wonder if they are also based on a book that we could read now, does anyone know?


Mike Griffith - 10/25/2003

The overheated reaction from liberals and Lincoln defenders to the movie "Gods and Generals" is an example of intolerance gone wild.

Let's get a few things straight about the movie "Gods and Generals," things that one would never guess are in the movie to judge from the howling attacks to which the film has been subjected:

1. The film includes very positive portrayals of Union officers and soldiers.

2. The film includes an eloquent anti-slavery, anti-Confederate speech by the character of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

3. The film includes a scene where a slave tells a Union officer she wants freedom for herself and for her children, even though she has been treated well as a slave by her Southern white family.

4. The film includes a scene in which Confederate generals praise the bravery of Union soldiers.

5. The film includes a scene where a Northern student poses a well-put critical question about slavery.

Given these facts, why have liberals and Lincoln apologists hurled such passionate attacks at the film? Why have they heatedly denounced it as "neo-Confederate propaganda," "neo-Confederate trash," etc., etc.?

I'll tell you why: Because these folks are outraged that, heaven forbid, the movie portrays Southerners as decent, caring human beings. Other reasons:

They're outraged that the film portrays Generals Lee and Jackson as the honorable Christian men that they were.

They're outraged that every other word out of the Confederate characters' mouths doesn't revolve around slavery.

They're outraged that the film notes that General Lee and other Confederate officers supported emancipating slaves who served in the Confederate army.

They're outraged that the slaves in the movie don't voice bitter condemnation of Southern whites.

They're outraged that the movie presents the fact that Southerners were fighting for independence and to repel the Northern invasion.

You'd think that the political correctness crowd would be satisfied that virtually every Civil War movie to date has been strongly pro-Union and anti-Southern, that virtually every Civil War movie to date has portrayed the (false) notion that the war was all about slavery, and that very few Civil War movies have had anything good to say about the Confederacy or about Confederate leaders (even though there is much that can be said in praise of the Confederacy and its leaders).

These folks want it all their way, or nothing. They talk of "tolerance," "pluralism," and "inclusion," but they fail to display these noble principles when it comes to the Southern side of the Civil War.

Mike Griffith
Civil War website
<a target="_blank" href="http://ourworld.cs.com/mikegriffith1/id163.htm">http://ourworld.cs.com/mikegriffith1/id163.htm</A>
<a target="_blank" href="http://michaelgriffith1.tripod.com/griffitharticles2.htm">http://michaelgriffith1.tripod.com/griffitharticles2.htm</A>


Ron Maxwell - 10/25/2003

Dear Ms. Cornett,

I have refrained from commenting on any of the exchanges above, as I have had my say in this forum and am grateful for it. In this instance, as you have posed a direct question to me, I'll try to answer as best I can. The following excerpt is from my introduction to the Gods and Generals screenplay, written in 2000 :

START OF EXCERPT

Dialect in the film -

Everyone alive knows that dialects vary within linguistic groups – by region, by ethnicity, by education and by distinct localized influences. This was no different at the time of the American Civil War. In “Gettysburg” the characters spoke in eight studied dialects, some more obvious to the public than others.

From the North were Mid-Atlantic, Mid-Western and North-Eastern (also known as “down-eastern”). These were spoken respectively by Hancock (from Pennsylvania), Buford (from Illinois), and Chamberlain (from Maine).
From the South were Mississippi Delta, South-East and Virginia; spoken respectively by Harrison the Spy (from Mississippi), James Longstreet (from coastal South Carolina) and Robert E. Lee (from Virginia Tidewater).
Two other characters spoke in dialects from foreign countries: Freemantle (King’s English) and Kilrain (peasant Irish brogue).

Skillfully executed by trained actors, the audience should be only slightly aware, if at all, of the subtleties in accent. But overall, this meticulous attention to dialect comprises one of the essential building blocks of both characterization and authenticity, the feeling of “being there.”

