U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

If you liked it, what else could you want?

In response to the other blogs and people who detest this movie’s historical inaccuracy, I don’t care terribly much about it. For one, I don’t even think it’s that great of a film, even for all its fabrications. The film does the same job other Westerns do of perpetuating the myth of the old west as, well, we already discussed it to be. It had a lot of stereotypes (don’t all westerns/most movies of the era?) and a good, believable setting. The only difference is that it implied that this was truth. If people like the popular image of the Old West, who among them really cares (excepting we historians) to find out it if this likeable legendary man is fact or fiction, and risk spoiling their image of him? I mean, really, how many of us cared that much about Wyatt Earp and tried to analyze the movies before this week? This character so marginalized in history that few people know the realities of his life?

After all, as Dr. M. told us, when John Ford was confronted about the film’s historical inaccuracies, he asked something akin to, “Well, did you like it?” [man said it was his favorite] What else could you want?”

The difference between this film and Pocahontas is that this does not mislead people of all ages, all around the country, about some very significant events in our nation’s history and the relations that had such a strong influence on the actions of the earliest settlers. But that’s a whole other story, 8 weeks old. I won’t dwell on it.

I was asked to spell out the sounds (accompanied by gestures) that I used to help articulate a point I made in class discussion…. Clementine’s role was just to be someone to make Doc be like “eehhh,” and for Chihuahua to be all “rrrrgh!” about….

Also, I have a question. So, there’s a town in the middle of the desert. Dr. M. talked about how people were dirty and didn’t bathe often, and that makes a lot of sense especially in the desert, without much water for bathing. But there’s enough water for a town, nonetheless (although perhaps not as much as the alcohol there). Were there a lot of wells? An underground reservoir that a silver strike chanced to be near? And the very night the Earps arrive in town chances to be one with a rainstorm.

Similarly, did anyone notice how there were always clouds in the sky? Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t there very few clouds in the desert? The clouds depicted were obviously immobile, by the way. What’s wrong with having no clouds? Was that too much to ask, or were the filmmakers covering something up?

Whitney

She might’ve been YOUR darling Clementine, but she wasn’t MINE…

I hated this movie. I am going to try and be objective in this blog-post about it, but really, John Ford tanked hardcore with My Darling Clementine. It wasn’t even the love story being 90 percent of the film’s plot. It wasn’t the blatant racism, although that was on the level of Gone With The Wind in its shock value. No, it was the fact that Ford, one of the more esteemed directors in the western genre, completely disregarded the facts behind the Gunfight at the OK Corral and instead decided to turn it into a sappy love story between a falsified Wyatt Earp and that Clementine chick.

Now, it must be said, I was raised on High Noon and Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy. I have an idea of what westerns “are supposed to be,” and was very disappointed when Clementine didn’t fit that mold.

My disdain for this flick could have come from the fact that the love story seemed like a b-story pushed to the forefront. It could have been that the gunfight sequences made up, from what I could gather, about 10-15 total minutes of the movie, despite (at least according to Netflix), the movie being about the Gunfight at the OK Corral! But really, I think it was the grand trifecta of a needless love story, blatant ignorance of the facts, and eyebrow-raising comments regarding the minorities in the film. Strike one, John Ford. Strike one.

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

I really have been enjoying researching Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Stanley Kubrick is a film genius and Dr. Strangelove is definitely one of his best films. It has everything: comedy, political satire, war, nuclear weapons, and the great Peter Sellers playing 3 very different roles. Since this is my first blog I’m not going to delve too much into the movie but I would like to point out that is one of my favorite scenes from the film. I think it perfectly captures the massiveness as well as the severity of the situation at hand.

P.S I also love the irony of the quote that I put in the title spot, but more on that in a later post.

Clementine: Beautiful Scenery, Inaccurate Storyline

I found My Darling Clementine to be very entertaining although highly historically inaccurate. The scenery, especially in the beginning in the movie while the brothers are herding cattle in the prairie, is exceptionally breathtaking. It is portrayed exactly how I picture the Old West to look. One of the first inaccuracies that jumped out at me was the fact that we learned in class that James was married and lived with his wife, he wasn’t continuously traveling with his brothers (although I could be wrong); I also wasn’t under the impression that he was only 18 years old. Despite it’s flaws, the movie is a great representation of the great Old West full of opportunities and excitement for new settlers, gun-slinging included.

I would like to add that I would have loved to have watched Tombstone. It was one of my favorite movies growing up; I loved Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. I haven’t seen it in ages, although I imagine it is probably just as inaccurate as My Darling Clementine, but entertaining nonetheless.

