Tag Archives: History

Is it the Fourth?

Americans, largely through the efforts of a lewd media, used the Fourth of July 2017… to denigrate and trivialize Thomas Jefferson’s memory.  Salacious accusations disguised as legitimate archaeology and scholarship dragged the author of our Declaration of Independence down into tabloid scandal-mongering.  We have fallen to the point where Jefferson’s name cannot be mentioned without alleged slave mistresses.  We forget what he gave us- focusing instead on trifling conjecture.  We have forgotten what the Fourth of July truly means….

“I thank heaven that the 4th. of July is over. It is always a day of great fatigue to me”

Jefferson said… “And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. In short, the flames kindled on the 4th. of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism. On the contrary they will consume those engines, and all who work them.”

 

Remember what Jefferson gave us…….. never forget what he gave mankind. 

 

To stop desecrating my memory

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A Day to Remember

 

John Adams considered our independence a moment for all time. All the celebrations we enjoy this day can be traced to this letter sent to his wife shortly after the vote was held.

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells,Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).

Founding brothers

50 years after the momentous day, Jefferson still had strong feelings for the cause and the day. He was comforted knowing Americans continued celebrating the day.

” I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made….For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” [22

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July 3, 1863

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Rising to the occasion is a concept so misunderstood… it borders on the cliché.  When used in the wrong context it cheapens actual heroic achievement.  Too often, historic deeds are overlooked because well-worn studies have rendered them routine because of historic scope.  In the pivotal battle of the war, at its decisive moment, actions speak louder than the words of any biographer…. as Confederate soldiers stormed over the stonewall at the “Angle”- decisive action was needed, and General Alexander Webb provided it.

The 72nd PA and Webb's charge

The 72nd PA and Webb’s charge

Alexander Webb received the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 3, 1863.  Webb’s brigade occupied the crucial position at the “copse of trees” which was the focal point of Lee’s attack.  Webb marched defiantly up and down his line during the fierce bombardment that preceded Pickett’s charge.  The confederates under Armistead  charged into Webb’s position and the two brigades were locked in deadly combat.  Seizing the colors of the 72nd Pennsylvania, Webb led a charge into the confederates  at the famous “angle” in the stone wall.   The two generals nearly came to personal blows as Webb’s counter attack brought them to within feet of each other.  Armistead fell mortally wounded while a ball passed through Webb’s upper thigh, but he remained on the field.  Webb describes the action in his report of the battle.  General George Gordon Meade nominated Webb for the Medal of Honor which he received in 1891.

Photo53038

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Movie Review- In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea- 2015  Dir. by Ron Howard
Final Grade-  B

 

Somewhere between fact and fiction… resides the story of the whale ship Essex.  Often claimed to be the inspiration behind Melville’s Moby Dick,  the story of the Essex and her crew is the essence of sea fables; a terrible battle with a mythical sea creature, salty determination of the crew, and the unspeakable limits of survival.  Nathaniel Philbrick’s tremendous account, In the Heart of the Sea, separated legend from fact while fairly examining the whaling industry that inspired Melville’s masterpiece.

A hunky Owen Chase

A hunky Owen Chase

Director Ron Howard and writer Charles Leavitt… decided to blur the lines in their cinematic interpretation of Philbrick’s study.  Weaving factual elements of the story with the pursuit of a vengeful sperm whale makes a decent Hollywood adventure, but a poor rendering of the historical record.  Like Melville, Howard cannot seem to divert attention from an abnormally large whale sinking the Essex, choosing to merely highlight the harrowing journey of the men.  Philbrick’s rendering does justice to the crew and their 95 day ordeal, where seven members were cannibalized.   The film depicts the whale stalking the crew as it drifts across the South Pacific, more Melville than history.

You can never go wrong with the source material

You can never go wrong with the source material

The story of whaleship Essex… deserves more than the two hour running time filmmakers grant it.  Nathaniel Philbrick’s study skillfully blends the rich detail, harrowing adventure, and tortured humanity involved in the tragedy.  Ron Howard’s film only scratches the surface of the tragic events, choosing instead to focus far too much energy on a computer generated sperm whale and the hunky leading man.

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Movie Review- Birth of a Nation (2016)

Mel Gibson’s blueprint to “Braveheart” does a disservice to Turner’s rebellion        Final Grade-  D 

 

First-time director Nate Parker takes full advantage of the Hollywood… surge in independent, minority filmmakers tackling long ignored characters and events.  Parker wrote, directed, produced and stars as Nat Turner, leader of the bloodiest slave rebellion in US history.  In August of 1831, Turner and a band of devoted followers murdered 60 white men, women, and children in Southampton, Virginia.  Turner’s rebels killed nearly everyone they encountered, including the brutal beheading of an infant.  The Virginia militia suppressed the rebellion on August 23, though Turner eluded capture until October.  Virginia authorities executed 56 blacks in retaliation- historians believe as many as 120 slaves may have been killed in the aftermath.  Turner was hanged on November 11.

 

Parker touches on the history with short strokes… choosing to follow the well-used revenge trope  utilized by Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart”.  Turner’s true motivation was religious- a devout Baptist, Turner claimed to receive a calling from God to free  his people and punish their oppressors.  Parker’s Turner is religious, but it barely serves as a set piece- Parker focuses intently on the rape and beating of Turner’s wife and the wife of his chief conspirator(conjectural.)  The comparisons to Gibson’s film about Scottish rebel William Wallace are striking-  martyrdom driven by bloody revenge- a simple,  yet effective way to make a movie.  History is complex and often messy and Parker’s film misses the mark telling the accurate story of Turner’s rebellion.  Villains are beheaded by righteous warriors and the heroes fall in a blaze of glory on the battlefield.  Missing are the atrocities, drunkenness, and religion that comprised those complicated 48 hours.  Far from a pitched battle, Turner’s rebellion could not be sustained when confronted with better armed, and determined troops.  Parker’s final battle is complete with the slow motion charging, battle axes thrust defiantly into the air, muted cries of “Freedom”  drowned out by the artillery of the antagonists- minus the face paint and kilts.

 

There are powerful images found in Parker’s film… but the script is too conventionally written to capture the historical relevance of Turner’s rebellion.  Parker only briefly touches on Turner’s confessional, a stark testimony given by Turner to a lawyer shortly before his hanging.  In his own words, Turner chillingly describes every murder he and his followers committed.  He leaves little doubt that he believed it was God’s will, much like John Brown’s convictions thirty years later.  The ironic title Parker conceived is far from proper acknowledgment of the impact this event had on history.  States throughout the South strengthened already oppressive laws limiting freedoms to slaves and their owners- including the right to unconditional manumission.  Many of these changes came about to placate poor whites, who felt especially vulnerable following the bloodshed. Too much attention falls upon Parker’s Turner and his motivations- lost are the deeper religious and cultural motivations for the uprising.

Nat Turner boldly declaredI had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.”   Nate Parker’s film fails to appropriately portray the complexities and historical relevance of Turner’s rebellion.    Conventional Hollywood treatment of historical events often lead to missed opportunities- precisely how “Birth of a Nation” treats Nat Turner.

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Dances with Cliches

Hollywood demands that historical epics be simple… and Kevin Costner obliged with the trite western drama, Dances with Wolves.   Costner provided everything the politically correct elite of the movie industry expected;  white man- murderous, greedy, BAD :  red man- peaceful, egalitarian, GOOD.    Hollywood responded by heaping praise and awards (robbing Goodfellas) on Costner’s three-hour cinematic apology.  This simplistic, naive tale passes for history in many circles, a fact that should frighten people concerned with historical accuracy.  Filmmakers constantly use their medium for revision, but in terms of history, such efforts do more harm than good.  No revision is required when a better example can be studied.

Plays with Camera- distorts our history

The complex history of American Indian policy… was better dramatized by the great filmmaker, John Ford, in the classic Fort Apache.  Ford created a classic piece of historical fiction without passing judgements or applying modern moral standards to a by-gone era.  The characters are real, not stereotypical (well, drunk Irishmen abound) cut-outs of revisionist fantasy.  Not all white men are bad, not all Indians are noble; instead, the complex relationships build conflict throughout the film.  Ford’s attention to the details of frontier military life provide a rich background to the tale of Cochise and the Apache wars.

Sad when great films are forgotten

The history of Westward expansion is too important… to leave to Hollywood.  History as presented by California elites is convenient, judgemental, and ultimately, poorly told.  Revisionist history has found a powerful ally in Hollywood, but discriminating audiences can and should resist the dubious lessons.

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Movie Review- 12 Years a Slave

Practically Historical Grade-     C+

 

Steve McQueen is obsessed with startling… visuals, the kind that grab an audience and rarely let go.  His first historical film detailed with nauseating frankness the hunger strike of IRA dissident, Bobby Sands.  In his latest effort, 12 Years a Slave, McQueen brings to the screen the brutal captivity of freeman Solomon Northup.  Based on Northup’s memoir of the same name, McQueen’s interpretation is far too concerned with shock value to capture the deeper messages of Northup’s writing.  John Ridley’s conscientious script is at times  sacrificed to the director’s need to visualize brutality even his subject could not describe.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Historians have been divided over... the academy award winning film.  John Ridley’s script faithfully follows Northup’s memoir but McQueen wastes little time extrapolating the narrative with visceral images designed to enlighten, but often deliver little more than wincing.  Events Northup leaves to the readers’ imaginations, McQueen brutally visualizes- primarily the whipping of Patsey.  McQueen was more than willing to leave Northup’s story to show a fictional murder aboard a slave ship, again for effect, rather than plot.  What saves the film from being a bloody mess are the performances.  Much attention was awarded to Lupita Nyong’o for her harrowing portrayal of Patsey- but Chiwetel Ejiofor is a revelation as Northup; haunting and tragic, his performance is the real soul of the film.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender

Scenery, dialect, and costuming were …all well researched- this is not the glorified plantation living of Gone With the Wind, rather a dank, crumbling, stagnate world teetering on the edge of collapse.  Michael Fassbender’s psychotic turn as Edwin Epps is symbolic of the self destructive nature of chattel slavery.  Many critics cite McQueen’s ambivalence to religion as a weakness in the script- Northup spoke strongly of faith as well as the good Christian nature of his first master, William Ford(an understated Benedict Cumberbatch.)   Strong performances, gritty scenery and cinematography, and a historically accurate script make 12 Years a Slave a must see experience.  The film’s horrific depictions of violence are considered necessary by some, will be lamented by all- one has to consider whether McQueen could have told the story without as many scare tactics.

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