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"films to teach the war" Topic

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23 Jul 2022 10:01 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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doc mcb16 Jul 2022 2:50 p.m. PST

Okay, suppose you have a go-ahead to do a semester on the Civil War in film. There's time to do six films: the class watches one, together, big screen, and then the next week spends three hours discussing it. Required paper is an analysis of one or more films as history: whta's right, what's wrong, what's missing.

Pick six.

I think mine would be:
1) GODS AND GENERALS (maybe with an hour cut);
6) LINCOLN (on the passage of the 13th amendment)

Additions or deletions? Critiques?

doc mcb16 Jul 2022 2:51 p.m. PST

If I had time for a seventh, maybe COLD MOUNTAIN.

doc mcb16 Jul 2022 2:53 p.m. PST

Vast gaps in our film library, of course; no good portraits either of Lee or of Grant, for example. Lee the general is done in GAG and GETTYSBURG, but not the inner man; and nothing I am aware of on Grant, or Sherman.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 3:18 p.m. PST

The Free State of Jones, and The Outlaw Josie Wales.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 3:21 p.m. PST

Audie Murphy's 'The Red Badge of Courage' would be in my list.

Lascaris16 Jul 2022 3:35 p.m. PST

I would remove Gods & Generals. We threaten people with having to watch it as punishment for transgressions. It's a poorly acted, terribly written movie.

The others are great choices and I would second the inclusion of the Red Badge of Courage.

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 3:58 p.m. PST

I would remove Ride with the Devil and substitute the Audie Murphy Red Badge of Courage also.
While I Have a working knowledge of the ACW I am no expert but I do like Gods & Generals.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 4:00 p.m. PST

Gettysburg, Glory, Free State of Jones and Lincoln.

doc mcb16 Jul 2022 4:08 p.m. PST

GAG drags in the middle, but Stonewall is well portrayed as the weird genus he was. And the Fredericksburg section is, I thin, very fine. Except maybe for Chamberlain in his corset!

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 4:32 p.m. PST

Field of Lost Shoes would be a must for me – particularly for college age kids

Perhaps Andersonville – if a college or high level age

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 5:03 p.m. PST

It is funny how tastes vary because I thought Field of Lost Shoes was absolute crap.

HMS Exeter16 Jul 2022 5:17 p.m. PST

So, I've somehow been corralled to do a 201 level class on the ACW in cinema in today's post secondary educational climate.

My choices would appear to be:

A) Pick the 6 most historically accurate films, and get fired.
B) Pick the 6 best examples of English language cinema, and get fired.
C) Pick the 6 least controversial films, and get fired.
D) Pick 6 films on the ECW, profess misunderstanding, and get fired.
E) Fake a heart attack, get carted off to the ER, then go into witness protection. They can't fire you if they can't find you.

If I didn't care about getting fired.
1) 12 Years a Slave.
2) August Light
3) Red Badge of Courage
4) Gangs of New York/Little Women
5) Glory
6) The Andersonville Trial

doc mcb16 Jul 2022 5:52 p.m. PST

Yes, GANGS OF NY is a good choice.

HMS, volunteer to teach in a prison. In my experience they let you choose your materials, and the men are excellent students, eager to learn and participate.

Grattan54 Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2022 7:09 p.m. PST

Can't show Gods and Generals. That movie is pure 100% Lost cause and also a really, really bad movie. I would add Andersonville. The Horse Soldiers too.

Martin Rapier16 Jul 2022 11:47 p.m. PST

In no particular order:

The Red Badge of Courage
The Outlaw Josie Wales
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gone with the Wind
Gangs of NY (what a brilliant suggestion)

depends what the theme of your course is. I'm doing 'changing depictions of the ACW in cinema'.

If I want to teach the ACW using visual media I'd just tell them to watch Ken Burns documentary.

Au pas de Charge17 Jul 2022 6:37 a.m. PST

GAG drags in the middle, but Stonewall is well portrayed as the weird genus he was.

When he cried about that little girl dying, did you find that moving?