The valiant effort that is Glory

After watching Glory, my first impression was that this was one of the first films I have seen for this class that actually takes into account primary source documents – the personal correspondence of Colonel Shaw. Not only does the film cite the letters as its source for the depiction of historical events, but goes further to provide narration from the letters to further the plot. I have to give props to the filmmakers of Glory for a valiant effort, for their depiction of history actually comes from a man who lived it. Although Gone with the Wind will always have a special place in my heart, with its sweeping epic nature and the romantic saga between Rhett and Scarlet, Glory is many steps above the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s romance novel of the Old South, in terms of historical accuracy, for sure. Not only was the history major part of me appeased by the filmmakers’s efforts to make the movie as accurately as possible, but the obsessive movie goer side of me was also quite entertained. The story of the 54th was a moving, one that tugged at my heartstrings till the very end when Matthew Broderick was thrown in a pit with 45 of his men, face down in the sand. I appreciated the performances by all the famous black actors of the 1990s, including Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, as well those by Matthew Broderick and Carey Ellwis, who will always be Westley(Princess Bride) or Robin(Robin Hood: Men in Tights) in my heart. I am glad that Hollywood chose not to make the heroic story of the men of the Massachusetts 54th into a sappy love story with a happy, dramatic ending. In all the respects mentioned in the above rant, Glory was glorious.

Glory

I believe Glory has to fail as a “historical film”.  It is clear the movie sets out to become a historical drama, but it falls short and becomes a drama set in history instead.

The positive aspects of the Glory’s accuracy demonstrate the producer’s interest in making a historical film.  The subject initially seems more dedicated to the story of the 54th, rather than a story about men in the unit.  The film’s portrayal of daily life seems accurate.  Camp life as portrayed in the movie is very similar to that portrayed in our readings.  The film’s action sequences do a fair job of putting viewers in the war experience.  I have read that Glory’s battle of Antietam was the gold standard of its time for portraying a Civil War era battle, and deservingly so.

These things aside, Glory fails as a historical film because it falls into the trap of drama.  It is evident that the producers felt compelled to bend the truth for the sake of a story.  The movie’s own box description calls it “Loosely based on the letters of Col. Robert G. Shaw, this Academy Award-winning war film follows the first group of African-Americans to serve in cobat during the Civil War.”  We know the Massachussetts 54th was not the first African-American group formed, we know it was not the first to see combat.  It was simply the group most enamering to the press.  The film therefore, grabbed hold of a drama witha  certain degree of truth to it.  As I stated in the class wiki, it is also problematic that the film created Thomas’ character.  He was not needed to demonstrate the experience of an educated black man in the unit.  Real historical figures could have done that.  Thomas is simply there to create a character relationship between Shaw and one of his soldiers.  I strongly believe that this demonstrates the film producer’s dedication to entertainment over fact.

Glory

I believe Glory has to fail as a “historical film”.  It is clear the movie sets out to become a historical drama, but it falls short and becomes a drama set in history instead.

The positive aspects of the Glory’s accuracy demonstrate the producer’s interest in making a historical film.  The subject initially seems more dedicated to the story of the 54th, rather than a story about men in the unit.  The film’s portrayal of daily life seems accurate.  Camp life as portrayed in the movie is very similar to that portrayed in our readings.  The film’s action sequences do a fair job of putting viewers in the war experience.  I have read that Glory’s battle of Antietam was the gold standard of its time for portraying a Civil War era battle, and deservingly so.

These things aside, Glory fails as a historical film because it falls into the trap of drama.  It is evident that the producers felt compelled to bend the truth for the sake of a story.  The movie’s own box description calls it “Loosely based on the letters of Col. Robert G. Shaw, this Academy Award-winning war film follows the first group of African-Americans to serve in cobat during the Civil War.”  We know the Massachussetts 54th was not the first African-American group formed, we know it was not the first to see combat.  It was simply the group most enamering to the press.  The film therefore, grabbed hold of a drama witha  certain degree of truth to it.  As I stated in the class wiki, it is also problematic that the film created Thomas’ character.  He was not needed to demonstrate the experience of an educated black man in the unit.  Real historical figures could have done that.  Thomas is simply there to create a character relationship between Shaw and one of his soldiers.  I strongly believe that this demonstrates the film producer’s dedication to entertainment over fact.

