Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And odd look at history

I've commented a couple of times about Hollywood's treatment of history. A more recent movie with a very different look at American history is airing tonight at 8:30 PM ET on the Independent Film Channel: CSA: The Confederate States of America.

The premise of the movie is that the Confederacy won the Civil War in 1864 and conquered the Union, driving Lincoln from the White House and making the Confederate governement the government of the whole country. 140 years on, a British TV channel made a documentary of the past 140 years of American history that can now be shown on American television for the first time. The whole of CSA is not just the mockumentary, but the purported Confederate TV broadcast of that mockumentary.

The movie is certainly very different. The mockumentary is presented using a lot of the techniques that Ken Burns used in his epic PBS documentary on the Civil War (and later documentaries), combined with a look at one of the CSA's most prominent contemporary families, whose scion is now running for President. Parts of the presenation are quite good, especially when parodic humor is used, such as a "D.W. Griffith" portrayal of Harriet Tubman shepherding a blackface Abraham Lincoln into Canada via the Underground Railroad, and another look at the way the Hollywood of the 1940s might have depicted the government of the era just after the War. There are also the talking-heads, historians who are supposed to be "experts" about Confederate history, although these sequences aren't quite as good.

More controversial, however, will be the parts of the movie that are "commercials", the breaks between the bits of the mockumentary as it would have been shown on TV. These are for fake products with names that some might find offensive, and ad presentations that could almost fit in with Hollywood's blackface musical numbers of the 1930s. It would be easy for viewers to find these very offensive, although the producers don't have that intention in mind at all, making their intentions clear in the closing credits.

CSA is an intriguing movie that deserves a viewing, although it may not be to everybody's tastes. If you prefer a more conventional look at history, you might prefer switching back to TCM afterwards for Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far, airing at 10:00 PM ET.

No comments: