What battle did Stonewall Jackson fight?
Status: April 20, 2012
Gods and Generals
Daniel McCarthy, February 28, 2003, a graduate of Classics from Washington University in St. Louis.
If you plan to Gods and Generals look, they will do it soon. As an almost four-hour historical epic that has so far received moderate to bad reviews, it will not stay in cinemas for long. It will have a second life on TV and a third on DVD, but there is no substitute for watching it on the big screen. Because it is and will remain an epic: a film with the name Gods and Generals deserves to be featured on a large medium.
It's the "predecessor" too Gettysburg from 1993 and just like this earlier film, written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, financially supported by Ted Turner, who in Gods and Generals has a guest appearance (an opportunity for half of the audience to poke the other half and whisper, "Look, this is Ted Turner"). This film picks up events from the beginning of the war, through the battles of Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, all of which were won by the Confederation, largely thanks to the film's protagonist, General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang). The story is as much his own as that of the war itself. And this story is largely told from a southern point of view - one of the reasons why critics despise it so much.
It should not be misunderstood: Gods and Generals leans more or less clearly towards the Christian faith, towards the south and towards liberalism. Because of his unshakable belief in God, Jackson never warps a mine in the midst of enemy fire; he feels as safe on the battlefield as he is in his bed. He prays as fervently as he fights. And what he fights for is his home, his family and their freedom. The same motivation drives Jackson's comrades, from General Robert E. Lee (brilliantly portrayed by Robert Duvall) to the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson initially teaches. You are not fighting for an abstract structure, but rather for a real facility; their homeland and their principles are inextricably linked.
All of this does not mean, however, that Maxwell made a one-sided film, even if he emphasizes one side. At a time when any display of southern symbols or any representation of the cause of the South is equated with racism - or, according to neoconservative beliefs, with treason - this film must emphasize one side over the other to strike a balance. The Union cause is now familiar to moviegoers; the southern cause is not. Critics call the Pro-Union address by Lt. Gen Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) a placeholder. That is not true. When Chamberlain asks how anyone can fight for freedom while tolerating slavery, he raises a point that does more harm to the South than any critic can approve of because they fail to understand the South's specific understanding of freedom.
Ideological views are only part of the reason why Gods and Generals is judged critically. Equally important is that this film requires an adult's attention. It's only nearly four hours long, but most of the figures also wear uniforms and - among the generals - have similar beards. The dialogues are very composed, sometimes stiff, but for good reasons. As Stephen Sailer writes in a film description on UPI, "This is how the educated class spoke in the 1860s. They read more than we do today, but had less reading material. They had almost all of the classics. Lincoln, for example, went into King James' Bible and in Shakespeare. They were enthusiastic about high rhetoric and loved speeches. " The figures in Gods and Generals recite stories and Bible verses from memory and often make references to Roman history. The effect is that Gods and Generals what a nineteenth-century non-fiction film feels like if there had been such a film back then.
Most films - even the supposedly serious ones - want to be an escape from reality. Gods and Generals I do not want that. Therefore it makes little sense to judge this film by the same standards as Daredevil or old school or whatever is going on in the local multiplex palace. Gods and Generals is an entertainment film, but it is entertaining differently from other films. On the one hand, it is not a personal, psychologically subjectivistic film that stimulates the viewer to identify with the characters and their feelings. Instead, the film tries to create a sense of the war itself, both in the brutal battle scenes and in the god-like aura that surrounds some of the war's commanders, notably Thomas Jackson. Wherever attempts are made to humanize the characters - such as where Jackson lets a little girl friend ride on his shoulders - the film tends to be ridiculous. The task of showing a man like Jackson as both a human being and a legend is indeed very demanding; the movie is best where it focuses on the legend.
The film is called Gods and Generalsbecause that's the title of Jeff Shaara's book the film is based on. But there is only one general here who has god-like status and that is Stonewall Jackson. It is probably the first time that he has been portrayed in a film. It was time. One can assume that, outside of the Civil War supporters and incorrigible Southern patriots, hardly any American knows who and how important Jackson was. Whatever the historical truth, the legend of Stonewall Jackson as its leader is so powerful that he could almost have saved the south with his own hands. He is surrounded by such a mysticism that, against the classical background, I can only compare with that of Alexander the Great. These two men couldn't be more different, especially in their personal lives, but both linked their battlefield careers to God's blessing, and both leave the question of how the war would end if they hadn't died so early. Even Napoleon and Caesar, on the other hand, appear significantly less blessed - perhaps because they lived long enough to reveal the limits of their abilities.