Glory

This week for class we watched “Glory.” It is about the 54th Massachusettes Regiment in the Civil War. They were an all black regiment. I thought the movie was good, but it is not something I would sit down and watch for fun one afternoon. For a movie based on actual letters there are several things they got wrong. Cary Elwes’ character is made up and all of the black characters are stereotypical. Robert Gould Shaw had to be persuaded to take the job as the captain and he was the one to tell the soldiers they should refuse pay until they were paid an equal amount. The battles and uniforms appeared acurate and the final assualt on Fort Wagner was right. They did lose almost half of their men including Captain Shaw and he was buried in a common grave with the rest of the men. However they did not volunteer to lead the charge on the fort. My biggest problem with the story is that the characters were wrtiien in such a way that I didn’t connect with them and become invested in their outcome. It was one of those stories where you and sit and watch it til the end to find out what happens but you don’t care because the characters haven’t drawn you in.

Glory

Well I have to say that this movie no longer holds the same meaning for me that it once did.  Back in the seventh grade this movie helped to create my love for the civil war.  I always had an interest ever since I was little because of Gone With the Wind but this moive really helped it grow.  This summer I watched this movie again after what seems like years and it really didnt seem all that great to me.  Now after getting the background information in class I really dont like the movie at all anymore.
Well I will have to say that the movie did do at least some things right.  It shown a whole new light on a topic that many Americans love.  It told the story of an all black regiment who really helped to make a difference.  While somewhat exaggerated it shows many of the discrimination that black soldiers had to face.  One major problem that I found is that the movie suggests that many of the soldiers are escaped slaves when in actuality most were free blacks from the north.  It seems to me that if you are making a film based off of letters from the real Shaw that you would take more reality into account.  The one major problem that I had is in the end of the movie when the 54th volunteers to lead the charge on Ft. Wagner, they never actually did this.  They did not volunteer they were commanded.  While I understand that they were very brave to lead the charge, the movie makes them seem even braver by making it seem like it is their choice to lead the attack.
All in all it is not the movie I remember loving growing up.

Glory

The first time I ever saw Glory was in middle school, and like every other kid in class I was awfully impressed. I was then unaware that the Union employed blacks in their ranks and found the story very compelling. Fast forward to today and ultimately I still feel that this is a compelling and mostly accurate depiction of history.

I found the depiction of the battles to be fairly accurate, as it seemed almost silly at times that the units would literally walk right into canon fire as they were shown to do at Antietam and at Ft. Wagner. As silly as it may look to the contemporary viewer, that was the reality of the Civil War. Also, little things like the “three aimed shots in 60 seconds” were on point- there wasn’t the issue of loaded guns materializing like in Last of the Mohicans. Also the hospital scene was grisly, essentially the Gone with the Wind scene on steroids (though lacking GWTW’s epic crane shot).

There were some issues though. There were no mention of the New York City draft riots. (Gangs of New York, a movie likely rife with historical liberties, does give a depiction of these riots. I am curious as to its veracity, though it at least conveyed the sense of unrest I imagine.) We are expected to believe that the only issues concerning race with the Union army is that a) some people think they can’t fight and b) that they are only good for digging ditches, whereas there were serious concerns among people in the Union of arming former slaves at all. Also, though Frederick Douglass is a character in the movie, where are his sons and brother? How was that not deemed compelling enough for the narrative? Then there is the distortion over the contraband issue. Whereas Gen. Butler is the one who pioneers its use to free slaves, the movie has Col. Montgomery as the creator. He then uses the concept simply to exploit the slaves to add to his collection of plunder, which seems only to serve as a counterpoint to Shaw’s higher moral intentions. This struck me as an unnecessary distortion, as they could have just played up the resistance of the white soldiers more. Lastly, I wonder why there were no depictions of the slave revenge as mentioned in the Hatton letter. A scene of slave redemption, whipping an old slave master, would have been powerful.

Yet, I believe that the movie did well to not over-hype the importance of the 54th beyond their symbolic importance. It would have been easy for filmmakers to not print the final text of the movie which gave the reality of the situation, that the regiment was decimated and that the assault on Ft. Wagner, and leave the viewer to think that maybe the remnants of the regiment stormed through the fort to achieve victory. But instead the movie portrays the 54th as certainly not the first regiment of black soldiers, or the last, or even the most effective. Glory simply portrayed the 54th as an extremely influential regiment. This is where the reporter from Harper’s plays into the story. Shaw instructs him to tell the country of what they did at Wagner. The 54th became a rallying point for support of black soldiers. They were, as mentioned in lecture, a “glorious failure.” The final shot of the statue of the 54th hammered home the point to me that these men were essentially martyrs to the abolitionist cause.

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