Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gettysburg, on the History Channel

       through the eyes of

The History Channel's visioning of Gettysburg was pretty ridiculous as both history and narrative. Riddled with inaccuracies and oversimplifications, it is poorly edited to the point that I was two minutes into the show that followed it before I realized that it had ended.

Beyond the issues of "button counting" the authenticity of weapons and uniforms (which I find secondary to the narrative) there was an odd aspect of disassociation to it, as if it had been filmed in another country (apparently it was) much like a spaghetti western, with the actors merely aping what they imagined the American Civil War to be - Vaqueros del yanqui en una guerra con los payasos rebeldes.

In this telling of the battle, seems Rufus Dawes did all of the heavy lifting, just as J.L. Chamberlain was portrayed doing in the Ron Maxwell visioning of Gettysburg in his film of the same name.  Poor George Sears Greene gets slighted again by less-than-rigorous scriptwrtiers.

Oddly enough, there were some very fine historians attached to the program, though in a manner that seemed quite detached , almost as if the producers felt the need to intersperse the narrative with built-in snack and beer breaks for the action-oriented set. ( I really like Peter Carmichael, by the way, I met him at the park once and he seems like a really nice guy).  I'd rather have listened to a panel discussion of those learned individuals on the subject without the cgi bells and whistles that did so little, otherwise, to advance the show.

All that being said, the over-the-top art direction really is fun to watch. It's garish and surreal, circus-like almost. Reminding me frequently of the work of one of my very favorite directors, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the mind behind such treasures as A Very Long Engagement and Delicatessin.   There, however the enjoyment stops.  The effort was very, very bad as History but  good as an exploding pinata filled with gumballs, confetti, and tiny monkeys in bellhop uniforms, and that clearly ain't history.

I did approach the program with some skepticism, not particularly optimistic regarding the abilities of the History Channel to actually convey history to a popular audience, in prime-time at least, if Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and other such programs are any indication of the credibility of the producers at the History Channel.  As fun to watch as those programs are, they do precious little to advance the historic narrative, beyond Chumley's obvious paucity of information regarding just about every object that walks through the doors of the pawnshop.  Similarly, if Larry the Cableguy, is viewed as the arbiter of American History, then I think, alas, that it's time to sell your savings bonds and learn Chinese.

The one hope I did advance to others regarding "Gettysburg" was that perhaps it would serve as a catalyst of enquiry for younger viewers, sparking their interest and guiding them toward lifetime learning.  Sadly, the late time slot (on a school night) and the graphic depiction of violence  (there are still many parents to whom that is objectionable) may have precluded any substantial audience of young people.
Seems that precious little history found it's way to the "History" Channel last night.

Regrettably, it seems  a lost opportunity for an important public outlet- the History Channel - to really advance the exploration and discussion of the American Civil War, in a meaningful manner,  in this sesquicentennial era.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day in Sharpsburg - 3

Family obligations caused me to miss the parade today however, Susan and I did mange to get to Sharpsburg for Ranger Alann's National Cemetery walk.

Right at six in the evening Alann strode through the cemetery gates to a waiting group of about 18 visitors.

As the evening shadows lengthened, Alann regaled us with stories of the battle, the development of the cemetery, and the lives of many of the individual soldiers buried there.

Like a pied piper, Alann set the pace, and his audience followed him throughout the grounds, all very interested in the stories and obviously appreciative of Alann's easy delivery style and knowledge of the subject.

Everyone clearly enjoyed the 45 minute presentation.

Alann even hung around afterwards to help out a couple of Junior Rangers to qualify for their badges.

It was a delightful way to bring this Memorial Day Saturday to a close.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day in Sharpsburg - 2

Every year, in preparation for Memorial Day, the Children of Sharpsburg Elementary School place flags at each of the graves at the Antietam National Cemetery.

The cemetery is awash with stars and stripes as kids in blue tee shirts steadily make their way down the marble rows...

 planting flags at each stone...

with measurement as precise as a fourth-graders foot can be.

With plenty of adult supervision from parents, teachers...

and Rangers,

these boys and girls of the Antietam Creek Valley...

 remind us through their actions...

 that there is a difference between unknown soldiers and forgotten soldiers.

And it happens every year, just east of Sharpsburg.

Here's a little video.

Ranger Mannie

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Day in Sharpsburg - 1

Earlier this week I got a call from the head of maintenance to come to the National Cemetery with my camera.

Upon arrival, I heard a voice from above:

A new halyard was being installed on the flagpole.

All in a day's work for some, though not for me, I'm happy to say.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Market Battlefield Park

I'll be posting more on this later.  For right now, here's one photo that, for me, sums up the efficacy of the self-guided tour map and brochure, of that otherwise outstanding facility.

Brass tacks

This, I like!

New Gettysburg movie on the History Channel

Remember the movie The Horse Soldiers with John Wayne?  I watched it again last night, it remains a favorite.  The dialogue is clever and the history is oddly familiar if not quite accurate.  Nonetheless, as a kid, it sparked my imagination, made me a lifetime learner on the Civil War, and that is the really noble purpose of such pieces of entertainment.

Enter Gettysburg on the History Channel this Memorial Day weekend.  If the insignia on the Hardee hat is any indication there should be plenty of grist here to keep the mills of the blogosphere running.  Go to the link, see what you think, then spill some ink.  I'll be interested in the variety of reviews that come in.

Here's the hunting horn insignia of the infantry as worn on the regulation Hardee Hat:

Here's the crossed rifles insignia from the History Channel film Gettysburg:

(click on it to examine closely)

And here's that same, exact insignia as found on the six dollar kid kepis from China:

Perhaps this is one of the consequences of having Larry the cable guy help make history one day at a time.

As for me, I'll be thinking of all the nine-year-olds who may be avidly watching it, warts and all, with unjaundiced eyes, who will be the historians, avid tourists, and park rangers of tomorrow.

Here's hoping.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Nice Blog

I met John Banks today at Antietam, he's a really nice guy with a very cool blog which you can see here