In “Gods and Generals,” the same attention to linguistic fidelity remains. To the above eight accents are added two more: Rural Southern White and Rural Southern Black. In “Gettysburg,” with the notable exception of Kilrain, all the characters were more or less educated whites of the Southern aristocratic or Northern elite classes. “Gods and Generals” introduces the audience to both whites and blacks with little or no formal schooling. It is challenging to write dialect on to the page. But it is important, as a guide to both the reader and the actor who will eventually interpret the role. It must be stressed that these rural dialects do not imply ignorance or stupidity – they are not meant as stereotypes. The writing of dialect in a script is crude at best. It is intended only as an indication of regional and social distinction.

It is the job of skilled actors to bring these characters and their speech to vital and convincing reality. The folksy rural patois and vocabulary of both blacks and whites is contrasted to the more educated of both races, as exemplified by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain or Frederick Douglass. As was the case on the set of “Gettysburg,” a linguistic dialect coach will work with the cast to discover the actual speaking “solutions,” which will become organic and invisible touches of character, in contrast to the seeming heavy-handedness of the written word on the page.

END OF EXCERPT

The entire introduction to the screenplay is available at my website http://www.ronmaxwell.com

On the set, in the summer of 2001, beginning two weeks prior to filming, the dialect coach Robert Easton worked with all the principal actors on their regional accents. It was clearly our intention to get it right, as we invested alot of time and money in the quest. If we fell short of your expectations you have our apologies, but I can assure you it was not for lack of trying.

And thanks for your thoughtful words about the film.

Ron Maxwell





Ron Maxwell - 10/25/2003

Dear Ms. Cornett,

I have refrained from commenting on any of the exchanges above, as I have had my say in this forum and am grateful for it. In this instance, as you have posed a direct question to me, I'll try to answer as best I can. The following excerpt is from my introduction to the Gods and Generals screenplay, written in 2000 :

START OF EXCERPT

Dialect in the film -

Everyone alive knows that dialects vary within linguistic groups – by region, by ethnicity, by education and by distinct localized influences. This was no different at the time of the American Civil War. In “Gettysburg” the characters spoke in eight studied dialects, some more obvious to the public than others.

From the North were Mid-Atlantic, Mid-Western and North-Eastern (also known as “down-eastern”). These were spoken respectively by Hancock (from Pennsylvania), Buford (from Illinois), and Chamberlain (from Maine).
From the South were Mississippi Delta, South-East and Virginia; spoken respectively by Harrison the Spy (from Mississippi), James Longstreet (from coastal South Carolina) and Robert E. Lee (from Virginia Tidewater).
Two other characters spoke in dialects from foreign countries: Freemantle (King’s English) and Kilrain (peasant Irish brogue).

Skillfully executed by trained actors, the audience should be only slightly aware, if at all, of the subtleties in accent. But overall, this meticulous attention to dialect comprises one of the essential building blocks of both characterization and authenticity, the feeling of “being there.”

In “Gods and Generals,” the same attention to linguistic fidelity remains. To the above eight accents are added two more: Rural Southern White and Rural Southern Black. In “Gettysburg,” with the notable exception of Kilrain, all the characters were more or less educated whites of the Southern aristocratic or Northern elite classes. “Gods and Generals” introduces the audience to both whites and blacks with little or no formal schooling. It is challenging to write dialect on to the page. But it is important, as a guide to both the reader and the actor who will eventually interpret the role. It must be stressed that these rural dialects do not imply ignorance or stupidity – they are not meant as stereotypes. The writing of dialect in a script is crude at best. It is intended only as an indication of regional and social distinction.

It is the job of skilled actors to bring these characters and their speech to vital and convincing reality. The folksy rural patois and vocabulary of both blacks and whites is contrasted to the more educated of both races, as exemplified by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain or Frederick Douglass. As was the case on the set of “Gettysburg,” a linguistic dialect coach will work with the cast to discover the actual speaking “solutions,” which will become organic and invisible touches of character, in contrast to the seeming heavy-handedness of the written word on the page.