Murvihill17 Jul 2022 6:55 a.m. PST

I'm glad someone mentioned the Horse Soldiers. While it's mostly Hollywood, it's based on a real cavalry raid.

doc mcb17 Jul 2022 7:22 a.m. PST

So is ALVAREZ KELLY. Hampton's beefsteak raid.

doc mcb17 Jul 2022 7:28 a.m. PST

Charge, Thomas Jackson was a Calvinist Presbyterian, same as me, and he/we are weird dudes. What you thought was bad acting was more an accurate portrayal of a very different sort of personality than you may be familiar with. Next time you are in Lexington you can put a lemon on his grave. (You have to toss it through the fence.)


HMS Exeter17 Jul 2022 8:17 a.m. PST

I don't think Ken Burns' Civil War is consistent with current academic sensibilities on the conflict. More's the pity.

I fear the even handed depiction of the southern leaders would "trigger" a campus wide furor, some sweeping denunciations, and either some corrective reflection/apology or possibly a pink slip.

donlowry17 Jul 2022 9:08 a.m. PST

Don't know how long Ken Burns' documentary series is, maybe too long to fit your parameters, but it's by far the best video mentioned here to get the whole picture. (Glory and Gettysburg are good for their topics, as is Red Badge of Courage, oh, and Lincoln of course. There was also a made-for-TV mini-series called Gore Vidal's Lincoln that was pretty good.)

Au pas de Charge17 Jul 2022 9:30 a.m. PST

Charge, Thomas Jackson was a Calvinist Presbyterian, same as me, and he/we are weird dudes. What you thought was bad acting was more an accurate portrayal of a very different sort of personality than you may be familiar with.

I was raised in the Presbyterian church too. I don't think I'm weird but I am unfamiliar with this different Presbyterian personality?

doc mcb17 Jul 2022 10:40 a.m. PST

Which Presbyterians? There are many, as you no doubt know. Stonewall was a Calvinist through-and-through. That made him very assured (you can see that in his refusal to tell others what his plans were) and utterly indifferent to physical risk. There's also a certain type of fatalism, not for oneself but for other people.

Escapee Supporting Member of TMP17 Jul 2022 2:57 p.m. PST

If I was forced to use films, Burns would be my choice because of the many quotes and photographs. Its about real people. It is even handed, does not ignore slavery. Has a lot of historical content packed into it. Shelby Foote may be a little Lost Cause sometimes. It's long, but when you are done,it feels like you have been through the war.

HansPeterB17 Jul 2022 9:59 p.m. PST

Basically donlowry +1. If we have to do film, not books, I guess that I'd go with Glory, Gettysburg, Lincoln, and Red Badge of Courage -- then it gets harder… Maybe Cold Mountain and Gangs of New York. As for Gods and Generals, well, imo any movie that can make that moment in American history boring is a crime. I guess that Gone with the Wind has value as a piece of period history but without extensive contextualization its portrayal of the American antebellum South would do students more harm than good. If we can count Ken Burns, then, absolutely, it would provide the best learning experience overall.

doc mcb18 Jul 2022 7:29 a.m. PST

The premise of the OP is that students would spend 3 hours -- a week of class time -- discussing each film. That is contextualization. And of course books are better, except for the fact that fewer and fewer people either CAN read or DO read. Whereas many get what little knowledge of history they have from Hollywood.The point is to teach the limits of films as history.

But there is a great deal of truth to GONE WITH THE WIND, as well as some obvious problems.

arthur181518 Jul 2022 7:36 a.m. PST

The Horse Soldiers is an enjoyable film, but it is based on a novel rather than the historical raid led by Benjamin Grierson, to which it bears very little resemblance.

Perhaps the 'safest' thing to do with films set in the ACW is to pick ones that focus on the personal experiences of soldiers, such as Glory and Red Badge of Courage, and discuss how accurately – or not – they portray combat, and what compromises film makers adopt in the name of entertainment, and avoid the thorny 'political' aspects of 'why' the war occurred and what it was 'about'.

