October 31st, 2008

Matewan is an interesting movie. From our study and discussion it is apparent that it is one of the most historically accurate of the films we have seen thus far. It does however revolve around two completely fictional characters, Joe and Danny. This is only somewhat disconcerting because they both represent well a certain view in labor history. Joe is a pacifist who embodies a true union supporter – wanting the union to accept blacks, immigrants, etc. so that they can work together to achieve their objectives. Danny (according to Professor McClurken) can be associated with those individuals who shared their first hand experiences of this massacre with director John Sayles. Many of them would have been around Danny’s age at the time of the event.

Overall there is much more to compliment about the film than there is to pick apart.

On the topic of whether or not the degree of historical accuracy of a film directly correlates to how “slow” or “boring” the film is… In a way I agree that there is a correlation. I immediately think documentary and cringe. But if you really think about it there are decent films (entertainment wise) that do portray a section of history very well. Matewan wasn’t my favorite movie, but it did fit into both categories – entertaining and historically accurate, so maybe it is one of the exceptions to our rule. AND maybe it is due to the lack of industry pressure that Sayles is able to create such a film… I like this explanation.


October 26th, 2008

This movie doesn’t really deserve to be talked about in great detail, at least not in a historical context. I agree with many peers’ references to Pocahontas. Wyatt and Pocahontas are much the same in that they are both historical characters whose stories have been completely mangled into myth from the perspective of ONE very wrong side of the story. Pocahontas was English-ized and turned into a classic tale of romance and the integrating of cultures. Wyatt was warped into some hero who was ‘just passin through’ when an unfortunate sequence of events happened to his brothers. The key to this story is that Wyatt and his brothers were the victims of the story, when in reality it doesn’t seem to be so. The real travesty for the story is the death of James – inspiring Wyatt to take the law into his own hands and avenge his lost cattle and dead brother. Sigh- not at all what happened. It does make for an interesting story (as did Pocahontas’s reworking), but it is certainly not something to dwell long on given that our purpose of viewing it was to find it’s historical-ness.

We did manage to find a few somewhat accurate portions – the thin line between female entertainer and prostitute (as demonstrated by Chihuahua (GREAT name by the way)), the landscape and garb seemed pretty accurate (they filmed in the desert and wore a lot of the same clothes as was common in that time – the one exception being Clementine), AND to me, most importantly there was a sense of taking the law into the hands of average citizens, which as demonstrated in numerous readings is pretty accurate.

Overall – not a very entertaining movie, and not at all a historically accurate one. At least it was pretty short.


October 7th, 2008

Glory has an all star cast that nearly rivals that of Amistad and to me falls around the same spectrum of historical accuracy as Amistad as well. Glory has individual pieces of truth, but fell short on the grander scheme of things. While there was a fair amount of racism shown within the film, it seemed like just a drop in the bucket of what truly was going on during the civil war. It demonstrated a very small portion of racism within the Union army, but fell short on showing exactly how much 99% of whites, both northern and southern, did not trust blacks. I also wondered if there was a different reason for the 54th to be placed at the front of the initial assault on the fort, could it be that minority troops were less important and could therefore be sacrificed more easily? I felt that this movie filled stereotypical roles for blacks and war movie characters in general. Overall I felt that this movie is much like Amistad and the Patriot in that there are historical inaccuracies intertwined, but overall the main purpose was to portray a historical even in an entertaining way (in which style, things have to be rearranged etc. to achieve this).

Gone with the Wind

October 2nd, 2008

Ok, first and foremost, I am disappointed by my classmates who did not bite the bullet and admit ignorance in regards to the carpetbagger/KKK situation. Thanks guys for letting me take one for the team. In regards to this part of the movie, let me give context and say why I was confused: In the second part of the film (disk 2), Scarlet is married to Mr. Kennedy. She goes for a ride through a carpetbagger shanty town and is accosted by a white guy and a black guy. Sam, the loyal slave from Tara, saves the day and accompanies her back home. The men gather for a “political meeting” and leave with their weapons in stow. The Yankees come to arrest Ashley and the Dr. for “taking the law into their own hands.” From this I assumed that the men were “reasserting their masculinity” by protecting their women folk by attacking the Yankee carpetbaggers who had harassed Scarlet that day. Apparently I was supposed to read through the lines and subtlety to know that there was a white supremacy undertone. I felt that now that it has been laid out for me, I can see it somewhat, but by no means is it as blatantly obvious.

Overall, I can see why this film is so immensely popular. Besides the length, I enjoyed it. A few things…. 1. The blacks depicted in the film are apparently better than they would have been without the actions of the NAACP and black actors. I really don’t see how it could have been that much worse, given the black support behind Ashley to work as the KKK, Sissy’s character in general just killed me – so ignorant, so worthless, so annoying… enough said, Mammy and Sam’s unconditional loyalty… I could go on and on. 2. The villianization of the Yankees is expected… but really overdone – to a point of historical inaccuracy (ex: Sherman’s march where the damn Yankee’s burned everything in their path).