END OF EXCERPT

The entire introduction to the screenplay is available at my website http://www.ronmaxwell.com

On the set, in the summer of 2001, beginning two weeks prior to filming, the dialect coach Robert Easton worked with all the principal actors on their regional accents. It was clearly our intention to get it right, as we invested alot of time and money in the quest. If we fell short of your expectations you have our apologies, but I can assure you it was not for lack of trying.

And thanks for your thoughtful words about the film.

Ron Maxwell





Mike Griffith - 10/25/2003


[[[ If Ewert is a member of a "praetorian guard" and has views "unsupported by any real knowledge," then you can also put in that camp James McPherson (sorry if misspelled), Charles Dew, Edward Ayers, and virtually every single serious scholar now writing about the Civil War. ]]]

Speaking of James McPherson, it should be noted that McPherson acknowledges and documents the following facts in his books THE BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM and ORDEAL BY FIRE:

* The Confederate States of America came into existence with the support of a strong majority of Southern citizens.

* The process by which the Southern states seceded was very similar to the process by which the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

* Some of Lincoln's generals believed his "total war" policy against the South was unjust and dishonorable.

* Racism was rampant in the Northern states. Violent race riots occurred in the North during the war.

* Many Northern states had oppressive, racist black codes that severely discriminated against blacks, and in some cases barred them from even moving into the state.

* With Lincoln's blessing, two Republican governors prevented their legislatures from meeting, in one case for two years, because THE PEOPLE had just elected Democratic majorities that favored peace and negotiation.

* Lincoln only began to consider issuing an emancipation statement because the Union war effort was less than satisfactory.

* Three-fourths of Southern whites did *not* own slaves.

* Lincoln did not favor equal rights for blacks, and in fact made it clear he wanted whites to occupy a superior station in society over blacks. He even opposed black voting rights and promised to enforce the hated fugitive slave law.

* The Union army had more of a problem with desertion than did the Confederate army.

* Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus more often than did Jefferson Davis.

I discuss these and other facts in "From the History Books" at:

http://ourworld.cs.com/mikegriffith1/frombooks.htm
or
http://michaelgriffith1.tripod.com/frombooks.htm

See also "Missing History: Omissions in James McPherson's Book The Battle Cry of Freedom":

http://ourworld.cs.com/mikegriffith1/mcpherson.htm
or
http://michaelgriffith1.tripod.com/mcpherson.htm

Mike Griffith
Civil War website
http://ourworld.cs.com/mikegriffith1/id163.htm
http://michaelgriffith1.tripod.com/griffitharticles2.htm


Barbara Cornett - 10/24/2003

What does everyone think about the Maxwell version of the Rebel yell? I can see how it would have rattled the Union troops.


Barbara Cornett - 10/24/2003

I watched the movie and I have some questions and comments for Mr Maxwell.

At first I didn't want to see the movie because I figured when considering Hollywood if you've seen one CW movie then you've seen them all. I also didn't want to see it because subjects like this take an emotional toll and lots of energy.

Sure enough as soon as I read the words of George Eliot at the beginning of the movie I became very emotionally involved. Southern people have great love for the south, the place and the land.

The movie treated slavery and people's loyality to the south as reasons for the war so I fell to see what the problem is with its critics.

When an astronomer studies the sky only a single star or planet or area can be studied at one time. This movie studied certain aspects of the war and was under no obligation to deal with everything fully. I loved every aspect! I had not seen it all before! This was the first time the CW has been dealt with in this manner and I think it was stimulating to imagine the people in that way.

It was moving to see the Irish fighting one another as were many other moments.

If Stephen Spielberg had made such a movie the critics would be praising it without regard or worries about historical accuracy. I think the bias on the part of critics is obvious and greatly resented.

