Why We Need a New Civil War Documentary

This article by Smithsonian mag reached me at a very opportune time. I am a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary series, and had it running in the background for the umpteenth time last weekend as I worked. For some reason, after dozens of viewings, this was the first time that I really noticed the documentary’s conciliatory and controversial nature. In the 30 years since it was released, a lot more scholarship has been conducted, the Lost Cause myths have finally been seriously questioned, and society at large has started to push back against the traditional Southern narratives. I still love the series for its emotional core and excellent production values, but I agree with this author that we’re due for an updated look at the war and its aftermath.

By focusing on a type of military history wherein all sides can be seen as—in some way—heroic, “The Civil War” allows us, as white Americans, to forget about the reasons why we were fighting in the first place. It allows us to focus only on an antiseptic form of history that makes us feel good, on a narrative that emotionally relieves us of sins that should not be relieved. It allows us to convince ourselves that the dishonorable were in some way honorable; it reassures our sense of selves as inculpable white Americans; it allows us a psychological pass for the sins of our forefathers.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-we-need-new-civil-war-documentary-180971996/#oEY3EIpx2iTag2py.99
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David Blight on Frederick Douglass

David Blight’s voice has become very familiar to me – I listened to his entire Yale iTunes U course on the Civil War, and have sought out his podcast appearances since then. This is the first time I’ve seen him speak, and this brief clip from a 2009 interview beautifully summarises Douglass’ life. By all accounts, Blight beautifully expounds on Douglass’ life, too, in a weighty new biography released recently.  I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.

Strange Blighted Land

Gregory Coco, author of A Strange and Blighted Land, speaks on this C-Span archive video about the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg. The book is not an easy read – it’s along the lines of Mary Roach’s Stiff – deeply disturbing if you’re a sensitive person, but fascinating if you’re at all intrigued by the biology and physiology of death.

Source: Strange Blighted Land Gettysburg Aftermath Battle | Video | C-SPAN.org

Virtual Reality Civil War Experience 

I cut my cable over 10 years ago, so I won’t be able to hunt this show down, but it does sound like a neat watch for those of you with access to the Discovery Channel’s spinoff network.

The Discovery-owned American Heroes Channel is bringing the Civil War from 2D to 360 degrees with a virtual reality experience.

The cable network’s short VR segment Civil War: Letter From the Trenches, from Cream 360 and Discovery VR, is a companion piece to Blood and Fury: America’s Civil War, a TV series set to debut Dec. 14 and transport viewers to tumultuous battles like Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Gettsyburg from a soldier’s point of view.

Set in 1865, Letter From the Trenches tells the story of a Confederate cadet dodging enemy fire on a muddy battlefield and uses a host of immersive sight and sound techniques to go beyond the surround sound experience you get at the local multiplex.

Source: Discovery’s American Heroes Channel Plans Virtual Reality Civil War Experience (Exclusive) | Hollywood Reporter

Was the Civil War About Slavery?

A uniformed man from a right wing organisation asking if the war was about slavery: I admit, I assumed this would be yet another Lost Cause argument about “states’ rights” and “protective tariffs”. The more I read of the Lost Cause the more revolted I am with the arguments of those who intentionally or mealy-mouthedly support it. Imagine my surprise and satisfaction that the topic here is dealt with very directly and very pragmatically.

Prager University Videos – Was the Civil War About Slavery? – YouTube.

Slavery by Another Name

A few updates while I have Internet access!

While coming well into the post-war era, this documentary (based on the book
by Douglas Blackman) shows how poor people – mainly blacks – in the South were reenslaved by means of sneaky laws and sneakier lawmakers. Heartbreaking, but an important piece of history.

Watch The Film | Slavery by Another Name | PBS.

Free State of Jones

Now here is some Civil War movie news that gets me excited!  An interesting story, a top notch actor, and a writer-director whose movies are both deftly written and deeply beautiful.  This will be a must-see for me.

Matthew McConaughey and writer-director Gary Ross are pegged to team up on ‘Free State Of Jones,’ which is looking to go before the cameras in the first quarter of 2015. ‘Free State Of Jones’ is based on the incredible story of Newton Knight (McConaughey), who’s best known as the leader of the Knight Company, a band of Confederate Army deserters that turned against the Confederacy during the Civil War. To avoid capture, the Knight men would disappear into swamp hideouts such as “Devil’s Den” or “Panther Creek.” The Knight Company was aided by sympathetic local people, whites and blacks. In particular, a slave woman named Rachel helped supply Newt with food and information.  On the run, he rallied the support of fellow deserters to lead an uprising against their former comrades, in the process creating a free safe haven.

via Matthew McConaughey & Gary Ross Team-Up On The Civil War Saga ‘Free State Of Jones’ | FlicksandBits.com – Movie News, Trailers, Interviews, Features, Images, Posters, Art & More.

PBS planning Civil War drama

I guess the sesquicentennial took a few years to register in the minds of TV and movie producers, but they’re throwing their lot in now.  In addition to the less-than-promising shows mentioned last week, this is a PBS production backed by some Hollywood clout.  I’ll post more news as I see it; this has some serious promise!

After being wedded for so long to British-centric scripted series, including the mega-hit “Downton Abbey,” America’s public-television giant has plans to do a Civil War drama shot in Virginia.

The news was announced last week during the Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Based on true stories, the six-part series, which is yet to be titled, will follow two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict — one a staunch New England abolitionist and the other a young Confederate belle.

The series is being produced by Ridley Scott and David Zucker, and is scheduled to air this winter.

via Brit-centric PBS planning Civil War drama – Lowell Sun Online.

‘Point of Honor’

It seems there’s another new Civil War show in production, but it also seems like this new show is not worth watching.  Given this dismal review and the hilariously awful stills provided, I’m going the Kentucky route of declaring myself neutral with the intent of sitting it out.

There’s a moment about five minutes into Point of Honor that illustrates what precious little thought the producers actually put into this show. An aging plantation owner in 1861 Lynchberg, Virginia tells his fussy daughter Lorelai that she reminds him most of her dead mother. He then brazenly tells a pianist to get up by gruffly barking, “Move boy!” so he can park Lorelai down at the keys. He asks her to play a song that her mother used to play. The song is Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

Now, I get why that might seem innocuous. It’s a famous piano solo that’s so well-known that it appears in Twilight. However, while many antebellum plantation owners were fond of French culture, none of them — as far as I know — were time travelers. Debussy started work on “Clair de Lune” in 1890 and he didn’t publish it until 1902. The song takes its title from a Paul Verlaine poem that was written in 1869. So, you’ll understand why I was so jarred by this musical selection. It’s the same as if Peggy Olsen turned on the radio on Mad Men, and Daft Punk started playing. Sure, not everyone in Point of Honor‘s audience is going to be a history snob, but everyone has google.

via ‘Point of Honor’: Why We’re Fighting Against Amazon’s Civil War Pilot | Decider | Where To Stream TV & Movies on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, HBO Go.