Recently I had a post about my top nine cinematic guilty pleasure films, with National Treasure coming in a strong first place.
- National Treasure
- O Brother, Where Art Thou
- Night at the Museum
- 1776: The Musical
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Mummy
- White Christmas
- Disney’s Hercules/Mulan
- The Patriot
Well, I realized I had forgotten a film, which rounds the list out to an even ten. I can’t believe I forgot this film. Ready for it?
I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed the movie Gettysburg yet. It was only the thing that got this whole historical obsession started in the first place. Fair warning – this is much less of a formal review and much more of an opinion piece since I am certain I have lost the ability to review this movie objectively.
… cuz stuff like this happens when I’m around …
Backstory: Back in 9th grade, the culmination of the unit on the American Civil War involved hiding in a darkened classroom for three days watching this film as a dramatic interpretation of everything we had just studied.
Afterwards, a classmate made an offhand comment about how it compared to the book, which got everyone’s attention because we hadn’t known the film was based on a book. So I had to read the book (Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara). Then it looked like Killer Angels was part of a trilogy, so I read those other two books (prequel Gods and Generals, after which the film was named, and sequel The Last Full Measure, both written by Jeff Shaara.) All three books gave a human voice to these players like nothing I had seen before. So I had to start reading biographies of everyone to see how their fictional selves compared to their real life selves.
And … it just kind of snowballed from there.
I’m sure I’ve stated many times here that I am a fan of both the ridiculous and the sublime, and when they come together in something sublimely ridiculous, so much the better.
Far more time has gone into thinking about this post than I would care to admit, including various searches and lists on the Googles, time on IMDB, and introspection. My desire is to cover all the necessary points without any grievous omissions, for an omission on a list like this would probably be the worst thing ever.
Bearing all that in mind, what follows is a list of my top nine cinematic (history themed) guilty pleasures. These movies are more entertaining than historically accurate, and to list these as “great historical films” runs the risk of opening oneself up to ridicule from hardcore historical nerds.
Whatever. Honeybadger don’t care.
[ Feedback welcome! Am I forgetting anything? Is my taste in movies so poor you’ll never read my blog again? ]
“The first casualty of war is truth.”
The tagline – for the 2015 Estonian film centering around the Estonian conflict during the second half of 1944 – is poetic and catchy, but doesn’t match up with the story told. The film tries to create a story that fits, but the overall follow-through of this theme is weak. Despite the thematic disconnect and rather weak characterization, I enjoyed it for its artistry and production quality and, surprisingly, subtle emotion.
Before World War 2 officially started, Estonia declared neutrality, but was then occupied by Russia in 1940. What followed were deportations, arrests, executions, and conscription of Estonians into the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps. But in 1941, Germany invaded and occupied Estonia, conscripting Estonians to fight for them. Since only native born Germans could be in the regular army, a lot of these Estonians ended up in the SS. (According to Wikipedia) those Estonians who could, fled to Finland to create a fighting unit, but some also went and fought for Allied forces, either British or American. Then in 1944, the Soviets re-invaded and suddenly the conflict in Estonia had Soviet Estonians fighting Nazi Estonians.
This film, then, address both the World War and the battle in and for Estonia during 1944.
I saw Dunkirk over the weekend and thought it was worth all the hype surrounding it. It was nearly nonstop action and when it was done, I was so tense I felt like I had just driven four hours through a white-out rainstorm on the highway. Afterwards, I read the reviews on IMDB, where there are a lot of cinematic complaints/comments, but also an equally number of useful historical complaints/comments which I find to be informative.
The cinematography was beautiful and stark. There was surprising emotion: I didn’t know I was that invested, I’m not crying you’re crying. You see men in the throes of hope and futility at the same time. It’s all so British. And poignant. And depressing. And triumphant. And beautiful. And tragic.
(Quick note: I was relatively impervious to the hype, as my WW2 film repertoire consists solely of Monuments Men, Fury, Inglorious Basterds -which made no sense- and White Christmas, which is more of a holiday thing than war film. My repertoire lacks the usual suspects of Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Schindler’s List, etc, etc.)
There are spoilers under the cut so take fair warning.
I may have left the Museum of the American Revolution delirious and hangry, but I was inspired. There had been so much sensory intake that it needed an appropriate release of some sort. Which, in layman’s terms, meant I finished the day watching the musical film 1776 and laughing louder than probably necessary at .. most of it.
Holy macaroni. The holiest of macaronis. 1776 is SO cheesy and ridiculous I LOVE IT.
… or four and a half hours of my life I won’t get back.
The impetus for watching this film was actually inspired by St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a scene during the Battle of Fredericksburg where the Irish Brigade of fame, led by Gen. Thomas Meagher, attacks Marye’s Heights and meet the 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, or Georgia’s Irish Brigade. In the film, the Georgians are shocked and appalled both that their fellow Irishmen are fighting for the Union and that they are actively shooting their fellow Irishmen. When the Federals retreat, the Georgians send up a cry to honor their dead and retreating brethren. What a way to celebrate a day most everyone else takes as an excuse to drink excessively. The Irish love their misery, I guess, and my father, being 3rd generation Irish, made sure us kids knew the ways of his people.
Southern Irish: Fighting against a tyrannical government, which only makes sense from the States Rights Cause perspective. Because the British had been ruling Ireland for centuries, was extremely discriminatory against them, and had just allowed millions to die during the Great Famine, a tragedy which the Crown could have prevented.
Northern Irish: fighting against slavery and for a unified state, as generally the Irish were the lowest of the second-class citizenry in the UK, hardly better off than slaves. Also for the Union, and very American ideals that what status you’re born at doesn’t mean you’ll die there, that you can bootstrap yourself up the societal chain.
I’m one of those people who can’t just cherrypick a clip of a film. I have to watch the whole thing. And I did. I did not actively take notes, so what follows will be general impressions of this rewatch. Also, please note that I saw the movie when it came out in 2003, and this might be the first time I’ve seen it since. On principle, I generally don’t watch it. (The soundtrack, on the other hand, is amazing.)
And so without further ado, Gods and Generals: