A Southerner’s Movie Guide, Part V

Symbols Used

** Indicates one of the more than 100 most recommended films.  The order in which they appear does not reflect any ranking, only the convenience of discussion

(T)   Tolerable but not among the most highly recommended

(X)   Execrable.  Avoid at all costs

 7. The War for Southern Independence (continued):  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

**Searching for Lincoln

**Searching for Lincoln (2015) cannot be praised too highly.  It is a compendium of suppressed truth that the world has long been waiting for, skillfully produced and perfectly on target.   It takes as its mission the correction of the multiple falsehoods of “what everybody knows” about Honest Abe and his role in history. There is a temperate, pictorial, and hard-hitting review of the real as opposed to the fantasy Lincoln in such matters as race, slavery, the Constitution, economic motives, war on civilians, POWs, and much else.   Perhaps the greatest points of emphasis are two neglected truths:  1) Lincoln did not wage war to save the Union or the Constitution.  He waged war to preserve government power.   2) He is responsible for the dangerously unlimited regime under which we suffer today.  Until Americans understand that and free themselves from Lincoln worship we will continue in subjection.

**Searching for Lincoln is almost entirely a Northern production, created by Eugene and Dete McGowan. Well-known Southern defenders participated in the creation, including Professor Thomas DiLorenzo and the brave doyenne of Copperheads, Mrs. Valerie Protopapas of New York. The DVD and a downloadable version can be obtained at http://www.searchingforlincoln.com/.  Get a copy for your children and grandchildren and anyone else you know who is suffering through a current educational institution at any level. Perfect Christmas presents for friends and relatives.

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 It Could  have Been Worse Probably

 (T)Field of Lost Shoes (2015).  I have written a good bit about the treatment of the South in film. A new entry into that dubious field is the recent Field of Lost Shoes. It purports to tell the story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets who at great sacrifice participated in driving back the invading Yankee arsonists and vandals at the Battle of New Market in 1864.  It does enact this bit of history, sort of, after a fashion.

In 96 minutes, including a half hour of battle action, you will not be offended by even a faint glimpse of a (shudder!) Confederate flag.  (This horrid object is apparently now banned entirely from V.M.I., even in commemorations of New Market.)  The first 10 minutes are devoted to a slave auction in which brutal Southerners break up a family—quite unlikely in Lexington, Virginia, in 1864. We see a flashback of this as the cadets march toward battle, reminding us that, after all, they were fighting against noble opponents who wanted only to free the slaves.

At midpoint we have a severe beating given to an intelligent, kindly slave for something he did not do.  We see Lincoln morally offended that the Confederates are sending “boys to be massacred.”  But this is absurd.  There were plenty of soldiers in both armies as young as were the cadets. Besides, Lincoln inaugurated the bloodshed, although he doubtless did not anticipate the great volume that followed, and he could have avoided it or stopped it at any moment if he had been willing to give up the benefits the war brought to his political party and to Northern Big Money men. (At least in this one, Lincoln is correctly ugly, does not look like a movie star.)

The civilian population of Virginia seems to be fat and prosperous and suffering no privations in 1864 although their region had been repeatedly sacked and looted by Yankee soldiers.  V.M.I.’s first Jewish cadet, Moses Ezekiel, later to become one of America’s greatest sculptors, is portrayed as being doubtful about the Confederate cause. There is no evidence that he was ever anything other than a loyal Southerner.   I suppose it was thought that since he was Jewish he had to be a “Liberal.”

Grandmother always said that when you have to critisise you should add something nice if you can:  There is a good and sympathetic portrayal of John C. Breckinridge by the Brit actor Jason Isaacs.  The characters actually talk like Southerners and some of the time even act like Southerners.  The battle scene is vivid, although not very accurate, I think.

It could have been worse, I suppose, but with a little honesty it could have been much better.

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Here are some films that mainly concern the North, but are worthwhile because they have some realism in their treatment of the dangerous myth of the righteous Union cause.

**Gore Vidal’s Lincoln (1988).  Most film portrayals of Lincoln are hagiographic fantasies (the worst example being (X) Young Mr. Lincoln with Henry Fonda).  This presentation, though sympathetic, is realistic about the shrewd politician Lincoln (Sam Waterston).  It presents a fairly candid view of Lincoln’s character, of his unstable wife, his devious associates, his loser son Robert, and the seamier side of wartime Washington.

My take on Spielberg’s celebrated (X)Lincoln will appear in a later chapter.