Gods and Generals judge the legend of Stonewall Jackson without overestimating it. In the film he is also human and makes mistakes. Stephen Lang's portrayal of Jackson is incomparable; he shows us a man so solid in his devotion to God that everything else is only an accessory. For this reason alone, Jackson can stand upright in the hail of fire - even after being hit by a ricochet - and remain stoically calm in the face of the battlefield atrocities. Lang's portrayal conveys the relationship between piety and martial brilliance that the legendary Jackson exemplified. Gods and Generals to see it alone is worth seeing Lang as Stonewall Jackson, and seeing Jackson do justice on the canvas.
But there are other things in Gods and Generals to address. The battle scenes are realistic and harrowing, just as good as those in Gettysburg. Without the use of buckets of blood there Gods and Generals a believable and moving impression of a battle. He also shows how pathetic and senseless war can be when its commanders are as incompetent as Union General Burnside (Alex Hyde-White). In the Battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside sends wave after wave of his Union troops into the field against well-entrenched Confederates, with appalling losses. Union soldiers even have to use the bodies of dead comrades as protection from the bullets. For a short time, the Yankees gain control of Fredericksburg, which leads to an orgy of looting. By the time the Confederates retook the city, it was too late for some of the townspeople who had lost everything. Meanwhile, at morning roll call, US troops will read a message from President Lincoln, who extols them as the bravest soldiers in history. "Buster" Kilrain, a simple Irish soldier in the Union Army, has nothing but contempt for such worthless nonsense. What's the use of being brave if you're just being used as cannon fodder?
A particularly important scene, overlooked by most critics, including those who write for the downright conservative media, is shown at the beginning of the film as Thomas Jackson prepares to leave his chair at the Virginia Military Institute and join his previous cadets in to lead the battle. The father of one of the cadets does not support the secession and will go to Pennsylvania. He meets with Jackson and his son. Jackson offers that the boy go with his father if he so wishes. But if he decides to fight Jackson, he will belong to the South and will not be able to leave him until the end of the war. And this is the choice the cadet makes: to stay with Jackson instead of following his father to Pennsylvania.
The scene is important because it highlights that these men had to make choices. They did not blindly choose their allegiances. Some of the supposed conservatives who write about Gods and Generals would like to leave this truth out; if they show any sympathy for the south, it is for the soldiers as misguided patriots, men who had committed a mistake and no sin or crime (such as treason). But this attitude is humiliating to those who fought for the south. Yes, they were patriots, and for them their homeland was their state, not the Union. But they were thinking patriots who knew exactly what they were doing and why. For them, the south was not simply a piece of land on which friends and relatives happened to also live; it also stood for a way of life and a principle of belief, all inextricably linked. The scene at Harper's Ferry shows this. Even if it means separating from the father, the cadet decided to join the South, since, in his reasonable opinion, the South was right. Ignoring the element of the decision and reducing the war to a pure tribal affiliation cannot do justice to the film - and the characters portrayed - any more than those who package it in politically correct phrases.
Nothing arouses politically correct critics like the role of colored people in this film. Two important colored figures are depicted, and both have tendencies towards the south. In fact, both are loyal to the South, regardless of their hatred of slavery. One of these characters is Martha (the lovely Donzaleigh Abernathy), a maid who stays behind in Fredericksburg while her master family flees to protect the house from occupation by Union forces. She even tells the family that it is their house too. The other character is Stonewall Jackson's liberated Negro chef Jim Lewis. His family, including his cousins, are half free and half slaves, as he told Jackson one night when they were praying together on a break from marching. Jim prays to God to enlighten his compatriots and put an end to slavery. Jackson agrees and tells Jim that some generals want to see people of color volunteer in the army for their freedom.
Two colored figures, both loyal to the south. That is more than Roger Eberts of the "world" can bear. As a summit, the only figure with expressly racist approaches is a northerners, Joshoa Chamberlain's brother Tom (C. Thomas Howell), who calls black people and is of the opinion that the emancipation proclamation could lead to rebellion in the ranks of the Union as well lead and would spur the south even more. Colonel Chamberlain reprimands his brother for these views, and this serves as the occasion for Chamberlain's speech on the cause of the north ("speech" is the correct word here too; the dialogue is in places ready for printing and also didactic). A lot goes hand in hand here; sometimes the film brings this underlying thing right before one's eyes, reports more than it shows. This is a weakness, but a minor one, and perhaps an inevitable one. But there are also a few perspectives - people of color loyal to the South, racist Northerners, and freedom-loving Confederates - that oppose today's prevailing stereotypical views. Maxwell had to be careful not to be too clear, because he tells many of the audience something that they do not want to hear.
