History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Gettysburg" film (1993) showed tragic panorama

Writing about Stone Mountain recently got me thinking about the movie "Gettysburg." Movies get my attention often in online writing, so it's not surprising that the 1993 depiction of that battle should re-surface in my thoughts.
So, it has been 20 years. Given Hollywood's fondness for conflict and loud explosions, I'm surprised a "re-imagining" hasn't been issued. Gettysburg was pure conflict. How very dramatic and how very, very sad.
The Revolutionary War was supposed to have created something new and blessed. It was supposed to plant the seeds for this wondrous new land. How sad our Founders with all their genius couldn't lay a framework preventing the kind of conflict we saw in the Civil War.
The death and devastation were practically indescribable. The movie "Gettysburg" showed waves of human beings hurtling against each other. You might be tempted to think "this could not have happened."
War today seems to involve the pin-prick type of confrontation. It's certainly tragic but not on the same scale as in a previous era of war. How on earth could so many young men allow their bodies to be deployed this way?
Civil War "buffs" today go to great lengths trying to "get in the heads" of those 19th Century young men. Why would those young men do it? I can't imagine that a mere political philosophy would be worth one's life. Wars through time were fought on a mass scale that I just can't understand today. Life seemed cheap.
People of the Union had problems with a system that included slavery. But I don't think their zeal sprang from any enlightened or non-racist frame of mind. Slavery seemed uncivilized. Unseemly. We needed to guard our place in the world. But why couldn't slavery be eased into obsolescence in a more orderly way? Could the South be entrusted to eventually do this? Probably not. And the moral questions springing from slavery probably demanded immediate action. So, we got the pathetic U.S. Civil War. And at its height there was the battle of Gettysburg, where life never seemed more expendable.
Can you imagine living anywhere near that place in its aftermath? A staggering total of 158,000 men went into battle. A total of 43,000 were killed. It defies description. The cannon barrage that preceded Pickett's charge could reportedly be heard in Philadelphia.
Hollywood rolled up its sleeves for a depiction of it all in 1993. Roger Ebert liked it, giving it three stars. He liked it partly because it was focused. It was about the men - yes, it was all men - who developed the planning and tactics for this climactic struggle. There were no side notes about politics, romance or anything else not directly related to the battle. The movie was based on the acclaimed historical novel "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. I read the book and considered it perhaps the best I've ever read.
Ken Burns was reportedly influenced by the book. Burns actually has a cameo in "Gettysburg." He warns General Hancock about how he should lay lower during the artillery barrage. Hancock bravely asserts, in effect, that his life really isn't worth that much. This is one of the many vignettes from the battle that have been preserved in popular lore and history books. Shall we agree there is probably some exaggeration about many of these stories? Would military veterans be prone to some exaggeration or myth-making? Would they tell some CYA stories (cover your you-know-what)?
I own "Gettysburg" on VHS tape and watch parts of it from time to time. Randy Edelman composed the musical score which adds a lot to this movie. The prime actors are Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels and Martin Sheen. People who still feel some Confederate allegiance didn't like Sheen's depiction of Lee. I thought his acting was terrific. The problem in the eyes of some is that he seemed a little eccentric and fatalistic. His charisma was offset by an outlook that seemed a little bleak. But that portrayal in my eyes was exactly what was needed.
Most Civil War battles were stalemates. The weaponry had advanced so much, primarily with the "rifled gun" technology (grooves in the barrel), it was hard for one side to obliterate the other. New technology in war always gives an advantage to the strategic defensive. Thus we see Berenger's Longstreet character imploring Lee about how a defensive position needed to be sought. He pleaded about how the Army of Northern Virginia needed to be positioned between the Union Army and Washington D.C. "They'll have to attack us," Longstreet told Lee.
Sheen as Lee seemed somewhat dazed listening to this as if he couldn't fathom. Lee felt he simply had to attack. Part of his thinking, to be fair to him, was that time was of the essence: The South had more limited resources for fighting, and the idea was simply to impose so much immediate pain on the North, the North would sue for peace. It didn't work. The impulsive South underestimated the war resolve of the North. The South paid dearly, its antebellum culture for all practical purposes getting wiped out.
Did Gettysburg really make the difference? Was there ever any doubt about the war's conclusion? Did the South ever have any real sense of self-governance or direction? Did they ever declare any true boundaries? Or was their resistance, as argued in the North, merely a "rebellion," more of a nuisance that just had to be stomped out? Well, if it was a nuisance it was a heckuva nuisance. The tragedy is that our Founders could not have prevented this.
Civil War re-enactors had quite the field day for the movie "Gettysburg." It's quite the hobby really. If you want to nit-pick, you might suggest "Gettysburg" showed too many soldiers carrying too much weight and who weren't young enough.
The movie was originally conceived as a TV miniseries. ABC showed interest initially but then got cold feet, after noticing the low ratings for "Son of the Morning Star" (about George Armstrong Custer).
TNT emerged as the possible destination for the epic movie. Ted Turner became so enamored, he decided to go for the big screen. It indeed ended up reaching the big screen in a limited number of theaters. It needed special accommodation because of its very long length. It's divided into two halves, the first climaxing in Chamberlain's charge on Little Round Top, the second portraying the ill-fated Pickett's charge.
I remember the gang on WCCO Radio discussing this movie when it was current. Ruth Koscielak was at the microphone then. I remember them talking about how you really only had to see the first half of this movie. That stuck in my head because it's rather true. The first half indeed has that dramatic climax with Chamberlain's men from Maine fixing bayonets and charging down a hill, having run too low on ammo. Daniels as Chamberlain is a hero.
The second half of the movie develops a redundant feel. We get a little weary seeing so many men contemplate each other's death. A Southern officer says "my men have never been so ready for a brawl." Really? It sounds like they're getting ready for a football game. Did the true fighting men really embrace such an attitude? Were they really so ready to sacrifice their lives? The war deaths were tragic enough on their face, but these involved prolonged pain and suffering in so many cases with blood poisoning etc. Amputations were ubiquitous.
Lee withdraws but the war does not end. Why not? We are so human an animal.
"Gettysburg" grossed $11 million but was still considered a flop. It did become an all-time top grosser in the home entertainment market. The TV premiere in June of 1994 drew over 23 million viewers, a record for cable TV at the time.
"Gettysburg" was one of the longest films ever released by a Hollywood studio: 254 minutes. WCCO's Koscielak felt disturbed about sitting so long "watching men shoot at each other." And that's basically what the experience was. As the 'CCO gang stated, maybe half this movie was enough. Let it end with the bayonet charge. We know how Pickett's charge (actually Longstreet's charge) turned out.
Ebert gave the movie a solid three stars. He lauded the film as "pure and simple about the battle of Gettysburg." No extraneous elements to distract, no token romances etc. I recall only one line by a woman in the whole thing. A woman watches the Union soldiers pass in Maryland and says: "I thought the war was in Virginia." It seemed deliberately placed just to give a woman a line. Otherwise this is all men and all fighting.
Ebert felt the movie was best appreciated on the large screen. You would think Hollywood would be inspired by now to depict the battle again. Maybe there's some hesitance based on oddly-placed sensitivity, about how rock-ribbed Southerners might be offended seeing their cause crushed. After all, they still have Stone Mountain. Even that is coming under siege now with a petition through "Change.org." McCartney Forde is leading that.
One thing the South taught us, and that is how to lose (not that they did it well, but just that they did it). Not even Longstreet's wisdom could prevent that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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