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!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just When You Thought the Society Couldn't Get Any Worse

Sorry folks. Sometimes I just have to get things off my chest.
This is one of those time - - - - - - -

You know, hard work, discipline, and a strong faith in God were what, at one time, made this country morally strong. This is what people were raised on, and it worked.

But, have you noticed lately that the more lazy, the less faithful, and less responsible (discipline) people get, the worse off our society becomes?

There was a time not too long ago (in my childhood days), that getting a swat in school for misbehaving was standard punishment. I know first hand that it worked, too - and I did not need psychiatric help because of it, nor did my parents sue the teacher or the school. Instead, I got in bigger trouble when I got home.

There was a time not too long ago (in my childhood days), that belief in God - God the Father - the God of Abraham - God who's only begotten Son, Jesus, died for our sins - was as common as breathing. That if one didn't believe, they were...well...looked down upon by society. It was the norm to believe, and one wasn't called a "religious fanatic" if they went to church every Sunday.

And there was a time not too long ago (in my childhood days), that people had discipline. By this I mean that they took responsibility for their own actions. Racism, sexism, and numerous mental "disorders" (ADD, ADHD, etc.) were not to blame for their own misgivings. If they received poor grades in school, it was their own fault for not sitting down and studying. Or if they got fired from work, it was their own fault for not working hard enough or for taking too much time off work. Or it was pure laziness.
And now, society (by way of government) is actually helping today's youth to continue down that rotten path of laziness and not taking responsibility for their own actions. Check out this article that tells of how schoolkids can now be late or not even show up to class and not suffer any ramifications for it. It's in today's (June 25) Detroit Free Press:

How sad is that? What about those students who do show up to class every day - and show up on time? Doesn't that matter? Doesn't that put them above those lazy oafs who don't want to get up early to go to school? All that this is doing is catering to the lazy and irresponsible. I don't care that they can test out of a class. I certainly would not want to go to a doctor who tested out of a class - think of all they missed and could have learned that wasn't on the "test."

Then there is the athiest from Frankenmuth.
This guy moves to Frankenmuth, Michigan, and decides he does not like all the crosses on public property. Now, this city was founded totally on German Lutheran/Christian principles back in 1845 and has retained its heritage ever since. So some athiest - one man, mind you, who moved to the city on his own accord (one would hope that he at least visited Frankenmuth before moving there - he must have seen the Christian symbols throughout) - and decides it "offends" him. Who the heck is he?
Here is my favorite part of the Detroit News article: Before objecting to the crosses, Clarke found Frankenmuth a friendly, inviting place. People hold the door open for each other at the post office, he said. Drivers often give way to other motorists.
Isn't that something? People acting...well...CHRISTIAN!
And then there's the black guy who is quoted as saying, "You'd like to see more people who look like you." This from a black contractor who moved into town two years ago because he found it a good place to raise a family. Um...why would you move to a 99% white town then complain that there aren't enough blacks there?
Only in today's society...
But, back to the athiest, Mr. Clarke. I have an open letter to the man here:
Mr. Clarke - you have no right to push your lack of religion on this city who has survived, in part, due to their religion. Frankenmuth has every right to celebrate its heritage - there is absolutely NOTHING in the Constitution to deny this. Read it. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read any of our National Historical Documents. There is NOTHING that prevents ANY city or town in the United States from celebrating its religious heritage. NOTHING!
So, this liar goes on to say that he is doing this because he "felt they made Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians feel unwelcome."
Yeah right.
Mr. Clarke, your only purpose is to make a name for yourself (he ran for the state senate in 2006 and lost). You, sir, are nothing but a selfish person out to destroy the traditions of this country one step at a time. I thank God - yes, God - that you didn't make it into the senate. You confirm what I have found to be inherent in most athiests. Keep talking, Mr. Clarke. A revolution is about to take place, like one you have never seen. And I do not think you will like the outcome.

