A number of people have asked me to weigh in with comments about this newly-released film. (That number, by the way, was two.) Intellectual honesty compels me to admit that I can’t, really, for the excellent reason that I have not seen it. But, being Jonah Begone means I am free of any credibility or journalistic responsibility, so I can give some opinions regarding it anyway.
1.) I have not seen this film.
2.) I will not see this film. [That was then. This is now. I finally saw it for myself, and review it here. - Jonah] While I rent many films (films noir being special favorites), I have one hard and fast rule: I will not see a film that lasts longer than church. Church, for me, is at least three hours - and that’s without organizational meetings. Like an over-stuffed reenactor, Gods and Generals weighs in at a hefty 216 minutes.
3.) I saw this film’s predecessor, Gettysburg (sometimes called Gettysbeard) on a rented video mostly in fast forward mode. [Once again, that was then... I also review this film here. - Jonah] Given that Roger Ebert, whose opinion I mostly trust, gave Gods and Generals only one and a half stars, I’ll pass.
4.) Ted Turner was involved in the making of this film. He was also married to Jane Fonda, and reportedly gave a million dollars (or a billion – I forget the multiplication factor) to the United Nations. I am therefore suspicious of anything he’s involved with. However, I understand he has a cameo in this film. Since the brief Ken Burns cameo in the preceding film Gettysburg was enjoyably laughable (Burns, in a squeaky voice: “General Hancock! You mustn’t expose yourself to fire!”), I am half tempted to see this film just to catch another funny cameo. But, a probable 216:1 boredom-to-laughter ratio doesn’t entice me.
5.) In order to appeal to a younger, phatter, more whack and hip-hop generation, the film should have been styled “GoDz aNd GeNEraLz.” That way young people not previously exposed to the Epic Struggle of Brother Against Brother will become intrigued and investigate.
6.) This film contains an extra whom I am opposed to on grounds of fairness, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). He portrays a Reb general. Is it fair that Senator Trent Lott gets a hiding by the media for improper speaking (a few overly gracious words about how well the US would have fared under a Strom Thurmond administration), but a liberal gasbag ex-Klansman like Byrd gets away with dressing up like a Reb? Please. No, I’m not spending a farthing to see Byrd wearing the gray.
A southern, non-reenactor (there are a few left) friend of mine saw this film, and told me that it was about an hour too long, and that it primarily featured 1.) Battles, 2.) More battles, 3.) Prayers and 4.) Lemonade drinking.
The battles I can really do without. A few months ago Mrs. Begone and I took little Trixie to see “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which only featured one battle. We all agreed that it was a ponderous and boring production. (Note that with a running time of 179 minutes it was not breaking the rule I describe above, being one minute under three hours.) We felt a certain obligation to see it since we enjoyed last year’s installment, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” So I’m down on battles for the time being; especially since a war with Iraq is brewing and my son, Ulysses, is nineteen. Things can get a little too close for comfort. Besides, I have a problem with PG-13 rated violence. In a film about war, holding back from showing the full horror is dishonesty and a cheat. After the first thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan I got a glimpse of how awful the Normandy Invasion must have been. After most PG-13 battles I have seen (including Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) my reaction leans more towards the ho-hum.
Prayers I get enough of at church – as described above.
Lemonade drinking: Now, I can certainly get into that. My older daughter Cordelia favors pink lemonade – and the color pink in general. She has ever since she was a tot, the sweet little thing. Anyway, last summer she convinced me that pink lemonade is, in fact, sweeter than yellow lemonade. A quick trip to the local Mobil for a taste comparison bore her out, and I now favor pink lemonade over the yellow variety. But which is more authentic for Gods and Generals, the pink or the yellow? Which did they use? Given Confederate wartime restrictions, I would hazard a guess that whatever they would have used to color the lemonade pink was in short supply, so yellow would be more authentic. Was pink lemonade even around back then? Or was it, perhaps, some other color? Gray for Rebs, blue for Yanks, perhaps? I await a definitive study in the pages of The Camp Chase Gazette.
My southern friend admitted that he thought Gods and Generals was heavily biased towards the South, and that the star of the show seemed to be Stonewall Jackson. Okay, fine – every dog has his day. And since the Lost Cause and Reb flags have been taking a beating in the press for at least a decade, equal time is probably warranted. But I must confess an aversion for Old Blue Light - mainly because he just doesn’t like me.
Once, returning from a reenactment, a young friend and I paid a visit to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. (Notice how the House Where Lincoln Died is simply called “The House Where Lincoln Died,” but the place where Stonewall bought the farm is referred to as a shrine?) Anyway, I am a rather tall and robust individual (“Homerically proportioned” is the phrase I like to use), and, walking around below the low ceiling beams in the Shrine I conked myself star-seeing and senseless, right in the forehead. “Ha ha,” said my young friend, “That’s what you get for bad-mouthing Stonewall.” As planets moved by my field of vision I distractedly muttered something about pastries, Volkswagens and women in 18th century stays, picked myself up off the floor, and left. So there is no love lost between Stonewall and me, and if he’s starring in his very own feature film, well, count me out.
I have seen e-mail chatter about how this production – or any other production about the Civil War, for that matter – will affect reenacting. Those of us who were doing reenacting in 1990 when the Ken Burns PBS series sparked off an interest boomlet in the Civil War will recall how it attracted people into reenacting. And I suppose it’s logical to hope that lightning will hit the same place twice with this film. As for me, however, I am not convinced that big is better (aside from my own Homeric proportions), or that greater numbers of reenactors will always mean better or more enjoyable reenactments. Certainly, while the top five events for me were mostly large ones, they were not what we have come to call “mega-events.” Looking back on it, a lot of my fondest memories come from mid-scale events and small ones.
And the interest engendered by doing smaller historical recreations at historic sites sometimes outweighs doing big-scale things in empty fields. Or it could be that enjoyment of reenacting comes from the right mix of friends, good weather, fun activities, etc. – none of which are necessarily numbers-dependent.
So let’s not load a lot of baggage into how Gods and Generals will help reenacting. It’s just a film. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one will be decided by critics and audiences.
As for me, I’ll have a lemonade. A pink one.