U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Archive for September, 2008

Rhett Butler is a Tough Lover

I found a youtube video called “Rhett Butler is a Tough Lover” and it’s great so I had to share.  : )  It’s a short mashup set to Etta James’s “Tough Lover.”

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zHWYJMGN…

JFK – A Flawed Masterpiece, part one

JFK Closing Statements on YouTube

The link above shows what I find to be the most important scene in the entire span of Stone’s epic JFK. In this scene, New Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison is exhausted. He has spent years hunting the truth about Kennedy’s assassination, and he is trying to convince the jury – and the world – that Oswald did not work alone. 

While I view this as a vital scene in the movie, it gives perfect basis for dissecting the inaccuracies in Stone’s film. These inaccuracies will be examined at length by my final project, but I wanted everyone to get a chance to hear the general idea that both Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone ran with in trying to prove that JFK was not killed by just one man.

This One Goes Out to the History Majors

Married To The Sea
marriedtothesea.com

Amistad

Getting away from the early ridiculous movies of the semester, we’ve been moving towards much more serious and historically accurate films. Last week’s Amistad is the most accurate and one of the best acted thus far, though also one of the most depressing.

Compared to Pocahontas‘ treatment of the language barrier, Amistad is practically a Mensa-certified film. While some people in class had some problems with the comic relief moments, I think they help keep you from killing yourself while watching. I think the story was engaging but Spielberg and co obviously made a solid effort to tell the real story (with the exception of Morgan Freeman’s completely made up abolitionist character). It was definitely a benefit that they did not shy away from the harsh realities, even if it made them hard to watch. I think this is one thing that historical movies really have on their side — even if they don’t get everything right, they can touch us on that emotional level, and we know that it happened to people like us.

Morgan Freeman’s made up character was a ridiculous piece of Hollywood. It served no historical, emotional, or story purposes, and it makes me wonder if someone just really liked the name Theodore Jodeson. To give Spielberg and co the benefit of the doubt, however: perhaps they felt that the pressure of portraying an early black abolitionist was too great, and the consequences of misportraying such a figure could do a lot of damage to the film.

I don’t have a lot to say about this film, except that it is beautiful, well-written, well-acted, and most historically-accurate film we’ve watched.

Amistad

This will be a short entry for me, but I do have a few lingering comments.

First, why was Amistad not as big of a deal as Van Buren etc. thought it would be at the time? I don’t understand how it didn’t affect the abolitionist movement at all. I also am frustrated that such an all star cast and director didn’t receive the credit they deserve for creating such a powerful film. Why is it that so few people know what Amistad was, and why didn’t more people see the film?

Two things really bothered me in the film – First, Morgan Freeman’s character, Joadson (spelling?) is completely made up. Why not use the REAL black man involved in the TRUE story as a character in the film? If everyone else is based on someone real, why fabricate such a character? It seems out of place and honestly misleading to the historical side of things. Second, I felt that some parts were a bit hokey (as I said in class) regarding the language barrier between the Mende and the Americans. When Baldwin and Cinque are talking about “where he’s from” it is painfully scripted. “How can I ask you where you’re from?” “How can I tell you where I’m from?” etc. These hokey parts really take away from the power and passion from the other parts for me, though I do see a need for some comedic relief (sort of).

I felt that in this movie, the problems we found and my personal annoyances were minuscule compared to the other films that we have watched and picked apart. Amistad does stay true to the story for the most part. I really enjoyed this film too.

Amistad music

Sorry, no music from The Patriot. That musical score didn’t really strike me. But on the subject of John Williams music, here’s part of the Academy Award nominated score from Amistad.

Dry Your Tears, Afrika

Crossing the Atlantic

Cinque’s Theme

Cinque’s Memories of Home

Middle Passage

The Long Road to Justice

Adam’s Summation

Going Home

Enjoy!

Thoughts on Amistad

So, Amistad was a movie I had indeed heard of but it wasn’t one I had ever seen.  I honestly didn’t even know anything about the events because it wasn’t something I had learned about in high school.  After watching this movie on Tueday I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen.  The acting was incredible, especially on the part of Djimon Hounsou.  Matthew McConaughey wasn’t even terrible.  It was one of the first movies we’ve seen this semester that, in my mind, is actually pretty spot on with the events.  You can tell that Spielberg made an attempt to provide a sense of accuracy to the movie and show what happened.  Granted, there were some mishaps with the movie and there definitely were some things that bugged me, but I’m willing to overlook them because of the dedication and effort put in by the cast and crew.  Although hard to watch, Cinque’s recollection of the days on the Tecora was numbing and eye-opening.  Even the pain at the very beginning when he’s picking away at a stone to get to the key to his cuffs.  I think these scenes were shot very well and really portrayed the horrors of their voyage to Cuba and America.  It’s obvious that Hounsou took his work seriously and really devoted a lot of time to embodying the character of Cinque and for that I applaud him.  All of the men who played the African slaves were incredible and the fact that they actually learned the Mende language still blows my mind.  Unlike previous movies where we were unsure of whether or not the language truly was accurate, of this one we are certain and it just seems to make the events even more real.