There - - whew! - - I got that out of my system...for now.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The 2008 Re-enacting Season Thus Far and What Is Has Done For Me

Well, the re-enacting season is now in full force. So far, this year alone I have participated in 7 events - not including the period dress 12th Night/Christmas Party held in January.

And there's more to come: A mourning presentation in Waterloo, a living history encampment in Dearborn, a battle and living history encampment at Historic Fort Wayne as well as in Hastings, Jackson, and Wolcott Mill. Plus a couple of extra's that we enjoy, such as a "pioneer day" at a local school, a period ball in Lansing, a 21st Michigan full-dress meeting in early November, and a few re-enactments with the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society.

And it's still not enough.

At least, not for me.

I could do re-enacting pretty much every weekend if I had the chance (and the gas money!). I cannot wait to throw on my period clothing and step back in time at an event and be amongst others who have a love for this sort of thing. I especially love it when my wife and children also don their period clothing and join me (which is usually at most of the events that I attend). To have my family have the same passion for this hobby that I have is nothing short of a true blessing, and I do continuously thank God for that blessing.

I mean - think about it - there are not too many families out there that I know of that get together nearly every weekend - that WANT to spend their weekends together - like my family does. And, to top it off, my eldest son's girlfriend also willingly enjoys the opportunity to wear clothing that her great great great great grandmother would have worn. My wife and this young lady spend quite a bit of time together during the cold months of winter sewing period authentic clothing for themselves and for others. This picture directly below are three dresses that Patty and Ashley (left and center) made.

I guess the neatest thing is when my kids will fill their calendars with their own personal activities only after they know the dates of all the re-enactments.

Some people think we're crazy. Others feel we live in the past.
I think they're correct on both counts. We are crazy and, yes, to a certain extent, we do live in the past - how can you not when making the attempt to accurately portray one from the mid-19th century?
But, we are also very contemporary people as well. If we weren't, well, I guess you would not be reading this blog now, would you?
OK - now I'm going to go off on a tangent for a bit - reader, beware---------
This is not to say, by the way, that other families don't spend their times together. I know of a few that do - sports families (those that go to Red Wings and Tigers games together), activity families (biking, hiking), and of course, cottage familes, in which I used to be. But, because I have four other siblings who also have multiple children, well, we all kind of out-grew the weekend cottage trips. Oh, we still go up for the family visits a few times a year, just not as often as we used to. I guess we all just spend more time with our own families.

Back to reenacting: As this is my 5th year as a Civil War reenactor. I've also noticed a personal change in my attitude toward modern society. For example, Memorial Weekend was, to me, known as the weekend that summer began; the weekend to meet with friends that I haven't seen since the previous Labor Day; the weekend to open up the cottage and have a barbecue. Now, because of Civil War reenacting, it means so much more to me. I now find myself remembering those Americans who fought and died - not just in the Civil War, but in all of the wars that we, as a country, have been involved in, including this latest war on terror. Whether or not you agree with our involvement in this current war, you should still remember those men and women who have died serving their country. I

I have also become a bit more, shall we say, prudish. Yes, I find myself getting embarrassed when I see young women wearing the skimpy bathing suits at the beach. I mean, is it necessary to show all that skin? Yeah, you think I'm crazy I'm sure. Maybe you think I'm lying, either to myself or to you.
But I'm not.
By the way, I'm not embarrassed for myself when seeing these thonged bathers, but for the girls themselves who feel the need to show more than necessary. Sorry, but I'd rather see them in their hoop skirts where they look and act more like ladies. In fact, my son's girlfriend has mentioned more than once how she enjoys the way folks - especially men - treat her while in her period clothing. She has stated that she is treated "like a lady," and she enjoys that.

Now, when I have mentioned these opinions during conversations with non-reenactors, invariably it is brought to my attention that I must be a sexist that would love to see women as subserviants. Oh, and that I'd also probably want to bring back slavery for blacks. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, I do like to see women dressed as women and men dressed as men, and so does my wife.
But, I suppose, we'll leave that for a future blog.