**The Andersonville Trial (1971). This is a dramatisation of the 1865 military trial and condemnation of Captain Henry Wirz, commander of the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.  Richard Basehart plays Wirz effectively.  The film is tinged with Northern righteousness but manages to show some of the moral ambiguity, propaganda lies, and perjured testimony which characterised the acts of the Radical Republicans who ruled at the time.

**The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) shows the ruthless imprisonment of Dr. Samuel Mudd of Maryland, an honourable man who was guilty of treating Booth’s injuries.

(T) Gangs of New York (2002).  My analysis of this award-winning Scorsese blockbuster appears in a later chapter.

(X) The Conspirator (2010) about the trial and execution of Mary Surratt as an alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator.  This film whitewashes the brutality and illegality of her imprisonment and trial and the anti-Catholicism and paranoia of the Radical Republicans who executed her.  There is even a suggestion that Mrs. Surratt might not have been hanged if her son had not escaped.  What kind of people nonchalantly kill the mother because they can’t catch the son?

(T) Copperhead (2013).  Ron Maxwell’s rendering of Harold Frederic’s 1893 novel about persecution of an antiwar family in upstate New York Lincolnite territory.

WHAT COULD BE:  A truthful life of Bedford Forrest would be a great contribution to American history and refute a lot of conventional lies.  Any number of events in Forrest’s career would make a great movie:  Brice’s Crossroads, an honest presentation of Fort Pillow, the epic recounted in Donald Davidson’s poem “The Running of Streight,” and many others. 

A life of Jefferson Davis would make a marvelous three-part series:  up to the point of his being elected President; the War; and his imprisonment and postwar life.  This would be a very American workMrs. Varina Howell Davis is one of the most remarkable women in American history—intelligent, hard working, brave, loyal, and participant in a long span of American history.  Compared to Mary Todd Lincoln, who was unstable, insanely jealous, embezzled White House funds, and ended her life in an asylum.   A biopic of Varina would be marvellous, right up to her passing away as an honoured citizen of New York.  (I pray regularly to my Maker that nobody makes a film out of the recent awful book Varina by the scalawag writer Charles Fraser).   A film about the Davises could be realistic, not like the fantasies which must be concocted about the Lincolns.

Jeb Stuart is an intrinsically interesting character.  The epic voyages of Raphael Semmes, one of the most interesting characters of the time, would be a natural.  Any one of the 100 events in James R. Kennedy’s Uncle Seth Fought the Yankees would make a popular flick.

EXECRABLES:   Evil Confederates appear in a great many movies recently.  Often they are vicious killers of women and children.  The ignorance and malice of those who are responsible for these films is unforgivable.  How to explain?  They think it will sell, but most importantly we have here the well-recognised phenomenon of bad people projecting their own sins onto others.  Yankee atrocities against Southern civilians are as heavily documented as anything in history and were indeed official policy, but nothing remotely similar can be found on the Confederate side. 

Here are some WBTS losers to avoid at all costs:

 (X) Cold Mountain, based on the scalawag novel that misrepresents Western North Carolina in the War between the States and serves no purpose except to assure Yankees that Confederates were not only evil but stupid.  The movie incorporates every hackneyed cliché about Southern white people:  rapists, incestuous, murderous, treacherous, ignorant, dimwitted, hypocritical, etc.  The novelist Charles Fraser has discovered the key to the bank—trash the homefolks and cater to the outsiders’ hostile beliefs.  One fears that some people actually believe this driveling parody of history.   

(X) The Beguiled, some viewers find this Clint Eastwood vehicle interesting from the psychological viewpoint, but it looks to me more like a Yankee fantasy about loose Southern women.                                              

(X) The Horse Solidiers:  This John Wayne adventure tale seems to be popular, but it incorporates every anti-Southern idea in the catalog.  There are an insipid Southern belle, vicious rednecks, and stupid Confederates who lose every battle.  It is about a heroic Yankee cavalry raid in the South—false in its premise because most such raids were designed to rob and terrorise civilians and were usually thwarted by Forrest or other Southern cavalrymen and had to retreat to their base.  It also shows Yankee benevolence toward Black people, which anyone who knows anything about the behaviour of Northern soldiers can only find unbelievable.  Worst of all, it tacks on a fictional misplacement of the story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets at New Market and uses that for some comic relief. Directed by John Ford, who was in his 70s and said to be dissatisfied with the film.   

