a pro-Confederate film

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 19 08:47:58 MST 2003

NY Press, Feb. 19, 2003

Rising Again
A four-hour lullaby about how (and what) the Confederacy lost.
by Matt Zoller Seitz

If you thought the white South got a raw deal during the Civil War, Gods 
and Generals is your movie. Ron F. Maxwell’s mammoth, technically 
competent but artistically uninteresting war picture may be the most 
sympathetic to the Confederacy’s idealized view of itself. Maxwell’s 
screenplay suggests that the war was largely about Yankee greed to 
acquire Southern resources and property, and that the slavery issue was 
a mildly hypocritical afterthought. (John Brown and Frederick Douglass 
might beg to differ.) It also expends a great deal of effort showing 
white Southerners to be more gallant, more loving, more geographically 
rooted and more pious than their white Northern foes. Granted, when 
you’ve got Robert Duvall playing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, you’ve 
won half the battle. But Maxwell, who adapted Jeff Shaara’s same-titled 
novel, doesn’t leave it at that. He goes further, deploying strong 
actors, evocative landscapes, heart-tugging music and melodramatically 
contrived scenes to bolster what might be the most unabashedly 
pro-Confederate film since The Birth of a Nation.


The film’s heart and soul is represented by Stephen Lang, who, as Gen. 
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, gives one of the greatest performances I’ve 
ever seen in a boring movie. The essence of the Southern gentleman, 
Jackson is devoutly religious without ever seeming holier-than-thou. (He 
even manages to survive several scenes opposite a sickly moppet, who 
approaches Jackson during a Christmas party, points to the tree and 
peals, "Do you know what these decorations signify?") Jackson’s faith in 
God and the Confederacy are as one; on the battlefield, he betrays no 
fear, because he knows the Lord has already chosen the hour of his death 
and he can do nothing to change it. A similar logic governs Jackson’s 
attitude toward slavery; like many of the movie’s intelligent, lovable 
Southern whites, he recognizes that slavery is wrong, but insists it 
will end soon anyway, and war will do nothing to hasten its collapse.

Jackson seems representative of Napoleonic aristocratic moral 
certitude–a man so innately good that he is entitled to his sense of 
entitlement. A more sophisticated film might have given Jackson his 
goodness and serenity while letting us see how his personality reflected 
the collective delusion of the Southern aristocracy: that it was the 
heir to God’s kingdom, or a defender of God’s plan. Generals needs a fat 
dose of Glory or Beloved. Imagine if Maxwell had contrasted his 
non-ironic, loving portraits of Southern military officers with images 
of black men and women being whipped, raped and worked to death by 
plantation owners. Like the Amon Goeth scenes in Schindler’s List, which 
were entrancing and sickening at once, the result might have conjured 
truly mixed emotions, and evoked some of the moral complexity of real 
history. But Generals doesn’t dare try. It is truly a whitewash of the 
past–one that the United Daughters of the Confederacy will show at 
fundraising events for decades to come.

full: http://www.nypress.com/16/8/film/film.cfm

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