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"The Cinematic Lost Cause" Topic

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Tango0105 Mar 2022 8:39 p.m. PST

"In his 1926 comic masterpiece, The General, Buster Keaton plays the protagonist Johnny Gray, a Southerner declared unfit for active service in the Civil War but determined to fight for the Confederacy anyway. Defending the Southern sympathies of the film, Keaton explained, "It's awful hard to make heroes out of the Yankees."

Keaton's stance wasn't unique. The majority of American films dealing with the Civil War side with the Confederacy, finding it easier to make heroes of those who lost a war and fought to preserve chattel slavery. Key among them are Birth of a Nation (1916) and Gone With the Wind (1939), both acclaimed "Lost Cause" romances featuring kindly plantation owners, happy slaves, and gallant Confederate soldiers hopelessly outnumbered by marauding Yankees…"

More here



Grelber05 Mar 2022 10:17 p.m. PST

I've read Bruce Chadwick's The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, and he makes some good points. I saw Gone With the Wing the summer after I graduated from high school, and realized a good deal of it was historical fantasy.

I vaguely recall watching a film that seemed like it might be a Union version of Gone With the Wind: you can see how big an impression that made on me!

I think there is a lot of good material--it just hasn't been used. Louisa May Alcott spent several months in Washington nursing wounded soldiers, and wrote a book about it. George Henry Thomas, Virginian and Union General, would make an interesting bio-pic. The Army of the Cumberland storming Missionary Ridge must have been one of the most visually stunning events of the war.


Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2022 11:50 p.m. PST

From the period of the Spanish American War to WWII there was a big push to reconcile the South to the rest of the nation with loyalty to the United States rather than the individual states. With the US at war overseas in the Span/Am war and Mexico, then WWI it was seen as important to unite the nation. That's one reason why there were so many bases in the South named after CSA generals, most, maybe all, of which served honorably in the US Army before and in some cases, after the ACW. The issue that led to war was slavery, but the principle was states rights, an issue that is still debated in the US today.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek
Bunker Talk blog

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2022 7:27 a.m. PST

Interesting article – as to "A reader wrote to moving picture world in 1909, "Why do all the Civil War movies have the Northern army come out ahead?"" my answer would be, because they did!

When I was a kid I always wondered why the US Army named all those bases after people who i) deserted/resigned from it and (more the point) ii) fought against it – as the wise Bunkermeister points out, it was to appeal to the Southerners – and as well it has been said that it was a good recruiting tool for Southern men, who for a long time made up a good part of the US Army; even today, the US Army has about 45% of recruits from the South, which makes about 36% of the population

donlowry06 Mar 2022 8:41 a.m. PST

I vaguely recall watching a film that seemed like it might be a Union version of Gone With the Wind:

Possibly "Raintree County", 1957, with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint and Lee Marvin. A good movie. DeForrest Kelley (later Doc on Star Trek) had a small part as a Confederate officer.

But, yeah, growing up in the era when Westerns were common among movies, it always irked me that the Rebels were heroes and Yankees were villains.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2022 9:47 a.m. PST

True – and on TV there were shows like Johnny Yuma where he was a heroic ex-Confederate

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2022 10:27 a.m. PST

Why really care? Hollywood normally makes movies that are inaccurate to history. Who takes their historical movies seriously? Especially some of the ones sighted? They are not supposed to be history, they are fictional history. Well maybe the writer of this article and those with no knowledge of history take them seriously. "Gone with the Wind" was written like the book read. Why change that? It is what it is.

Now if someone actually made a movie about George Thomas and portrayed him as evil and a villain, had him played by a black man, or someone from Asia. Then that is a legitimate issue. As would be doing a remake of "Glory" with the 54th Massachusetts being all white led by black officers and happily raping and pillaging their way through the South.

Bill N06 Mar 2022 12:53 p.m. PST

It is hard for me to say that Gone with the Wind as a Lost Cause romance. Off the top of my head Scarlett's first husband dies of disease. Big Nate goes to dig holes so the white (Confederates) can hide in them. Atlanta is looted by its own citizens and destroyed by the retreating Confederate army. There is a better argument that GWTW was soft on the post-war south than for the Confederates in the war itself.

Tango0106 Mar 2022 2:44 p.m. PST

Many thanks


Bellerophon199306 Mar 2022 3:25 p.m. PST

I think OVI, that it's extremely probable people have internalized Lost Cause media as "real history" and have allowed it to contribute to their perceptions about the actual war. It's no coincidence that pro-CSA sentiment still festers when representations of it are so positive.

By contrast, you will not find many Germans who advance myths about the Wehrmacht or feel kinship to WW2 Germany because "it's my heritage", possibly because there is little to no sympathetic media (Closest I can think of is Das Boot)

Blutarski06 Mar 2022 4:56 p.m. PST

It is only fitting to recognize the contribution made by President Woodrow Wilson in advancing interest in "Lost Cause" cinema by screening "The Birth of a Nation" at the White House.



Bellerophon199306 Mar 2022 7:33 p.m. PST

Indeed – arguably it is the most famous and enduring example of the genre.

Grattan54 Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2022 8:27 p.m. PST

Gone with the Wind is right up there too. Plus many many movies made in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bellerophon199307 Mar 2022 6:05 a.m. PST

Hopefully in the next 30 years or so we can start creating more Civil War media that pushes back against the Lost Cause. Lincoln is a fine film, I wonder if you could do something with Grant, or perhaps an epic-style film about Antietam or even another swing at Gettysburg.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP07 Mar 2022 6:21 a.m. PST

The right has argued that Hollywood films are liberal propaganda for years. And the left reacted strongly to John Wayne in The Green Berets

Film as propaganda is not uncommon. In this case it shaped the image of the Confederate cause in so many ways over time that many embraced the message and history as ordinary people understood it was distorted.
+1 Bellerophon

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP07 Mar 2022 7:59 a.m. PST

Guys, Gone with the Wind was written based on a book. I read the book, it followed the book. If you have an issue, address the book. What was Hollywood supposed to do?

Tango0107 Mar 2022 2:33 p.m. PST

Thanks also…


Blutarski07 Mar 2022 4:56 p.m. PST

The key here is that, in this new "enlightened" 21st century, politics now supersedes mere human sentiments and sensibilities. Where once mankind could dream within a universe of ideas and emotions, we are now obliged to confine ourselves within the bounds of the intellectually curated "Google-verse" and "META-verse".

I'm rooting for a return to the world of C. S. Lewis


Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP09 Mar 2022 6:17 a.m. PST

Not all of us are bound, Blutarski. I barely know what you are talking about! If it sounds like social media, it sounds like trouble, that's all I know.

CS Lewis is good, but right now we seem to be living in a world of Tolkien. And how many people have read Tolkien at this point instead of seeing the films?

WarpSpeed09 Mar 2022 2:02 p.m. PST

Plenty of old 1950s western series with grey kepi wearing tramps,bums and troublemakers in the background.its fine for a timeline up to a certain point but after 1872 most would have fallen apart with regular use.

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