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.