Good to know that we have no more 4 hour movies left.


September 28th, 2008

This will be a short entry for me, but I do have a few lingering comments.

First, why was Amistad not as big of a deal as Van Buren etc. thought it would be at the time? I don’t understand how it didn’t affect the abolitionist movement at all. I also am frustrated that such an all star cast and director didn’t receive the credit they deserve for creating such a powerful film. Why is it that so few people know what Amistad was, and why didn’t more people see the film?

Two things really bothered me in the film – First, Morgan Freeman’s character, Joadson (spelling?) is completely made up. Why not use the REAL black man involved in the TRUE story as a character in the film? If everyone else is based on someone real, why fabricate such a character? It seems out of place and honestly misleading to the historical side of things. Second, I felt that some parts were a bit hokey (as I said in class) regarding the language barrier between the Mende and the Americans. When Baldwin and Cinque are talking about “where he’s from” it is painfully scripted. “How can I ask you where you’re from?” “How can I tell you where I’m from?” etc. These hokey parts really take away from the power and passion from the other parts for me, though I do see a need for some comedic relief (sort of).

I felt that in this movie, the problems we found and my personal annoyances were minuscule compared to the other films that we have watched and picked apart. Amistad does stay true to the story for the most part. I really enjoyed this film too.

The Patriot

September 21st, 2008

First of all I have to return to David’s comment in class – Yes! Every time I watch this movie I cry when Susan finally talks and runs after Mel saying “Papa! Don’t go, I’ll say anything…” Even thinking about it I get a lump in my throat. Very moving scene, and even if you hate the movie you have to admit they got that scene dead on, beautiful heart wrenching family struggle.

In regards to it’s historical accuracy. I like that in this film there are characters based on historical figures, but not named for them. Cornwalis being the one major exception. This method of telling the history, but also fictionalizing characters to avoid the conflict associated with direct representation is a good call. I agree with the Mel Gibson quote explaining how boring the straight up history would be. The villains are worse, the Patriots are purer, and the story becomes that much more interesting and compelling because of this. The issue of slavery is by far the worst thing that was casually overlooked. Let’s just think about this – South Carolina – slave plantations everywhere… and yet we only encounter one slave who is abused at all in the entire movie – and he is accepted readily and even encouraged to “make his mark” to join the colonial militia. Hmmm… And Mel’s picture perfect country home where he and his free black friends work together to plow and harvest… yeah right. The beach-side maroon community really is a joke. First, the location is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Second, it’s a little paradise get away that openly welcomes white escapees – the very people that in reality the slaves/blacks were running away from in the first place. It’s laughable.

I can see why the British would be outraged by this movie. It does not portray a single good quality of the Brits, and while it tries to congratulate Cornwalis in some ways by claiming he is a military mastermind, it paints a different picture overall. This British hero is a bumbling lush who is fooled countless times by the continental militia. But, as I said earlier, it makes for a better film. Clear cut good verses evil sells. From an American perspective, we want to see the evil Brits fall to the witty and skillful Americans.

Yet again, the entertainment factor is more important than historical accuracy. This film was highly entertaining, and made a good quality effort to include some historical relevance as well.

Last of the Mohicans

September 14th, 2008

I have to preface by saying that I literally have to battle my boyfriend to not watch this when a movie night occurs and we have no good new movie ideas. He is a huge fan, and therefore I have been forced to at least try to enjoy it.

I do feel that it fulfills what a historical film should be like (in my humble opinion). I like that it uses mainly fictional characters to portray history, because it does not blatantly disregard historical events (as we saw in the entire movie of Pocahontas). It captures some subtleties of Native American culture that many other directors and therefore films bother to incorporate.

McClurken’s point about details being correct but not adding up to the larger picture is pretty accurate. Yes there are things in the real history that weren’t really captured correctly.

I also felt that the good vs evil was at least somewhat complex, though it is important to note that the only good indians were the civilized white one and his company.

I was disturbed to know that the story itself (beginning in the novel) was altered so extremely. I don’t understand why that would be so dramatic. The romance does overwhelm the film, which is a draw for me personally. This could account for the purpose of this substantial theme – to win over female audience members who aren’t attracted to the heavy violence also involved in the film. Works for me.

Overall, this was a huge improvement from Pocahontas, and I am skeptical that the Patriot will be any better historically speaking… but we will see.

Bonnie and Clyde Project Bibliography

September 10th, 2008

So we are doing individual projects on films. I chose Bonne and Clyde and here is the bibliography I have compiled so far…

“Barrow’s Killings Date from Parole.” New York Times, May 24, 1934, (accessed September 10, 2008).

Cawelti, John G. Focus on Bonnie and Clyde. NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1973.

Crowther, Bosley. “Bonnie and Clyde” The New York Times. April 14, 1967. (accessed September 8, 2008).

Ebert, Roger. “Bonnie and Clyde” The Chicago Sun-Times. September 25, 1967. (accessed September 8, 2008).

