Monday, May 23, 2011

Blood and Guts and Grit

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I am sure many of you are highly anticipating the premiere of Tony and Ridley Scott's Gettysburg on the History Channel this Memorial Day. I have learned over the years not to expect much from Civil War films in terms of action sequences. The one exception is Glory, which looked pretty least as realistic as I could ever possibly imagine, having read soldiers' letters and such. Maybe Cold Mountain....but the movie was so bad that I was distracted by the story to get much out of anything having to do with the war

The usual depiction of battle goes something like this - thousands of well-fed soldiers (with nice uniforms and good teeth) marching valiantly to their fate, clutching their chests when they fall, or catapulted into the air by shells exploding on the ground (as opposed to in the air, which is how things really happened).

It may seem somewhat perverse to be disappointed by the lack of realism in such scenes of war. Oh sure, every movie tends to have the obligatory amputation scene, with the victim screaming in agony as his wounded limb is sawed off. But if you have had a chance to get a look at some of the post-battle photographs from Antietam or Gettysburg, you will notice nothing of war is pretty - especially the twisted disemboweled bodies of soldiers killed in action. This is the realism that seems missing from so many Civil War films.

But that is not all. I have yet to see a Civil War film where the soldiers appear in any way anxious about their potential - and altogether probable fate. Raw emotion for the most part has alluded the actors (or the directors) in films like Gods and Generals and Gettysburg (the one with Martin Sheen). I would expect to see some men entirely terrified, or nervous, or at least clenching their teeth. Sure, you will see a guy or two run away from eminent danger, but that is not what I really mean. I want to look into an actors face and feel that he is experiencing combat of the most wretched sort. We need to look past the drums and bugles and the whoops and huzzahs. War sucks.

This feeling has been captured pretty damn well through the recent releases of various WWII miniseries. Both Band of Brothers and The Pacific, at least to me, convey a sense that war really is Hell. It is dirty, it is painful, it is agonizing, it is tormenting, it is chaotic, it is - well, gritty. I have never personally experienced combat. But I have read enough soldiers' accounts and interviewed enough veterans to know that fun was not had by all - or even any for that matter.

So let's just see how this version of "Gettysburg brought to the screen" goes - I will be sure to throw in my two cents shortly.


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