Battle of Antietam may not be in film

December 09, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

When "Gods and Generals" arrives in theaters in February, it may not have scenes from Washington County's most famous Civil War event, the Battle of Antietam.

A lot of footage was lost when director Ronald Maxwell pared down his original six-hour version of the movie to about 31/2 hours for theater audiences. Antietam scenes were cut and later restored, said movie publicist Vic Heutschy.

The fate of the Antietam footage won't be known until Maxwell finishes the movie's final cut, probably in January, said Dennis Frye, a local historian who worked as an associate producer of the movie.


All the scenes will be available on DVD, which will contain the six-hour version of the movie.

"Gods and Generals" tells the story of the war from its 1861 beginning until the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.

Filmmakers recreated four key battles for the cameras: Antietam, Chancellorsville, First Manassas and Fredericksburg, Frye said. The Antietam battle scenes were shot in Virginia and many of the other battle scenes were filmed in Washington County and Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

A Civil War buff, Maxwell has a particular fondness for the history at Antietam because he's spent so much time here, Frye said. In fact, he rented a house in the Sharpsburg area for about four years.

But Frye said Maxwell will have to set aside his personal feelings and do what's best for the movie and its character development. Frye, along with several local re-enactors who participated in the filming, said they don't have a preference.

"The ultimate decision on what gets in the film is the director's," Frye said. "We're hopeful that the re-enactors will be extremely pleased with the quality of this movie that without their participation would have been impossible to produce."

Some re-enactors are wondering whether they will show up on the big screen.

Kurt Wagaman, a re-enactor from Waynesboro, Pa., is fairly certain he'll be seen somewhere in the movie since he spent 30 days on the set in three different battles, including Antietam.

Even if he's not on film, Wagaman has no regrets about the time he spent.

"We just had a blast doing it," said Wagaman, who has a photo album to help him remember his experience.

John DeSalis of Chambersburg, Pa., said his purpose was not to become famous. He just wanted to make sure the movie was as authentic as possible.

About 3,000 military and civilian re-enactors volunteered for the filming. In exchange for their service, Maxwell gave $500,000 to the Center for Civil War Living History. The board, made up of Frye as well as re-enactors, is developing a policy on how to spend the money on battlefield preservation.

Re-enactors will have their first opportunity to see the movie at a Hagerstown preview showing Feb. 11 at The Maryland Theatre. The following night, there will be a preview at the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va., which served as a backdrop for several movie scenes.

The movie will be released to more than 1,100 U.S. theaters Feb. 21.

Wagaman and DeSalis said they will probably see the movie at the movie theater because they can't afford tickets to the previews, which cost $65 for the movie and $130 for the movie and an upscale reception.

"I'm dying at this point to see it, but I'll just have to wait like everybody else," DeSalis said.

Profits will be divided between the host theaters and the Center for Civil War Living History, Frye said.

Ted Turner, who financed "Gods and Generals" and 1993's "Gettysburg," has an option to make "Last Full Measure," which would be the third and final movie in the trilogy based on novels by Jeff and Michael Shaara. Much of that movie would likely be filmed in Washington County.

The Washington County Commissioners have offered to loan Maxwell $300,000 for pre-production costs. The loan would become a grant if at least half the movie is filmed here.

In other movie news:

  • Bob Dylan shot a music video for "Cross the Green Mountain," the song he wrote to play over the closing titles of the film, Heutschy said. The video was shot in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va., which is the final resting place for Confederate soldiers.

  • Singer-songwriter Mary Fahl has written the opening song for the movie, "Going Home."

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