U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Archive for September, 2008

The Patriot

First of all I have to return to David’s comment in class – Yes! Every time I watch this movie I cry when Susan finally talks and runs after Mel saying “Papa! Don’t go, I’ll say anything…” Even thinking about it I get a lump in my throat. Very moving scene, and even if you hate the movie you have to admit they got that scene dead on, beautiful heart wrenching family struggle.

In regards to it’s historical accuracy. I like that in this film there are characters based on historical figures, but not named for them. Cornwalis being the one major exception. This method of telling the history, but also fictionalizing characters to avoid the conflict associated with direct representation is a good call. I agree with the Mel Gibson quote explaining how boring the straight up history would be. The villains are worse, the Patriots are purer, and the story becomes that much more interesting and compelling because of this. The issue of slavery is by far the worst thing that was casually overlooked. Let’s just think about this – South Carolina – slave plantations everywhere… and yet we only encounter one slave who is abused at all in the entire movie – and he is accepted readily and even encouraged to “make his mark” to join the colonial militia. Hmmm… And Mel’s picture perfect country home where he and his free black friends work together to plow and harvest… yeah right. The beach-side maroon community really is a joke. First, the location is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Second, it’s a little paradise get away that openly welcomes white escapees – the very people that in reality the slaves/blacks were running away from in the first place. It’s laughable.

I can see why the British would be outraged by this movie. It does not portray a single good quality of the Brits, and while it tries to congratulate Cornwalis in some ways by claiming he is a military mastermind, it paints a different picture overall. This British hero is a bumbling lush who is fooled countless times by the continental militia. But, as I said earlier, it makes for a better film. Clear cut good verses evil sells. From an American perspective, we want to see the evil Brits fall to the witty and skillful Americans.

Yet again, the entertainment factor is more important than historical accuracy. This film was highly entertaining, and made a good quality effort to include some historical relevance as well.

The Patriot

Overall I think this movie is one of the more accruate that we have watched thus far.  I was very impressed to learn about what the film makers did to insure that they were as close to period as possible.  Have have watched this movie many times but when I watched it this past week it I looked at it differently.  I found myself trying to find flaws in it but finding very little for a Hollywood production.
I was very surprised at the comments that Dr. M told us that Mel Gibson made about the movie.  I would have thought that an actor would be happy with a movie he made. So I was surprised to find that he was against several of the things in the movie.  I never would have thought an actor would be so passionate to be against things being Hollywoodified.

Questioning Professor McClurken: Movies

I have a question for Professor McClurken. What do you want from historical movies made in Hollywood?

You said that you wished that Disney’s Pocahontas didn’t have characters with names of real people from the time period so that people, especially children,  would not get the wrong impression on historical events and accept Disney’s version as truth.

Yet, for the Patriot, you didn’t like that the movie had a false story against the backdrop of the American Revolution with so much historically accurate items like the uniforms of the British soldiers.

Both movies are relatively short, albeit Jackie thought the Patriot was a bit too long. The makers aimed for them to be entertaining to a broad audience. Hollywood can only do so much. Is there a historical movie from Hollywood, that’s aimed for the broader audience, and is accurate to your desire that you like?

The Patriot saddens me

The movie, The Patriot, is a very entertaining movie in many ways. However, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I can never prepare myself for Gabriel’s death because it really could have been avoided. Why didn’t he just run away after shooting Tavington? I know the decision to have Gabriel wait around was to make the movie more dramatic and intriguing but it’s still very upsetting. I made it a point to blog about this because as I said earlier it’s something that has always bothered me. The Benjamin and Charlotte having a baby story was kind of just thrown in there but aside from that I still enjoy the movie!

Reaction to The Patriot

I want to start by saying that The Patriot is definitely the most accurate of the films we have watched so far. However, this does not mean I find it to be the best. Last of the Mohicans was a much better film in my opinion, with stronger characters and a far more believable love story. My biased enthusiasm for Daniel Day-Lewis as an actor may help with this, but Patriot did not strike me as a quality film whatsoever.