That's the approach I took with my pupils when studying Journey's End in English lessons: we looked at the meaning of courage, of leadership and characters of Stanhope, Osbourne, Trotter, Hibbert and Raleigh; no discussion of why WWI began – and just as well, as afterwards one of my pupils revealed his grandfather had served in the Kaiser's army.

doc mcb18 Jul 2022 8:08 a.m. PST

I agree about HE HORSE SOLDIERS.

And yes, I do much the same sort of approach -- what is heroism -- using three Alamo/Davy Crockett flicks.

But, of course, we are abandoning much of what history is, or should be, when we avoid the tough topics. But much also depends on grade level.

HansPeterB18 Jul 2022 9:32 a.m. PST

Of course, our experiences may vary, but I'm not a huge fan of the "history of x through film!" genre. I had to teach/facilitate a history of Rome set up very much like your hypothetical class many years ago, and, for me, the time allocated for context was ludicrously insufficient. Maybe I was just not up to the task, but I doubt if my students learned a whole lot about ancient Rome (except perhaps about gladiators…).

I'm also not convinced that we can dismiss our students' willingness and ability to read so cavalierly: I've taught a history of modern war through literary representations of conflict, alternating between fiction and memoir that students loved. The reading list varied, but usually included Grimmelshausen, Killer Angels, Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, AQotWF, Band of Brothers, and so forth. I think that the issue is more that students today demand to be engaged more immediately and directly than back in our day. Although again, I'm not sure how my students in North Dakota and (earlier) in NY compare to those in other schools.

Bill N19 Jul 2022 6:30 a.m. PST

I would not favor a class that tried to teach the ACW through film. I don't think there are enough movies that are sufficiently accurate to do this. Instead the course would be about how the ACW has been depicted in movies.

The natural starting point for this would be the first part of Birth of a Nation. This would then feed in to Gone with the Wind nicely, and from there either into Outlaw Josey Whales or Pharaoh's Army. Glory would then be a good counterpoise to Birth of a Nation.

My sentimental preference though would be to start out with Buster Keaton's The General and then go to Fess Parker's The Great Locomotive Chase.

Lascaris19 Jul 2022 2:10 p.m. PST

Interestingly enough the American Battlefield Trust just posted a YouTube video covering Civil War movies. I thought it was well done and covered a lot of films.

donlowry19 Jul 2022 5:43 p.m. PST

Ah, forgot about The Great Locomotive Chase -- a made-for-TV movie, IIRC. It was pretty well done.

HMS Exeter20 Jul 2022 6:17 a.m. PST

I'm not really recommending it, but Shenandoah is probably worthy of consideration.

Escapee Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2022 7:21 a.m. PST

I thought of Shenandoah also, for the moral questions and struggles it poses. Sentimental as it is, corny, it is actually pretty thought provoking when it comes to the loss of bucolic innocence brought on by war. James Stewart is himself, an American film icon, but with much more depth than Wayne in the Horse Soldiers, which I loved as a kid until I read Dee Browns Grierson's Raid.

It is certainly not the usual take on the war. But again, I don't think films carry much weight on the subject, not even if you are studying film. My opinion.

Choctaw22 Jul 2022 9:38 a.m. PST

Black Fox because not everything happened back east.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP23 Jul 2022 7:11 p.m. PST

If you are talking documentaries then absolutely Ken Burns' "The Civil War" I did not add it to my list because, it is a documentary and it would be too long for a classroom, even if you showed it over several days, most teachers do not have that luxury. GAG would be a huge mistake to show to students. You would bore them out of their minds and they will hate having anything to do with the study of history. I will stick with:

Gettysburg, Glory, Free State of Jones and Lincoln.

Nick Pasha20 Sep 2022 12:37 p.m. PST

As a retired history teacher I will tell you it is impossible to teach the ACW in one semester accurately through film. Too many aspects to cover. If you are covering just the military aspect then battle movies that show strategy, weapons and outcomes are what you want to use. I used episodes of North and South, and The Blue and The gray as well Glory, Gettysburg, the Red Badge of Courage and the Horse Soldiers.
If you are covering the social aspect include Gone with the wind and episodes of the Blue and the Gray, North and South and Roots that apply.

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