My question is why did you not cast southern people so that we could have authentic accents rather then the phony hollywood accents so despised by southern people?

How could you make this movie and not cast southerners for the roles? Why does Hollywood ALWAYS do this? Don't you know that it is an insult to southern people? How can you deal with the war if you can't even find southern actors for your movie? I don't think you can do justice to these subjects. We seem to be alien enough to Hollywood so that they treat us as tho we are from another planet.

My other question is about religion. Is religion in the south so unique that it is so obvious to others and for that reason becomes a part of books and movies? Were the northern generals without religion? How were they differnet in this way?


F.H. Thomas - 10/24/2003


Bruce Catton:

The most prolific Civil War historian ever, I believe, who was quite Northern in political orientation, despite the respect he bore for Southern feats of arms in the eastern theatre of war. He was active right in the middle of the period of the 20's through the 80's, for which you state that there were none of his persuasion then active.

"A Stillness at Appomattox", vol 3 of the "Army of the Potomac" series, still rings my chimes, especially the description of the final and fateful meeting, which is the best on that subject ever, to me. Frankly, if Catton had still been around, Shelby Foote would probably have yielded to him, voluntarily so great was the respect between them.

I would also respectfully suggest that appreciation is not worship, either in the case of Catton's appreciation of Grant's doggedness, realism and accessability to his men, or in Foote's appreciation of Lee's graceful bearing, which was remarked of him since he was a cadet at West Point.



F.H. Thomas - 10/24/2003


This well reasoned and thoughtful comment on your part, Ms. Cornett, is a real contribution to this discussion.


Barbara Cornett - 10/24/2003

Hi Stephen! Good for us!! This is a sign that you're making progress! ;0)


Stephen Thomas - 10/24/2003

A rare ocassion on which we can blissfully agree.

We should do this more often.


Grant Fritchey - 10/24/2003

The Southern side hasn't been covered sufficiently? Wow. All thsoe southern historians telling the story their way for decades after the northern historians lost interest (say the 20's through the 80's) certainly got tossed aside rather quickly. I remember reading Shelby Foote and thinking "If I read about the 'noble brow' of a southern general one more time in comparison to the 'slovenly' northern general, I'm gonna puke." I'm sure students of the war have heard the phrase "the cult of Lee." There are, and have been, plenty of works accurately, or inaccurately, portraying the South, Southern Generals, and the Cause. I'm not attacking the South, but the suggestion that they just haven't had their chance to be heard is a little far gone.

I loved the movie Gettysburg (despite some of the historical innacuracies carried forward from Killer Angels) and looked forward to watching Gods & Generals. I turned it off about 3/4 of the way through. The apparent worship of the Southern men and the Southern cause displayed in the film was not a balanced look at this issue. It was pretty heavily slanted in one direction, and that was Southern.


Josh Greenland - 10/24/2003

"Have you seen the movie for yourself or are you relying on these
people?"

Neither. I have no problem with Ewert's review IF IT ACCURATELY DESCRIBES THE MOVIE, and I don't think he should lose his museum job for it even if he works in extremely progressive [sarcasm] sextoy-banning Alabama. I haven't seen the movie so I don't know what I would think about it. However, it seems that with few exceptions only people with warm feelings for the confederacy (and not even all of them) are weighing in to support it. I see very few films and haven't encountered any compelling reason to see this one.

I'm not recommending anyone do anything in regard to this film. In line with this, however, I look with contempt on film partisans who disingenuously insist that one must go to a performance of their favorite that will yield a royalty to its makers before one is fit to decide for oneself whether that movie is worth spending money on.


Barbara Cornett - 10/24/2003

Mr Maxwell has stated that he was trying to say something about what the main characters in the war were thinking and feeling at the beginning of the war. Why should there be a problem with a movie exploring their humanity?