Anyhow, Civil War reenacting has engulfed our lives in more ways than I believe we could have imagined. We look at life a little different...maybe a little slower...taking it all in. We have learned to be less (sometimes ever-so-slightly-less, but less nonetheless) materialistic.
And some of us (read: ME) have even learned to watch our language, especially around women (oops! There I go again, being sexist. Sorry!). Yeah, as funny as George Carlin was, swearing didn't make him funny. It was his take - his GENIUS - on modern society that made him funny. I don't need his seven words that can't be said on TV, radio, or written in the newspaper. He had better, more intelligent things to say.

Modern folks tend to think of the Victorian way of life as backwards. I believe differently, and the more reading and studying and living history I do - and the more true, die-hard living historians I meet - the more I feel that it is, in fact, a great way to live.
Ah - that's my take on what Civil War reenacting has done for me and my family.
And I thank God for it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Aren't You Hot In All Those Clothes?

Hands down, the question we get asked the most at a re-enactment is, "Aren't you hot in all those clothes?"'

As living historians, we emulate our 19th century ancestors. And that means we wear the same clothing that they wore. As a male citizen/civilian, I wear a long-sleeve cotton shirt buttoned all the way up with a period correct tie, braces (suspenders), wool or cotton waistcoat (vest), wool sack coat, wool (and sometimes cotton) breeches (pants), cotton (and sometimes wool) socks, and leather brogans (shoes), ankle length cotton drawers (underpants), topped off with a wide-brimmed hat.

Underneath my wife's long-sleeve, high neck, cotton dress (which is just inches from the floor), she wears drawers, a chemise, a corset, underpetticoat, a cage crinoline, an over petticoat, cotton (and sometimes wool) stockings, and leather shoes. She also wears a brooch as a neck-closure, as well as a bonnet. And white cotton gloves if we are walking into "town."

Whether the temperature is 60 degrees or 95 degrees, this is what we wear at a re-enactment.

Are we hot underneath all these layers of clothing? You betcha!

Are we as hot as you are, in your shorts and short-sleeve shirts?



Why is that? Because we are covered. Because we do not let the sun burn off our natural coolant: persperation. That's what happens when you let the hot summer sun hit your skin. Underneath all of that clothing, we are sweating, and it's the sweat that keeps us cooler. As I said, we are definitely hot on those hot, humid days. But not as hot as those of you who are nearly naked.

Here's a true story about what happened this passed Memorial Weekend at Greenfield Village:

I invited a few people that I know from where I work to come out to the Village to experience a Civil War re-enactment, and many did. One couple who took up my offer came on Memorial Monday, which happened to be an above 80 degree day. However, they ended up leaving early. Why? The woman, dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and no head covering, got sun-stroke. Now, how do you figure that? I mean, here we all are, dressed in layer upon layer of clothing, and this woman who, by the way, did make the "Aren't you hot in all those clothes?" comment, becomes ill due to the heat and sun, while those of us dressed for the 19th century are able to survive "in all those clothes."

Contrary to poplular belief, our 19th century ancestors knew more than we like to give them credit for. I think one of my next projects will be to find out and compare the rate of skin cancer deaths from 150 years ago to now.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Election Nonsense (or politics lite: my opinion, for what it's worth)