Friedman, Lester D. ed. Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Friedman, Lester D. Bonnie and Clyde. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

Henderson, Jordan. “Officers Picture Barrow’s Slaying.” New York Times, May 24, 1934, (accessed September 10, 2008).

MacNee, Marie J., and Jane Hoehner. Outlaws, Mobsters & Crooks: From the Old West to the Internet. Detroit: UXL, 1998.

Scott, A. O. “Two Outlaws, Blasting Holes in the Screen” The New York Times. August 12, 2007. (accessed September 8, 2008).

“Separate Burials for Barrow Pair: Slain Bandits Will Go to Graves a Mile Apart Despite the Wishes of Woman.” New York Times, May 25, 1934, (accessed September 10, 2008).

Special to the New York Times. “Barrow and Woman Are Slain by Police in Louisiana Trap.” New York Times, May 24, 1934, (accessed September 10, 2008).

Wake, Sandra and Nicola Hayden ed. The Bonnie and Clyde Book. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Webb, Walter Prescott. The Texas Rangers. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1965.

Disney’s Pocahontas Discussion

September 4th, 2008

Just for anyone reading that may not be in the class – we have a process of posting comments the day before a discussion. So…. NOW please enjoy what I would have posted last night if I weren’t an idiot who forgot to actually post all the thoughts/work I had to contribute (that was conveniently already typed up in word all ready to go):

In both Smith’s journal and in Pocahontas (movie), how do these two cultures magically find a way to communicate. Smith makes no mention of not understanding or struggling to get messages across. Maybe this is a sign of his overconfidence in his own abilities of assuming things about the culture. I like to think that in the movie it was love that allows Pocahontas and Smith to suddenly both speak English together.

Are prisoners granted messengers? Would Smith be considered a guest or prisoner in this case that he has described? This is a question not about the movie at all – I am a little lost in Smith’s account. And would this messenger be carrying a written English message… if so what did he write it on and what with? If it was a message relayed verbally, we have a communication problem yet again.

Also to continue the confusion with the primary source – Disney doesn’t really relay that there are competing tribes of Indians. Smith talks about divisions giving him gifts/food, which is more realistic.

Something they did get right is the culture barrier – the gender role differences, the civilization issue (English superiority), property ownership, etc. Though, it was a little strange that John Smith and Pocahontas immediately understand and can somewhat relate to each others cultural beliefs.

And now reflections on discussion:

I did enjoy this discussion, I am glad that we are all on the same page. We paid Disney its dues, but also picked it apart somewhat for its inaccuracies and blatant fabrications of events. Things that I particularly found interesting were…

Newport was the early leader who then left to go back to England, Ratcliffe wasn’t the richest of the rich in Jamestown and he did actually do some dirty work himself, which is how he died due to a poor communication with Pamunky (probably spelled wrong and I apologize for this profusely) Indians (he tried to negotiate for food and apparently not nicely).

I am sad to know that the Indian environmentalism is not necessarily true… as we talked about in class, they didn’t have many people to sustain, and they simply moved on to more land when they exhausted the resources. Sure it was in a different way than Europeans, but still not very environmentally minded.

Public displays of affection – didn’t really happen like that. John Smith and Pocahontas didn’t kiss in real life, and even if they did have a relationship, Pocahontas wouldn’t know to kiss (as that was not in our culture to out knowledge).

Disney’s depictions of women – my defense of Disney is and has always been “it’s written primarily for kids.” Why should kids need women (and men for that matter) to look so stereotypically beautiful? And beyond Pocahontas’s figure, John Smith is certainly not the way he is portrayed in the movie. Blond hair, tall, muscular, handsome – not so much.

Primary sources compared to movie depiction – interactions between the two groups were hostile, yes. But, they did trade and attempt to be peaceful for a great deal of time (according to Smith’s account) and did not go straight to weapons etc. Also – the end of the movie makes it seem that the settlers are going back and that they will be welcome whenever they wish to return… not quite true.

For future movies we are — keeping an eye on the outsider in historical American film (who may be civilized but not spoiled by culture that he is a part of.)

John Smith was not actually popular. People weren’t sad when he had his accident and was injured, having to return home.

Movie is a primary source of the 1990s. Racism/intolerance, consumerism, Western coming of age story (courage and love conquers).

US History in Film Initial Reactions

August 31st, 2008

So another semester begins and yet again I am enrolled in a McClurken digitally enhanced class that requires/or suggests for extra credit at least, a blog.

I am looking forward to debunking and also qualifying historical movies that have been produced for the general public. Tuesday we are watching Disney’s Pocahontas and I am intrigued to know what good came from that movie.

Last week we discussed that historical films are just another interpretation of history, and they should be appreciated for what they are- a representation of the truth. I have never really heard anyone truly praise a historical film more than they tore it apart, so I am very excited to see where this semester leads. I definitely do agree that if nothing else, historical films do at least shed light on an event and make more persons aware – even if they question what the movie says to be true, hopefully it peaks an interest.

Stay tuned.