Thursday, July 21, 2016

Two Really Bad Movies and a Trail of Blood

I always find it particularly unsettling when I see a movie set in a historical period that has the historical period of its setting all wrong, and largely, moreover, by intention.  The will of the Hollywood invention is to remold history such that it will conform to modern sensibilities and sensitivities. But I don’t see that this really does anyone any favors. Rather, when history is falsified, the truth is made more and more inaccessible, especially in the sphere of common knowledge, and these falsehoods are then applied in the realm of contemporary ideas and relationships.

Such a movie is the recently released Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey. The story involves a disaffected Southern soldier who deserts the ranks of the Confederate army in 1862 in order to convey the body of a fallen young comrade back to his home in Mississippi, and who is thereafter pursued and harassed by those who would not only prefer him to return to service, but who spend the rest of their time robbing the countryside blind in order to supply the armies in the field. Okay, that’s fine. Except …

Firstly, we are given an ahistorical view of the nature of the battlefields of 1862. We are shown trench warfare, which did not come around in any big way until the end of the war. We see soldiers carrying rifles instead of muskets. We are asked to belief in a tyrannical government that robbed its own countryside of food and provisions, somehow able to spare plenty of soldiers for this purpose who could otherwise have been on the front line. Further, we are shown a generally disaffected, demoralized Confederate army, the rank and file members of  which are merely, and rather gloomily following orders such that those at the top – the slaveholders, of course – may retain their slaves. It all feels rather more like Vietnam than the American Civil War.

What the student of the Civil War will find straightaway is that the soldier of the Civil War is very unlike the soldier in Vietnam, or even of World War II. These were young men of high ideals and high notions of honor and bravery. The essential ingredient in their will, and willingness, to fight had more to do with a conception of tradition and honor and home than with the politics of slavery and States Rights. Most Confederate soldiers owned no slaves and certainly did not picture themselves as fighting for the rights of rich people to own slaves. That this issue became the central issue of the war is manifest. Nonetheless, it would be completely unrealistic to imagine that the common Confederate soldier had any such conception of the thing – or even the Federal soldier, for that matter, at least up till 1863.

And yet, this is the picture that Free State of Jones would like to impart – because it is the reductionist, simple minded picture than our modern culture demands – history be damned. Slavery was most certainly the fatal disease of the South, and yet it must be acknowledged that the common Southerner of the time had no very meaningful connection with the institution. His connection was to the land, family, history. Far from moping about in the (nonexistent) trenches and deserting at the first opportunity with bitter acrimony on their lips, a faithful reading of the wartime experience reveals a vigorous readiness to engage in combat that seems almost maniacal in our time, much more like the gung-ho beginning of WWI than the self preserving reticence of Vietnam. These were soldiers, after all, who fought barefooted at Petersburg in the driving sleet. These were soldiers who  advanced across the open fields at Gettysburg, to be mowed down by grapeshot and massed musketry on Cemetery Ridge, and returned at the end of the slaughter to plead with General Lee to let them try one more time.

A band of ragged pawns of the rich, made to do the sinister bidding of the man? Not at all. When we misrepresent history in order to believe what might seem proper at the moment, we do a disservice not only to those who lived before us, but also to ourselves.

To be honest, I found this dishonest movie so discouraging that I couldn’t even watch it to its end.

My second really bad movie of the day was one called Something in the Woods. Based on “actual events”, this movie tells the story of a good old fashioned Texas family which must deal with an aggressive monster – the fabled Big Foot, or Sasquatch. It is a right wing fable of the struggle between decent family values and a stalking beast, and how good an idea it is to own several guns. But what stood out above all in this movie was the really, really, terribly bad acting 😂😂. I mean, the directors must have scoured the earth specifically for people who could not act! It was, at least, absolutely spellbinding for its clumsiness at every possible aspect of filmmaking, from the monotone delivery of lines, to the staged scenes, to the big, furry Sasquatch that looked more like a giant muppet than like a monster. If they hadn’t pissed him off so bad with those rifles, they might have been able to invite him in for milk and cookies.

And then, lastly, there’s this thing with the trail of blood. Which has nothing to do with either movie. Yesterday, I suddenly noticed what appeared to be drops of fresh blood, on the front porch and then also in the entryway. Naturally, my first suspicion was that Sparky had been bleeding from his injured tail. But there were two problems with this theory, the one being that I did not see the blood when he came into the house and the other that, upon examination, his tail was completely dry and the wound appeared to have healed. Well, you can’t figure something out, so you just drop it, right? But then it happened again this morning. Sparky had come in the house, eaten some breakfast and then jumped up on the bed. No blood, on him, on the bed or on the floor. I was outside in the back for a while, reading the gospel of Mark (just the same, in fact, as yesterday), and when I came back inside, I found once again this trail of blood, this time on the living room and bedroom floor. Another examination of Sparky revealed a completely dry tail. Nor was he bleeding from any other part of his body. Nor was I bleeding from any part of mine!

Hmm, what to make of this? It’s a sign, I reckon. I just don’t know what the message is. Yet.

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