(X )Last Stand at Saber River.   Tom Selleck is a Confederate soldier who returns home and is harassed by bad Yankees.  Could have been a good and true story.  But wait a minute.  It seems he has deserted because of the evil Gen. Forrest’s brutal massacre of unarmed prisoners at Fort Pillow (which, of course, is not true) and he is also harassed by a crazy Confederate who wants to continue the war, a man who incidentally kills women and kidnaps children.  This vileness is based on a story by the Hollywood crime writer Elmore Leonard, who knows less about The War than my neighbour’s cat.

(X) The Run of the Arrow with Rod Steiger as a mean and unlikely Confederate.

(X) Operator 13:  The fair Marion Davies as a mulatto Union spy.         

(X) The Last Outlaw, with Mickey Rourke, nonsense.

(X) Alvarez Kelly, which turns the dashing cattle raid of Confederate cavalry on Grant’s supplies into a vicious personal vendetta. 

(X) Journey to Shiloh which seems to have no purpose except to show how bad Confederates were.    

(X) A Time for Killing also known as (X) The Long Ride Home (not the Randy Travis version), Confederate rapists and murderers.

(X) North and South, trashy John Jakes pseudo-historical fiction made into trashy TV series. 

(X) Mosby’s Marauders, a weak unreal TV series—besides Mosby’s men were not marauders. The Yankees were.                                                              

(X)Saddle the Wind, silly.                                                                              

 (X) Sommersby (1993), Jodie Foster and Richard Gere in a pointless rip-off of the French classic The Return of Martin Guerre. 

Ignorance and malevolence are evident in recent online ads for some Confederate films, written by people with no knowledge but with pre-programmed assumptions.   The Southern chivalry displayed in **Rocky Mountain becomes “Rebels use a Yankee bride to lure Union troops into Indian country.”   The official notice of (X)Alvarez Kelly describes Gen. Tom Rosser, leader of the splendid Confederate cattle raid, as a “brutal Southern officer.”  This for a man who was in business in Minnesota just after the war, was a U.S. consul in Canada, and served the U.S. Army in the Spanish-American War. I wonder if people in Minnesota thought he was a sadist?  The flick Way Down South is described as about “segregation” in antebellum Louisiana.  Now Louisiana had slavery before the war but it did not have “segregation” until fifty years later.  Segregation was invented by Yankees who were repulsed at the everyday intimacy of black and white people in the South.

Despite occasional good spots, we all know that Hollywood now has Confederates slated most of the time to be unrelievedly evil.  I saw a feminist revenge flick, which shall remain nameless here, that opens with Confederate soldiers attacking a town, directing artillery against a church full of civilians, killing women, and shooting little children in the back.  Let us say that this scenario is not only untrue but is a complete reversal of the truth.  These are things the boys in blue might do, not our people.  Do I sense that familiar psychological phenomenon of “projection” at work—blaming others for our own sins?

The worst thing about Hollywood’s hatred of the South is it deprives not only Southerners but all Americans of our history and renders our forebears into alien and dead abstractions.   There is yet another evil product—the sense of righteousness which has been an American problem since the first Puritans sailed into Massachusetts Bay.  If Sherman burning his way through Georgia and South Carolina was a holy exercise against evil, then obviously dropping bombs and missiles on women and children two thousand miles away who have done us no harm is OK. 

And what to say about the two television films from which most Americans seem to have gotten their knowledge about the War Between the States?  (X) Roots:  a fantasy which dissolves when you understand that black slavery was invented and sustained by Africans and that transfer to the South was a net gain for Africans and their descendants.  (T) Ken Burns’s The Civil War:  A wealth of intrinsically interesting material carefully crafted by a biased agenda of presentistic propaganda. 

(X)Roots and Ken Burns are likely to show the way to what we can expect from now on in popular media portrayals. It is a strange and unsettling feeling for an aware Southerner to know that he and his are the objects of hatred and lies from fellow citizens who he has never harmed and toward whom he has never intended any harm. But for the most part, Southerners do not even notice. We are an easy-going and tolerant Christian people and do not go out of our way to search out and deplore what other people are up to. Besides, as the late Tom Landess once observed, Southerners are so used to abuse that, like an old injury, we hardly notice it.

Interestingly, one of the major Northern characters in Gettysburg is played by a Southerner—Texan Sam Elliott as John Buford (not entirely off since Buford was from Kentucky and had a cousin who was a Confederate general). Even more peculiar, Johnny Cash is cast as John Brown in (X)The North and the South miniseries and Texan Rip Torn plays U.S. Grant in the miniseries (T)The Blue and the Gray. Think about it. I suspect it is because it is Southerners who best convey the persona of Old Americans and that movie creators gravitate to this unconsciously.

Authors

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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