It is not as though his movie pervents other creative views. Its amazing how afraid of the democratic process Americans can be. Sometimes people act as though everyone must accept the 'official' veiw or else. Maxwell was right on when he talked about reeducation camps. That is exactly what political correctness represents and he has been sucessful with his movie in many ways, one of which has been to shake up the thinking of people.

Since his movie went against the 'formula' form of making movies that Hollywood commonly engages in and the trends that exist in Hollywood as well as against the politically correct dogma of popular culture, it received perdictabe reveiws.

Dumbing down of culture and political correctness created the perfect conditions for Ewert to attack the film at the loathsome SPLC.

The people of Mobile should not be stuck with him and I hope they are eventually successful in getting rid of him. I don't think the controversy is going to stop because I don't think Ewert is going to change. I think HNN was wrong to openly support him and I wonder why it did.



F.H. Thomas - 10/23/2003


Thucidides is smiling down on you, sir, although deliberately concocted, self-serving myth still pervades much "history".



F.H. Thomas - 10/23/2003


Re: "controversial"

Longstreet, the defensive specialist, clearly opposed Lee's apparently religious "inspiration" to have Pickett charge the well defended Union center, particularly given the Union artillery advantage, and he was as clearly right.

To a lesser degree, he also strongly opposed Hood's abortive frontal attack on Little Round Top which gave Chamberlain his CMH. Both were dumb moves on Lee's part, and Longstreet said so clearly after the war, in his memoir. He was widely despised in the South for that, hence the controversy.

The fact is that while Lee was an administrative and political genius, he was no tactician. Letting Longstreet handle the defensive battles (Fredericksburg) and Jackson the offensive battles (Chancellorsville) was his great contribution. In this case, Jackson having died just months before at the moment of his greatest triumph, Lee planned an offensive battle himself and for this, many gave their lives.

I very much enjoyed "Glory", the movie (here's a first) even more than the book.

Your question on honor is salient. I often think of that as regards WW II.



Oscar Chamberlain - 10/23/2003

I second the vote on "Killer Angels". I gather its portrayal of Longstreet and Lee are a bit controversial, but it's interesting, a very good read, and proved an invaluable prelude to my one trip to Gettysburg.

I would say, however, that I don't think it takes up the question of slavery with clarity. Certainly the Black perspective is not shown clearly. I don't fault that: the novelist framed the story in the way that would have made including much on it difficult.

The film, "Glory", might be of use in this regard.

A final thought on honor. A sufficiently dishonorable military can discredit a good cause, but to what extent can honor redeem a bad cause?

Good reading and watching to you both. And Mr. Thomas, as you said in the other discussion on this topic, a fine exchange.


Kasper - 10/23/2003

Have you seen the movie for yourself or are you relying on these
people?


LeRoy Johnson - 10/22/2003

Interesting to read all the comments about the film. As I continually am trying to get my students to understand, there apparently are no unbiased historians or histories. Obviously, a movie about the Civil War is going to leave out many things, thus showing the biases of the directors/producers, etc. I can accept that and still appreciate things about this film or any other historical depiction.


F.H. Thomas - 10/22/2003


Thanks for a thoughtful piece.

Yes, this book and film concentrates on one side only, but it is the side which heretofore, other than Longstreet's fine memoir, was least covered. (I say that as one who has written everything Bruce Catton every wrote).

To get both sides, read Mr. Shaara Senior's bestseller, "The Killer Angels", which was made a movie as "Gettysburg", also directed by Maxwell. The main character is Col. Joshua Chamberlain, a Maine academic who became our most famous Medal of Honor winner on Little Round Top, later Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin College-quite an American. The movie is as accessible as the book if you are pressed for time.

Enjoy!


Oscar Chamberlain - 10/22/2003

The last paragraph in my Oct. 22, 10:46 am post refers to "Gone with the Wind" and not "Gods and Generals."


Oscar Chamberlain - 10/22/2003

I can agree about the two-way stereotyping: good point.

About the movie itself, I cannot judge, having neither seen it nor read the book.