It took Maxwell a lot of courage to make this film and shape it as it is. His supporters like Ted Turner also needed this courage. There is another chapter in the Civil War trilurgy of Maxwell and Shaara (Gods and Generals, Gettysburg, and the planned Last full measure). Whether the last film will be shot and shown in the cinemas depends on how successful it is Gods and Generals will have. It is undoubtedly a "difficult" film - difficult for some because it shows a fair picture of the South and difficult for others because it is over three hours long and very profound - and it has its weaknesses. But the film is worth the audience's support; There is only weakness where it is too ambitious. And where he's good, like Stephen Lang's portrayal of Jackson, in the ingenious portrayal of the Southern Cause, and in portraying some of the most realistic battle scenes of all time, there he's tremendously good. So take a look at him. And check it out soon.
Glory, glory, hallelujah: Don't just whistle "Dixie"
Stephen Holden, 02/21/2003
Gods and Generals is a shabby, three and a half hour thick chunk of American Civil War history and occupies the flat but self-righteous genre called "American History Representation". Treating more than two years of the civil war from early 1861 to 1863, the film suffers from heavy, grandiose seriousness.
That's history with a capital "G". Humor or spontaneous feelings should not appear with all this profundity. Panoramic, elaborately reconstructed battle scenes alternate with lengthy reproductions of legendary historical figures with preaching language. Speeches calling for abbreviations are spread out to full bloom. The only villains of the film, which illuminates the military actions of both sides as infinitely heroic deeds, are three Confederate deserters.
Noblesse is the official feeling that is washed through Gods and Generals like cleansing bleach. When wounded soldiers die, they disappear into nothing like small fluff of dust, their eyes fixed expectantly towards the sky. The survivors mourn in discreetly hidden sobs, guarded in the certainty that the loved ones who have left are in the hands of the angels. War can be hell (and the film has to be credited with the fact that its battle scenes show this to some extent), but Gods and Generals makes going to war into going to church.
The film is the prelude to Gettysburg, an even longer film from 1993, like this one produced by Ted Turner, who has a small guest appearance in both. Here he sits down between Confederate soldiers and witnesses a put-on singsong by "Bonnie Blue Flag".
Both films were written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, based on a Civil War book series by Michael Shaara, whose 1974 novel "The Killer Angels" became the film Gettysburg. Since Shaara's death in 1988, his John Jeff continued the series, whose Gods and Generals appeared in 1996.
While both films share the same epic ambitions and majestic visual impressions, something has gone terribly wrong in the decade in between. Gods and Generals pulls the tendencies of the older film into annoying preaching behavior to the ludicrous extreme. At the same time, he has lost his predecessor's understanding of history. Events are strung together in a confusing way, often with too many confusing details. (For no apparent reason other than serving the following, the film lists the names of the brigades as they go into battle.) And just when the feeling of a narrative arises, the film has the quirk of captivating existing characters and then just let it disappear. (Perhaps we will learn more about them in the miniseries that will inevitably follow.)
The film's biggest problem is its inappropriately timeframe. While Gettysburg was limited to one battle that lasted three and a half days, Gods and Generals comprised three major Civil War conflicts, all in Virginia: the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Fredericksburg (in which successive waves of Union troops repulsed by entrenched Confederates) and the Battle of Chancellorsville.
It was in Chancellorsville that the victorious Confederate General Stonewall Jackson (Stephen Lang) was accidentally wounded by his own troops and died of pneumonia eight days later. Typical of the lack of directorial discretion is the twenty long minute farewell at the totem bed.
Robert Duvall's soft-voiced portrait of Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee deserves special reference, but Mr. Lang's fiery-eyed Jackson dominates the film. Even if Gods and Generals worships Jackson's bearded demeanor, he comes out as a simple-minded and fanatical-religious man who goes on and on about "God's will". The low point of the film is a grotesquely sentimental episode in which Jackson, who has just learned of the feverish death of a little girl, collapses and cries in front of his soldiers. An outbreak intended to humanize the figure, but which arrives as an exaggerated gesture of lordly self-pity.
The biblical echoes of Jackson's and Lee's speeches are accompanied by softened music according to American taste (by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman), which plays almost the entire film. The boring mixture of church music and quasi-symphonic mombast through massive choir use creates a sinking feeling of being trapped in an endless mourning event.
