February 22, 2003


Battles are won, an audience is lost: The grand war scenes are a high achievement, but the grandiloquent talk brings 'Gods' down. (Kevin Thomas, February 21 2003, LA Times)
Just as the Civil War revealed a nation divided, Ronald F. Maxwell's "Gods and Generals," a prequel to his 1993 "Gettysburg," is a film divided. With an awesome sense of authenticity and scope, he has staged three major battles leading up to the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, but he has populated his film with paragons rather than people.

Worse, they talk and talk and talk; this film is in danger of talking itself to death before the Union and the Confederacy are able to decimate each other. The battle scenes, however, attain a level of accomplishment that is likely to intrigue and please legions of Civil War buffs, especially battle re-enactors who participated extensively in the making of this film.

But all that yapping! -- great swaths of quotations from the Bible and the classics, countless ringing speeches, endless stretches of flowery dialogue. It's as if the scores of actors are portraying people who believe their every phrase and gesture was being recorded for posterity by an omniscient documentarian. Such overwhelming self-consciousness threatens to stifle the humanity of everyone within camera range. [...]

None of this may bother anyone able to view a battlefield as a place of glory rather than of folly, the site of the ultimate breakdown of civilization -- of mankind's failure to mediate its differences. To his credit, Maxwell does not flinch from showing the carnage of battle but never wallows in it. Unfortunately, his legions of soldiers too often seem more heroic than human.

The idea that a war that freed the slaves represented the "ultimate breakdown of civilization", as opposed to a mediated solution, which presumably would have kept at least some blacks enslaved, is so bizarre as to be unanswerable. Here, as in the question of whether it's morally justified to dethrone Saddam, such people seem to be members of a different "civilization" than the rest of us. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 22, 2003 8:03 AM


This is too rich;

"actors are portraying people who believe their every phrase and gesture was being recorded for posterity by an omniscient documentarian."

Most folks in that day and age did believe in an "omniscient documentarian", who did in fact record their every word and deed. He was usually called "God".

Posted by: Carl at February 22, 2003 8:28 AM

What he said makes me want to see it even more -- just for the elevated talk!!

Perhaps by "mediate their differences" he meant "the South would reverse direction and abolish slavery", which would have been nice, but -- . Maybe it would be better to characterize it as the failure of a more or less noble people to recognize the glaring moral error at the heart of their society.

Posted by: Whackadoodle at February 22, 2003 11:36 AM


Maybe they could have been slaves from Monday to Thursday noon and free the rest of the week?

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2003 11:49 AM

Hasn't this guy ever heard of an unmediatable (think immovable object vs. irresistable force) difference?

This shows an astonishing immunity to history...

Jeff G

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 22, 2003 3:11 PM


That's nearly a textbook definition of liberalism: "immune to history:.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2003 5:58 PM

I just saw the movie. Very talky, but it works. Robert Duvall is a much better Lee than Martin Sheen. For those yet to see it, see if you can find Ted Turner in a cameo role.

Mr Thomas apparently thinks heroism and humanity are mutually exclusive. A characteristic of his type of liberalism is that he values peace above all other values, including liberty and justice. He cannot comprehend that people would be unwilling to pay any price for "peace". Whatever happened to "no justice, no peace"?

Posted by: Robert D at February 22, 2003 7:41 PM