In terms of the general history, I side with Ewert. Slavery, and the defense of slavery, were central to the coming of the war and was inescapably defended by confederate troops, regardless of their personal beliefs.
As an example, when Lee is heading into Pennsylvania he sends some captured blacks south into slavery. His duty, the defense of slavery, trumped his personal opposition to it.

About the problematic Ted Turner: I would be more inclined to give him his due if not for his love of Gone with the Wind. It's a superbly made movie, but to enjoy it you have to be willing to accept, if only for the time you are watching it, the notion that slavery was benign and Carpetbagger rule let freedmen out to ravage and rape. {A stereotype closely related to the ones you decry)


It would also be easier to accept if the movie had not reinforced this racist vision of the Confederacy in the minds of many Americans. Ironically the superb and nuanced acting by the black members of the cast reinforced the sense of authenticity the movie exudes.


Earl Williams - 10/22/2003

Gods and Generals is not a cinematic classic by any means nor is
it the racist propaganda that the media establishment has portrayed it.Under the brutal tyranny of Joseph Stalin the Soviet
Union rejected the notion of the arts being a form of entertainment and adopted something called ''Socialist Realism''.
The idea that the arts can only be justified in so far as they
present ideas that advance the revolution.The media culture in this country has long been in the grip of socialist realism.Most
film and tv critics are in a state of what I would call moral confusion,i.e. bad is good, good is bad etc.With a few notable exceptions like Michael Medved.These critics tend to evaluate
films on the basis of how they advance leftist ideas.Gods and Generals fails their test on a number of levels; first the film portrays sincere Christians as something less than fanatics, and
it portrays those who fought for the confederacy as something less than evil.I am not a neo-confederate and I do believe the
south was wrong.But at the same time I can understand how southerners might have felt that secession was their only honorable course.The point that Gods and Generals makes, effectively in my view, is that the issues surrounding the Civil war and slavery were highly complex.Consequently there were
honorable men and women on both sides.


John Scotto - 10/22/2003

I am one who has some sympathy for the Confederates. I agree that the facts presented in the movie were true. I believe that the Southerners had a legal right to secede, and that all people have the right of self-determination, even if exercising that right amounts to illegal rebellion (such as in our own revolution). I believe that Lee and Jackson both deplored the institution of slavery, and that their service to the Confederacy was motivated by their sense of honor and duty to their country as they saw it. I know that there were some blacks in the South, especially free blacks, that had sympathy for the Confederacy and were even willing to fight for it. I know that there were places in the South where free people of color had more freedom than they would have had in some of the so-called "free" states.

The problem I had with the movie was the "one-sidedness" of it. Where were the Union men marching off to fight for the Old Flag? Where were the legions of New England volunteers marching down Pennsylvania Avenue singing "John Brown's Body." Where was Lincoln's First Inaugural address? Where was the last letter of Major Sullivan Ballou? And, for that matter, where were the slaves who tearfully greeted their blue-coated liberators? The movie enshrined the gallant Southern people. Lip service was paid to the cause of the Union.

It must be admitted that prior to the call for volunteers, the last four states to secede, including Virginia, had shown a willingness to remain in a Union. Virginia initially voted to remain in a Union in which half of the slaveholding states had seceded. This put them at a dangerous disadvantage within the National government, since the overwhelming majority of remaining states where non-slaveholding states. One could argue that the states which seceded after Fort Sumter were almost cornered into secession, having been given the choice of participating in a war of subjugation or in a war of defense of self-determination. But, what of the original seven Southern states? It is patently obvious, from their own statements, that they were seceding to protect the institution of slavery and, to paraphrase Alexander Stephens, to settle forever the question of the social status of the Negro. Why were these views not depicted in the movie?


This movie told the truth, but not the whole truth. This movie presented the facts, but not all of the facts. This war was an enormous tragedy for the country. The issues are still with us. If we are to progress, both sides must confess their sins, forgive, and be forgiven. This movie was so ridiculously skewed toward the Southern point of view that it offended me as a student of history and as an American, notwithstanding my deep sympathies for the Lee and Jackson.


