Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gods and Generals / John Adams - Two Great Historical Movies That You Should See

Let's just get it out front and loud: Gods and Generals is my favorite movie.
Yes, Gods and Generals.
And, believe it or not, it's the movie that most re-enactors seem to despise.
But not me. As I stated above, Gods and Generals is my favorite movie of all time. Seriously.
Why do re-enactors - folks (like myself) who live the Civil War one weekend at a time - dislike this movie so much? The only two reasons I have been given (besides "It sucks!") is it's too dramatic, and/or it's too pro-Confederate.
OK, let's discuss the 'too dramatic' reason first. Is it dramatic? Absolutely! There is much more drama going on in Gods and Generals than Gettysburg by far. Now, there are battles galore - and well done battles, on this, most seem to agree. But, it also gives the viewer the opportunity to see a bit of what life was like during the early part of the war. We get to meet the wives of General Jackson and Colonel Chamberlain. We get to see how the war affected a well-to-do southern family. We get to see a bit more interaction between the soldiers.
And I like that.
But, however, many who I have spoken with about this movie hate it specifically because it is too dramatic. Some say the actors are over-acting. Some say that it was too religious. Some say the actors were too stiff in their parts, that people didn't act or speak in the way they are portrayed in this movie.
To that I say "Hogwash!" Folks during this period in time were very religious - mainly Christians - and openly displayed their faith without question. Letters, diaries, and journals speak to us the actions and language of the people from that time.
Another thing that I really liked about Gods and Generals is the attention to detail in the sets. They did a fine job recreating the world of the early 1860's - the houses, furniture,'s like taking a step back in time.
Were the actors too 'stiff?' I don't think so. I think we are just so used to the street acting we see in most movies about contemporary times that we are just not used to seeing the Victorian personalities.
Stiff? Not any 'stiffer' than the actors in the Masterpiece Theater (Dickens, Austin) movies shown on PBS. Again, showing, accurately, folks as they were a century and a half ago.
Now, about the southern-ccentricity of the film. On this point I tend to agree. I would have liked to have seen a bit more perspective from the north - besides the military, showing a young man leaving his Michigan (or Ohio, or...) home - a bit nervous and, dare I say, a bit scared - would have added greatly for us Yankees.
But, aside from this, Gods and Generals is my greatest movie watching pleasure to sit back for four and a half hours (six hours when and if the director's cut ever gets released!) and immerse myself into the early 1860's via modern technology. Almost - but not quite - as good as being at a re-enactment.

Another movie...well...SERIES that I just saw just this past week (on DVD) was the HBO presentation of John Adams, our 2nd president.
This is, perhaps, the finest film I have ever seen about the birth of our great nation. Following - in great detail - the life of Mr. Adams from his career as a lawyer through his death, we (my wife, my 17 year old son, and I) were totally ingulfed in this extremely dramatic story. I mean, if you're looking for a battle, this is not the one to watch. It is pretty much all drama, and that is what pulls the viewer in. And, as in Gods and generals, with the inclusion of the (mostly) period-style language, one feels almost as if they were in the company of our nation's fore-fathers themselves. Yes, I would have liked to have seen a couple of battle scenes, but showing the wounded after the battle was just as moving.
Now, many reviewers have, once again, spoken of the characters being too stiff. Well, once again, research has shown that, yes, folks did act very similar to what's portrayed. You have to watch a movie like this not with a 21st century mindset but with the realization that people didn't always socially act the way they do today. I cannot say this enough. It amazes me how so few people understand this.
By the way, the sets (computerized and otherwise) in this John Adams series were so accurate - the details were amazing: true candle lit rooms, pulling the curtain past the door to help keep the cold out, the style of the hat racks, framed silhouette pictures, the furniture and the rooms of the houses themselves, the "extra's" in the streets (vendors, animals roaming about, etc.)...I could go on and on - all as accurate as I have seen in any movie. It reminded me of the photos of the homes from Colonial Williamsburg, and even the few colonial era homes I visited personally at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. And the clothing was perfect as well. Not a detail was missed. It seems as much went into the sets and clothing as into the acting and dialog. How refreshing.

If you are looking to immerse yourself into another era - Civil War or Rev War - either one of these two films should do the trick.
I don't give a hoot that I am in the minority for picking Gods and Generals as my all-time favorite flick. And as far as John Adams...I'm not sure where it places at this time on my favorites list, but I will say for set accuracy, it's top of the pops!

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