Mental intimidation is what we have come to in this election, it seems.
As a white male, I simply cannot win no matter what choice I make in this election: if I choose Hillary, then I am racist. If I choose Obama, then I am sexist. If I choose McCain or any independant, then I am both racist AND sexist. And a fool, because everyone knows that both Obama and Hillary are for "change" (whatever that means).
What if I just don't LIKE the two Democratic nominees and do not feel they are better than the Republican or Libertarian nominee?
What if I feel they are hiding as much about their true agendaa as George Bush is?
I know, I know..."How could you even THINK of writing something like that, Ken?"
Because, I know enough about Hillary and her husband that they lie through their teeth and will stop at nothing to get what they want.
I also know that Obama has already been found in very questionable predicaments and has weasled his way out of them through "charm" - he is a press darling, don't you know.
Now, mind! I am not a George W. fan either. That man, who had the world by the balls (so to speak) right after 9/11, totally blew it by putting forth his world domination agenda. His U.S. Constitution splattering of the so-called "Patriot Act" and so much more have put such a sad spin on the state of the U.S. today that we have become a socialist state directly because of him (although, one has to admit that Mr. Clinton in the 1990's and George the 1st before him headed us in that direction initially).
So, what does a man - strong in his Christian beliefs, strong in his traditional values, strong in his traditional morals - do? Who is speaking for me?
As hard as I look at the three (and now, two) presidential candidates, I see no light at the end of the tunnel in which we are all spiraling through.
Oh, what times in which we live...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Amish Have It Right

Imagine if one did not have to worry about the rising cost of the price of gas.
Imagine if one did not have to deal with the high costs of utility payments.
Imagine if one did not have to deal with credit card (and other) bills.
Imagine if one did not have to deal with the ills of today's society - the lack of morals, the tossing out of traditions that have sustained our society for centuries and could still for centuries to come.
Imagine if one could live the way people used to, before technology lead us astray from what life is really supposed to be about.
Imagine if one could live the Christian life without the ills of today's society coming at them from every direction.
Just imagine...
Well, I have been imagining. A lot.
Even more now that I reenact the 1860's.
Even more now that I study the lifestyle - every minute detail - of that period in time.
And I have come to a conclusion: maybe the Amish got it right. Really. Think about it - - - - They farm their land to survive, which is what I feel we were pretty much meant to do. And they work as a family to get the job done. They eat together. Spend time together. And have a strong community bond. They build their own homes - homes without electricity and, therefore, no MTV, Sex In the City, porn on computers, movies about violence, commercials for the latest unnecessary garbage that we shell out hundreds of dollars for (can anyone say Wiiiiii!!!!), ads for the newest "must wear" styles...the list could go on and on.
But, most importantly, the Amish are independant. They have no need for gas and oil, therefore are not affected by the current screwing of Americans by their own politicians.
OK, well, maybe the Amish that sell goods to us "English" might be affected, but they will survive.
But, we are slaves to technology. We want and need the latest whatever it is they're selling us. We need gas and are willing to pay more than four bucks a gallon so we can drive two blocks to the store. And, instead of wearing and repairing our clothing so they last, we get the latest fashions every season.
But, for the Amish, instead of worrying about all of these modern whatevers, their concern is to make sure they have enough food planted to sustain them, and will work as many hours as needed to ensure this. They don't look to or need the government for help. They take care of their own.
What a concept!
I mean, they have remained steadfast in their lifestyle, clothing styles, religious beliefs, and being the butt of many jokes by 'modern folk.' Yet, they continue living this life. Why is that? Because they have something that most of us don't have - and may never have. True peace. Peace with themselves. With God. And with each other.
My question is, at the rate that our society is shredding itself to bits, will we non-Amish survive?
Do you remember about a year ago when that maniac entered an Amish school and killed all of those innocent Amish children? Do you also recall how the families of the victims responded? They prayed with and for the family of the murderer. They forgave the killer and helped out his family with whatever they could.
I pray that I could be like that should, God forbid, anything like that happen in my family.
But, that is what the Amish are all about. I have nothing but respect and, yes, even envy/jealousy for them.
To live like they do where I live at this time could never work. I live in the middle of the city with no hope of moving in the near future (the economy, don't cha know), and it would be virtually impossible to attempt an Amish-type lifestyle at this time.
But, who knows...maybe one day. As long as I don't have to grow a beard.'s a beautiful thing.