F.H. Thomas - 10/22/2003


Among the most positive reviews were those from the New York Times, LA Times, CBS TV, NBC TV, and Entertainment Weekly.

I respectfully suggest that these are more red than white.


F.H. Thomas - 10/22/2003


The complexity of the relationships between Nigerian Americans of whatever ethnic lineage, and the mainly Scotch Irish Southerners has, while still complex, much deteriorated under the burdens of leftist race politics, drugs, and the progressive destruction of the institution of black fatherhood.

I wish it were not so, but my perception is that disadvantaged young black men are often perceived as faceless threats rather than as the full human beings as depicted in this film, and that whites are often uniformly viewed as racists by those same young men. The result of this mutual stereotyping is less communication, when more is needed.

Lord, let this evil pass from us...




Tom Keith - 10/22/2003

We are indebted to Josh Greenland for regurgitating the identital information already quoted by Mr. Ewert in the original review that started this whole debate. Those interested in reading alternate reviews can find them, as I have. Sorry Mr Greenland, as much as you would wish it, many main stream (not conservative ) movie critics loved the film. Why does it bother you so much that not everyone hated this movie as much as you? Why the compulsion to bury this film? Did it touch a nerve?


Josh Greenland - 10/22/2003

Interesting how many of these good reviews on Maxwell's site are from sites devoted to conservative politics.


Josh Greenland - 10/22/2003

Here's the link to the Rotten Tomatoes' page for Gods and Generals. Many of these review are quite funny:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/GodsandGenerals-1120554/


Tom Keith - 10/21/2003

http://www.ronmaxwell.com/ggreviews.html


Tom Keith - 10/21/2003

Mr. Luker above seems to think there were only two favorable reviews of the movie. At Mr. Maxwell's website he can read the many positive reviews by major mainstream movie critics - the one's conveniently not mentioned in Mr.Ewert's selective reporting.

Tom Keith


Ralph E. Luker - 10/21/2003

You wanted a review which praised the movie and attacked its critics. Now there are two such reviews.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/21/2003

As a Southern white man, I hope so. There is much to be forgiven.


Stephen Thomas - 10/21/2003

Just asking, Mr. Luker.

Sometimes this seems to be the overwhelming question that dominates this site.

Haven't seen the movie, but I will.

The notion that relationships between whites and blacks in the old South were more complex than (excuse me) black and white seems to be anathema to just about all political persuasions. And this makes sense, because looking back at the complexity of those relationships (and the good and evil that existed on both sides) would force one to reconsider the equally complex contemporaneous relationships of whites and blacks.

Perhaps all virtue does not exist on one side.

Can southern white man be forgiven? Abe Lincoln thought so, but a southern white man put to an end the era of forgiveness by assassinating Mr. Lincoln. And, thus, the eternal mystery of American history.


F.H. Thomas - 10/21/2003


Your evaluation is spot on.


F.H. Thomas - 10/21/2003


I wrote it, and it first appeared here, two lines up.

Respondez, s'il vous plait?


Ralph E. Luker - 10/21/2003

It would be helpful if you told us who wrote this review and where it appeared.


F.H. Thomas - 10/21/2003


But I would happlly review your book anyway, I am sure as fairly as this fine film...


F.H. Thomas - 10/21/2003



"Gods and Generals" is a character study of the senior Confederate commanders in the eastern theatre, during the Civil War. It is based upon the bestselling book of the same name, by Jeff Shaara. It was preceeded by "The Killer Angels", also a bestseller, which was written by Shaara's father, and was made into the movie "Gettysburg".

While many character studies fail in translation from book to screen, Director Ron Maxwell accomplishes it with seeming ease. The compelling personalities are presented in vivid detail, set against a meticulously constructed scene of Southern martial culture, and a background of the major battles.