The religiosity of the rhetoric may be authentic, but its permanence makes the Confederate cause seem like a holy war. At the same time, the film does not hide the macho attitude with which Lee and Jackson sided with the Confederate side. Gods and Generals follows the example of Gone with the Wind in the way of glossing over the South's dealings with colored people. His one-sided view shows freed and soon-to-be-freed slaves, attached to their masters and loyally serving the Confederate army.
After about an hour of film, Gods and Generals finally tries to talk to Lt.Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), the victorious Union leader and hero of the film Gettysburg, to restore moral balance. As a high school professor from Maine who is giving up his promising academic career for service in the Army, Chamberlain delivers the sharpest headwind to slavery with his address that abolition is a reason to die. But Mr. Daniels, who has had a double chin since Gettysburg, has lost his luster. In addition to his Confederate opponents, he comes across as an unimportant, ineffective lightweight.
Only as long as there is no talk in Gods and Generals does the film grow in size. These phases are mainly technical and instructive and will inspire civil war fans. The film, which opens nationwide today, was shot in beautiful locations in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, and in some scenes you can literally feel the freezing cold in the air. The crowded, precisely choreographed battle scenes, in which 7,500 civil war reenactors took part, put the viewer directly on the front lines of an argument whose rules of battle of the middle 19th century lead that antiquated behavior into a barbaric enterprise. At the time when soldiers stood face to face, it should be remembered that war can still be a victorious, heroic stain of blood.
Gods and Generals is rated PG-13 due to its extensive, realistic battle scenes (increased attention to parents)
Answer of December 31, 2004
Story for history fans
Rarely have I seen a film where I disagree so clearly with the reviewer. History is my hobby and the American Civil War is my focus. Maybe that's why I don't have the problems the author has with the progress of the film. The portrayal of Jackson, quite contrary to the distortion that the reviewer wants to recognize in the representation, is almost flawless according to today's historical research, regarding his strange and extraordinary figure. I strongly assume that the author did not get the title and has no in-depth knowledge of the civil war. I liked the film a lot.
Answer dated 10/14/2010, Staunton, VA
While Gods and Generals does indeed show a somewhat unbalanced view of the Civil War, with an evident Confederate preponderance, I consider this to be an attempt to address the general attention of the day to issues such as slavery, state rights, etc. Clearly, "Confederate" or "Southerners" does not automatically mean "cruel slave owner" or "ignorant, hateful racist", which is what the "popular wisdom" we often invoke widely pretends. Unfortunately, the film dealt with it moderately. Instead of treating different points of view in a balanced way, it became more of a pro-Confederate whitewash with Chamberlain in it to smooth the edges a bit.
Contrary to many other people, I was also dissatisfied with the fight scenes. I found it too "clean", perhaps due to the intended PG13 approval. These scenes look more like paintings of battles rather than depictions of the incredible slaughter that took place during wartime. The viewer hardly sees any more like men who fall into hollows and stir up loads of dust and smoke. There is almost no blood and few people suffer for long periods of time. The civil war, like any war, was not a bloodless, painless conflict, and in my opinion every film that calls itself "history" should reflect that. The hand-to-hand fight also comes across as amateurish - which was also to be expected if Holly followers were hired - and suffered from a considerable "rubber sword syndrome".
The characters' tendency to slide into monologues was a bit disturbing and (in my opinion) incorrect, but I absolutely didn't find it as painful as the reviewer did. Likewise, I find the attention paid to Jackson's death so extraordinarily boring. Perhaps this is because, unlike the reviewer, I don't see Jackson portrayed as a "religious fanatic" and "simpleton". I have experienced many fanatisms - religious and otherwise - and can confidently state that this is not the case here. Surrender, yes. For the "fold-in" note, I would like to be shown appropriate scene excerpts as examples. Consider your position and responsibility to give orders. Personally, I have the feeling that Stephen Lang carried the film mostly alone with his strong portrait of Jackson.
The reviewer seems to be as annoyed with the overall length of the film as with everything else. I consider this a placebo point. The film is actually half an hour shorter than Gettysburg, and one should not criticize films if one's ability to concentrate does not reach the typical 120-minute length. As the reviewer himself says, Gods and Generals covers a long period of time, and even Antietam fell victim to the editing table. I hope that one day the Director's Cut will appear and that it will balance out the unequal weighting of the Union and Confederate sides.
Overall, it's not a bad movie, but it's not necessarily great either. It fails to try to raise acceptance of the role of the South in the civil war, which is unfortunate. The battles were thrown together and sometimes badly choreographed and should have used actors rather than "enthusiasts". Enthusiasm is not necessarily an equivalent substitute for skill. Here, too, Stephen Lang wears the film. And yes, it's long, but that shouldn't really matter, considering the period covered.
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