Cinema’s Civil War Sesquicentennial: Top twelve histories filmed with lightning

Why so many cinematic/TV works about the War Between the States? Why has this genre attracted vast audiences and enjoyed enduring popularity? From plantations to Harpers Ferry to Fort Sumter to Gettysburg to Appomattox Courthouse to Lincoln’s assassination, Civil War cinema/TV runs the gamut, striking a national nerve. This was America’s first modern, mechanized war (the naval battle between the Monitor and Merrimac was depicted in 1936’s Hearts In Bondage and the Delbert Mann-directed 1991 TV movie Ironclads) to be fought after photography’s invention. Matthew Brady’s wartime photos left a visual legacy inspiring film-makers from Griffith to Ford to Burns to Sergio Leone’s 1966 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. More of our countrymen – 600,000-plus – died during the Civil War than in any other war; combatants in both armies were Americans. Jefferson Davis, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Lee, Grant, Sherman, and Custer all attended West Point. Families and friends were divided by the conflagration…

Ed Rampell and Luis Reyes pick their favourites from a century of American Civil War films.

Harry Palmer, Michael Caine & The Ipcress File: Part 1

From his dingy digs to a Ford Zodiac out of the car pool, Harry Palmer, deadbeat and bad-mouthed by his own B107, debunks the cosmopolitan glamour of 007. Looking anything but dynamic in his pyjamas, in a poorhouse contrast to any opening graphics for James Bond, he wakes up over the main titles of The IPCRESS File like he doesn’t know what day it is, like many of us, and like many of us he can’t even see the day without his glasses, hardly a vote of confidence for a spy. Over coffee he picks the winners, or the losers, on the racing pages of his newspaper. Hardly Connery’s casino introduction. Only a zoom close-up − and there aren’t many zooms in this film − notices that Palmer reaches for a gun as he leaves for work. Otherwise it’s a day in the life of a file clerk.

Gary McMahon on a cult movie once marketed as ‘The Thinking Man’s James Bond’.

Love, sacrifice and redemption: A triadic tale of women in Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943), Fellini’s La Strada (1954) and von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996)

Day of Wrath by Carl Theodor Dreyer, La Strada by Federico Fellini, and Breaking the Waves by Lars von Trier, are three films concerned with women’s martyrdom, suffering and sacrificial love. By centring on extensive close-ups on Anne, Gelsomina and Bess, the female protagonists, all three films forge paths of intense identification between the spectators and the characters, while responding to pre-existing assumptions and perceptions of what is to be understood as femininity and its role within the boundaries of relationships. In spite of some differences in their cinematic styles, these three directors treat this subject with both measured skepticism and reverence. They challenge us to distance ourselves, even if only temporarily, from accepted norms of behaviour, so that we might re-experience and re-formulate the concept of unconditional love in a way in which our cultural baggage and biases do not determine our views.

Angela Tumini assesses the female protagonists of three European classics.

Ray: The Last Phase

Satyajit Ray’s films are almost invariably concerned with man’s viable connection with his society, his world, his universe. They advocate not the self’s mindless submission to contemporary society but a new alignment between them. His heritage might have contributed to this libertarian stance. Belonging to a family with strong links to the Bengal Renaissance, Ray inherited the world-view of a class deeply committed to the European Enlightenment philosophies of progress. Expected therefore is the progressive, secular, cosmopolitan, liberal-humanist ideal of his work. Ray made a novel attempt to define the ‘modern’ as a special hybrid discourse by combining western liberal ideas and traditional eastern values.

Binayak Roy looks at the worldview inherent in Satyajit Ray’s later films.

The Production Dynamics of Western Films Connected with ‘The Soviet/Russian Topic’

It should be noted that unlike in the United States, anti-Soviet and anti-communist films were practically not shot in Italy and France, on account of the strong influence of national communist parties in the first post-war decade. For similar reasons the distribution of American anti-communist films was extremely restricted. Moreover, even if such films chanced to be shown in France (e.g. Diplomatic Courier [1952]) they were dubbed into French so that no one could guess the nationality or country of the enemies/spies. In the United Kingdom, that followed the lead of the American policy, the situation was certainly different but even here some film-makers may have abandoned the stormy anti-communist attack for political reasons. The anti-Soviet consensus was hampered by a number of factors including the sympathy towards the Soviet views concerning the safe western border, American unreliability, and some left-wing politicians’ belief in the potential compatibility of communism and social democracy.

Alexander Fedorov traces how and when the Soviet Union/Russia has been most frequently portrayed in western films.

Between Past and Future: Looking For Buenos Aires in Hugo Santiago’s Invasion (Invasión, 1969)

Around 1974−75, the film was scheduled to be shown on television because one of the co-producers of the film was a television broadcaster, but − because guerrilla activity was at its height in the ‘70s in Argentina − the film was banned from television broadcast. In 1978, I returned to Paris − I had been there in 1973−74 to film The Others, which was another script by Borges − and while I was in Paris, 40 minutes of the original negative of Invasión were stolen. A paramilitary mission had been organized purposely to confiscate the film from the Alex Lab. They came into the lab wielding machine guns, grabbed a 
few film cannisters and left.

Hugo Santiago interviewed by Michael Guillén.

An interview with Jean-Marc Barr

American Translation is Badlands [1973] shot in three weeks in 15-hour days. When you have to shoot commando style, it brings an intensity to the film. We know these actors. We give ourselves liberties with the lap dance and the nudity, which is also part of the style.

Jean-Marc Barr chats to Gary M. Kramer about the making of American Translation. Read Kramer’s review of American Translation here.

Not Out Yet: Amit Sen on the Challenges of Tagore-Themed Comedy

In Natobar Not Out (2010), 
his debut feature, Amit Sen has taken on the challenge
 of combining high culture 
and popular comedy. Natobar comes from a family of manual labourers, but dreams of being a poet. Although he writes feverishly, his only real fan is his pretty neighbour, Mishtu. One night, his portrait of Rabindranath Tagore comes to life and grants Natobar the gift of eloquence for a limited time. Even with the skill of Bengal’s greatest poet, Natobar can’t make a living from his verse… until he finds a job at an advertising agency.

Alison Frank interviews director Amit Sen.


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