Maxwell has accomplished what may be the ultimate accomplishment for a director, in his handling of the thousands of amateurs who took part. There are no hokey battle scenes where half-trained extras look confused, but rather large scale action which looks very real. Perfectionists will see Sharp's rifles and rifled muskets with the correct units, cannon (even rare parrot guns) where they should be, correct uniforms, and especially correct maneuvers. This is a very impressive accomplishment.

The black slave characters are shown in three dimensions, as full personalities, rather than as charactures of themselves. One understands that these people were not just part of the wallpaper, as usually depicted, but real three dimensional people with hearts minds and souls.

Maxwell saves his tour de force for his depictions of Lee and Jackson. It is so subtle and nuanced that one seems to view the very workings of their complex value systems. You have to see this for yourself.

Of course, any Civil War film which does not depict Confederates as knuckle-dragging simians will call out the PC thought police. In this case a PC Professor, Mr. Ewert, wrote a slam piece in the SPLC, at the behest of former junk mail king Mr. Dees. The resulting "review" slammed the film for its "production values", which is its great strength. Get this, two guys who have never made a film, slamming a 30 year director's production values.

Ignore them. The film has plenty of production values, and you will love it.

**** Stars



F.H. Thomas - 10/21/2003


(Sorry, it looks as if HTML does not like a line of dashes. The balance of the review is:)


Thomas Hagedorn - 10/21/2003

This "critic" thoroughly enjoyed "Gods and Generals". I have studied neither the Civil War or the south to any great extent, but found the religious beliefs and their effects on the generals very credible. (I am fairly knowledgable concerning evangelical life in the Old Northwest prior to the Civil War). Mr. Maxwell apparently committed the "sin" of violating the
current orthodox view that we are all either oppressors or the oppressed. Anything less than their cartoon view of history is heresy. Life would be Soooo much simpler if I could believe that. Unfortunately, I must return to my "grey" world, where sometimes good people, with good intentions end up on the "wrong side". (And sometimes evil people, with mischief in mine, choose the "right side".

By the way, one would expect an ideologically-slanted review from the Southern Poverty Law Center, considering their history.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/21/2003

Are you kidding? I'd like to be the reviewer of my books too!


F.H. Thomas - 10/21/2003


"Gods and Generals", as it deserved to be reviewed...
=====================================================


Paul Harvey - 10/21/2003

I have no problem with Maxwell defending his film, but my God, to compare Ewert to someone running a "re-education camp" should make any reader sick to the stomach. Really, this is disgusting, the worst demagoguery I think I've ever seen posted here (and there are many contenders for that award).

If Ewert is a member of a "praetorian guard" and has views "unsupported by any real knowledge," then you can also put in that camp James McPherson (sorry if misspelled), Charles Dew, Edward Ayers, and virtually every single serious scholar now writing about the Civil War.

If you want to get a sense of the complexity of individual lives at the time, then 4 hours reading Leon Litwack's _Been in the STorm So Long_ would be a good investment, as opposed to watching this airbrushed version of Birth of a Nation.

Will HNN give Ewert a chance to respond to this slander (if he would so choose to do so)? He is the one that almost got fired, and thus is the victim of the pc crowd -- politically Confederate.


cody j. - 10/21/2003

Maxwell is right on with his defense of the movie. Believe it or not, "home" is something worth fighting for. Especially when most of the soldiers fighting the war never strayed more than 30 miles from their farmsteads their whole lives. You cannot persuade me that Confederate soldiers - 80% of whom didn't own slaves - fought for anything but to defend their homeland from invasion. Why would the average Southern dirt farmer fight to preserve slavery, an institution which undermined their economic leverage by flooding the labor market with free labor?

Maxwell's work is admirable in it's unbiased treatment of the War, a historical period much maligned by the likes of Mr. Ewert who expend no effort in searching out truth, but wallow in the unquestioning allegiance of hate-mongers.