The one thing thatdid bother me the most though, was Morgan Freeman’s character.  I still can’t get over the fact that although there was actually a Rev. Pennington, a black abolitionist, Spielberg still made the choice to create a new character, someone ficitious.  It just annoys me a bit that the entire movie is based upon real people and actually references and addresses those people and then there’s Morgan Freeman as Theodore Jodeson.  To me, this is not an event that should have fictional characters.  I was also a bit bothered by the portrayal of Baldwin by McConaughey.  I think Baldwin was an amazing character in history, a well respected abolitionist lawyer who knew what he was doing.  However, for the sake of the movie and its storyline, there was a decision made to make Baldwin a nobody.  He was a petty theft lawyer who looked like a big fish in a small pond.  It just didn’t seem to add up for me.  I also expected Tappan to have a much larger role than the one he was given in this movie.

So yes, I do have some qualms with this movie as far as accuracy goes, but overall I think the movie itself is absolutely remarkable.  It’s quite an eye-opener and parts of it are just so difficult to watch that I don’t know if I could watch it again.  I also feel rather bad for it that it came out around Titanic, Liar Liar and Jurassic Park 2.  But I would like to thank Spielberg for saving us from an 8 1/2 hour speech that would have been delivered by Anthony Hopkins.  It was already long enough in the movie that I applaud everyone in that Supreme Courtroom at the actual event who sat through JQA’s actual presentation.  I probably would have jumped out of a window.

Getting Started

I do not claim to be the owner of
any of any photographs used and/or taken from the television series Lucky Star.

I’m finally getting started on my way to analysis how much of a historical source George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” is for the standoff between Edward R. Murrow and Senator McCarthy.

I updated the About page, and will continue to update the blog as time goes on.  Until I really get it rolling, the actually page about Good Night, and Good Luck will be for my eyes only.  Sorry everyone!  Wish me luck in continuing to update and figure the umwblogs thing out!  I finally found pictures and text color!! :-)

Historic Flag and Tarleton

I noticed that at one point, a patriotically painted drum in the Continental Army had a field of blue with 12 stars in a circle and 1 star in the center, so I looked up a flag timeline to see if or when a flag like that would have been used, since there were so many during the war. I went to http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagpics…. which was quite informative. That type of flag was first used in 1777 by the 3rd MD Regiment, and was used in the Battle of the Cowpens January 1781. I didn’t see this flag anywhere in the movie but on a drum, or any indication of individual regiments, but this seems another attempt at a historically accurate detail without confusing the public.

For an account of the Battle of Cowpens, see http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/…

The actual battle account begins about halfway down the page, and at the end is “Tarleton, surprisingly enough, was not blamed by Cornwallis for the loss at Cowpens. He was captured with Cornwallis at Yorktown some nine months later. Upon returning to England, he was viewed as a gallant soldier and retired from the British Army as a full General.”

As Dr McClurken said, Tarleton survived, went back to England, and lived well. He obviously did not turn into the sort of “I’ll have a bad reputation because of my atrocities so I can’t go back” person he expressed concern about to Cornwallis in the film, asking for land in Ohio.

Historic Flag and Tarleton

I noticed that at one point, a patriotically painted drum in the Continental Army had a field of blue with 12 stars in a circle and 1 star in the center, so I looked up a flag timeline to see if or when a flag like that would have been used, since there were so many during the war. I went to http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagpics…. which was quite informative. That type of flag was first used in 1777 by the 3rd MD Regiment, and was used in the Battle of the Cowpens January 1781. I didn’t see this flag anywhere in the movie but on a drum, or any indication of individual regiments, but this seems another attempt at a historically accurate detail without confusing the public.

For an account of the Battle of Cowpens, see http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/…

The actual battle account begins about halfway down the page, and at the end is “Tarleton, surprisingly enough, was not blamed by Cornwallis for the loss at Cowpens. He was captured with Cornwallis at Yorktown some nine months later. Upon returning to England, he was viewed as a gallant soldier and retired from the British Army as a full General.”

As Dr McClurken said, Tarleton survived, went back to England, and lived well. He obviously did not turn into the sort of “I’ll have a bad reputation because of my atrocities so I can’t go back” person he expressed concern about to Cornwallis in the film, asking for land in Ohio.

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