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Get lemons ready for 'Gods" fest

March 11, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Last weekend, I broke down and went to see "Gods and Generals," the epic film that takes four hours to answer the question: Who was more annoying, Stonewall Jackson or his wife?

The answer probably being his wife, since he had the good manners to die at film's end, leaving the woman to inflict her looney grin on society for an unspecified number of years hence.

Or at least that is what I would be writing if I were one of these smart, suave city reviewers who almost universally hated the movie, much of which was made in our own back yard.

But being the unsophisticated hick viewer that I am, I have to make the awful admission that I sort of liked "Gods and Generals." Not all over maybe, but in spots. In truth, this is probably bad news for Ron Maxwell et al, since, as Mark Twain said, anytime I enjoy anything in art it means that it is pretty poor.

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But I thought the actors were good, I thought the photography was pretty and I thought the story was accurate and well-told. Yes, "Gods and Generals" is doomed.

Now some people have written and called and said they liked "Gods and Generals," too. But don't get excited that I am taking your view, because I am not. Most of you said you liked it because it had a wholesome message, whereas I liked it despite the fact it had a wholesome message.

In fact, if called upon to put a fine point on it, this film overbooked its wholesome flight by about 90 minutes. I realize that when you have a general such as Stonewall Jackson who has such a childlike enthusiasm for slaughter, you're probably going to need more than five or 10 minutes to convince everyone that he was really just a big, fuzzy teddy bear at heart.

But after about the 40th time that he rolled his eyes heavenward to discuss his most recent battle plan with the Almighty, I confess to it wearing a bit thin with me.

The Civil War lasted about four years, but with all the prayers launched his way, to the Lord it must have seemed like 20. Considering He had thousands of His children butchering thousands more of His children - and then profusely thanking Him for the privilege - it is likely that the Creator must have spent no small amount of time from 1861-65 wondering exactly where He went wrong.

So I could have done without the praying.

And I could have done without the high teas, the whittling, the lemonade, the diary entries, the box socials, the singing around the piano and all the other Norman Rockwell moments. There's a brilliant scene where Jackson gives a little girl a horseyback ride. Then the next moment, as his eyes turn to heartless flint, he says that the only solution to the Yankee problem is to "Kill them; kill them all."

OK, Ron, we get it. Jackson is complex. Now let's move on.

If he'd needed a good editor, we have one here at the paper. Given a copy of the "Iliad" prior to publication, she'd have had Ulysses back home and tucked into bed inside of a day and a half.

See, the problem is that "Gone With the Generals" is a movie about Southerners, for Southerners. So it is perfectly understandable the film is so long - Southerners aren't like city folk; they've got time.

But the Southerners don't have the numbers or the money of New York and L.A. Sad to say, but for the movie to work financially, you need those people to flock to the theater and those heathens ain't about to spend four hours watching some militaristic prayer meeting.

Fortunately I have a solution, and you will understand what I am talking about if you have ever seen the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." "Rocky Horror" was a movie so bad that it became a cult film, to which audiences flock by the millions each year to dress up and participate in the fun.

I think "Generals" would make quite a credible cult film, thus rescuing it from financial ruin.

When Jackson is on the screen, the audience could throw lemons. When the troops march, everyone could chant "boom chaka laka laka, boom chaka laka laka" a la "Stripes."

And when Jackson's wife makes an appearance? Feel free to deal with her as you see fit.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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