The first issue is found in the love story and poorly placed lightening of the mood. The jokes and cutesy mood never seemed to fit in with the rest of the story, especially when taken in context with the burning of the church and Mel Gibson’s brutal slaying of twelve or so British soldiers. I realize that Roland Emmerich was likely trying to keep this from being a Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List-esque exercise in soul-draining atmospherics, but “I’m here till Thursday, try the veal!” humor didn’t really have a place either.

Secondly, the villainy of the British seemed to be caricatured more than anything else. Lord Cornwallis seemed to have an adequate amount of dignity and honor in his position, however Colonel Tavington’s blind hatred for all things American was not only unbelievable, but insulting to the historical accounts of how the British soldiers would have behaved.

Finally, and perhaps most grumble-inducing, was Emmerich’s need to turn The Patriot into another Braveheart. There are ways around this. Don’t make the movie two and a half hours long when the 110-minute mark would have sufficed. Don’t cast Mel Gibson in a role virtually identical to that of the aforementioned Best Picture winner, but instead either evolve or restructure the character into something that isn’t a blatant color-by-numbers redux. Finally, don’t center a historical film around a love story. Just as Braveheart was dragged down by the needless William-and-Murron sidestory, The Patriot is dragged down by the love story between Gabriel and Anne. Maybe someone can send a memo to Michael Bay after Pearl Harbor on this matter as well.

I realize these may be relatively small issues. However, they really affected my enjoyment of the movie and thus kept me from truly being able to fully appreciate an otherwise solidly accurate historical slice of moviemaking.

Last of the Mohicans

Really?  Are we really supposed to believe Daniel Day Lewis to be a Native American?  A white person to be a mocha-skinned Mohican?  So much about this film distracted me from its intended purpose (which is to give, based on the adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper, the most profound insight possible into the Native American-British alliance during the Seven-Years War).  There was poor acting, lack of continuity, some historical inaccuracies, and on top of that…it was flat out boring.

In class, Dr. McClurken gave a riveting blurb on his thoughts about the film.  One of his main points was how this movie captured the dualism that Cooper implemented in his novels, specifically the perception of the Indians (those allied with both the French and the English) as noble savages vs. evil savages.  However, I what I liked the most about his speech was his argument that Last of the Mohicans is more of a primary source for the time period (1990’s) rather than a secondary source for the 1700’s and the book.  What I felt he was basically saying was that the movie (and I am of course referring to Fenimore’s books as well) took a historical event, developed fictional characters, and created a storyline out of it.  The difference between the book and the movie, McClurken says, is that the film is a romance novel (for the 90’s) that was meant to deviate from the book.  I agree with him because I feel that his points correlate with my main point in my last post (about Pocahontas) that the film industry’s primary purpose is to entertain, and then educate (if necessary).  Unfortunately, Last of the Mohicans struggled to do both.

N.B.  McClurken made a very clever joke about the movie during his speech.  When he said the movie was a primary source for the 90’s instead of a secondary source for the book, he followed that that was like having George Washington throw out the first pitch of a Washington Senators baseball game in the 1800’s:  there was a GW, there was baseball, there was a Wash. Senators, and there was an 1800’s.  Hilarious.

Last of the Mohicans Music

Well, I’m about a week too late, but here’s some of the music from Last of the Mohicans for those interested. One of the few good things about the movie…

Main Title

Garden Scene

The Kiss

Massacre

Promontory

Top of the World

Last of the Mohicans Music

Well, I’m about a week too late, but here’s some of the music from Last of the Mohicans for those interested. One of the few good things about the movie…

Main TitleMain Title

Garden SceneGarden Scene

The KissThe Kiss

MassacreMassacre

PromontoryPromontory

Top of the WorldTop of the World

Last of the Mohicans

I have to preface by saying that I literally have to battle my boyfriend to not watch this when a movie night occurs and we have no good new movie ideas. He is a huge fan, and therefore I have been forced to at least try to enjoy it.

I do feel that it fulfills what a historical film should be like (in my humble opinion). I like that it uses mainly fictional characters to portray history, because it does not blatantly disregard historical events (as we saw in the entire movie of Pocahontas). It captures some subtleties of Native American culture that many other directors and therefore films bother to incorporate.

McClurken’s point about details being correct but not adding up to the larger picture is pretty accurate. Yes there are things in the real history that weren’t really captured correctly.

I also felt that the good vs evil was at least somewhat complex, though it is important to note that the only good indians were the civilized white one and his company.

I was disturbed to know that the story itself (beginning in the novel) was altered so extremely. I don’t understand why that would be so dramatic. The romance does overwhelm the film, which is a draw for me personally. This could account for the purpose of this substantial theme – to win over female audience members who aren’t attracted to the heavy violence also involved in the film. Works for me.

Overall, this was a huge improvement from Pocahontas, and I am skeptical that the Patriot will be any better historically speaking… but we will see.

Last of the Mohicans

I have to admit, I have a lot less to say about Last of the Mohicans than Pocahontas or even the class in general. I found the movie to be boring and probably will never watch it again. That being said, there were some good points brought up that can be discussed.

First off, Cora in the movie resembled nothing like a half-African woman. Lauren mentions over here that the actress who plays Cora (Madeline Stowe) is actually half-Costa Rican. If that had been brought up in class, I don’t think anyone would have believed it, because she looks pretty darn Caucasian to me in this movie. Sadly, I think that was the point. I did a google search for her, and there are certainly pictures where she looks more ethnic, but there are also pictures where she looks totally run of the mill white. I don’t think it was intentional on Mann’s part to address a race issue, here.

For my part, I was pretty upset by the somewhat one-sided portrayal of Magua. I still maintain that if their roles had been reversed, Magua would have been the bad guy no matter what. How many movies do we have about a man’s quest for vengeance after the death of his wife/child/village, and we love rooting for those white guys? I think it was a ridiculous subconcious bias on the part of Mann, perhaps lifted directly from the book, or more likely, the 1920 movie.

(On that point, but slightly off – the comment about Magua having a slight change of heart about Alice? This is why women stay with bad men. We are so forgiving of men as a culture! First he wanted to burn her alive, and now with one facial expression and a held out hand, girls can see him as a guy with a heart. Come on, ladies. You can’t criticize Pocahontas for giving girls poor ideas about being a strong woman and then throw it all away when it becomes a real person on the screen. I don’t even want to get on the subject of Alice saving herself from Magua by following a man she barely knows. True romance, girls.)

Back on to the movie itself, we continue our trend of jokingly bad “love” stories. Again, I suppose romance was more simplistic back then, especially when people might be scalped by savages any at minute. However, a few glances between people and someone saving your life doesn’t necessarily mean you should fall all over yourself for a guy. We as women want to be saved by a tall dark and handsome adventurer (while being somewhat self sufficient) but what is so wrong with having a decent conversation while you’re at it? It doesn’t make for bad movies (Bridget Jones Diary, The Notebook), I think it is just a poor move on the part of the director. If he’s not worried about making it plausible or realistic, why bother including it at all?

Unfortunately, this is a criticism that can also be applied to one of my favorite historical movies – Cold Mountain. I can’t lie, I think it’s a spectacular, if appallingly long, epic movie – and I even ragingly dislike American history, especially the Civil War-era. There is so little basis for this epic love between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law (talk about funky accents, hahaha) when he leaves to go to war. However, I think that their time apart is what really makes you love them as characters. While they each become more of a symbol to the other during his ‘odyssey’, I think that they gradually grow into people who are become more and more suited to being together. Of course, this doesn’t happen, but it still gets me every time. Even the battle scenes in that movie are more gripping and heartwrenching than Last of the Mohicans. We don’t get character development, because there aren’t really characters behind the faces in Mohicans. They are simply pretty people pretending to fight a war.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with some really beautiful music from the Mohicans soundtrack. I was looking for the Cora/Hawkeye kiss scene, but I couldn’t watch all of the clips of boring.


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