Sunday, July 7, 2013



I did – I saw it and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as Round-up regulars know from my review (HERE’s the link if you missed it). I knew the purists – whether devotees of Fran Stryker, Brace Beemer or Clayton Moore – would have some problems with it, as did I, but I thought overall it was so well done that I strongly recommended it. I was relieved to see, on various internet posts, that many (though not all) fellow traditionalists agreed with me.

J.R. Sanders, Western writer, and creator of the Read‘em Cowboy program that’s become a big part of the National Day Of The Cowboy, made the following post, which I’m quoting in its entirety:

“I, for one, have given this movie the horselaugh from the moment I first heard about it. A Disneyfied Lone Ranger? Johnny Depp as Tonto? Give me a break! Like many others, I reserved particular scorn for the goofy hats and Depp’s dead crow headpiece.

“Yesterday, I went to see the film, for a couple of reasons:
1. Henry Parke gave it a glowing review, and Henry’s usually spot on.
2. I figured I couldn’t legitimately criticize a film without actually seeing it for myself.

“Long story short, I had a hell of a good time. Yes, it’s campy, it’s inauthentic, and it’s cheesy in spots. In short, it’s a Disney film. But I’d maintain that for the most part, it’s not much more campy, cheesy, inauthentic or implausible than many of the classic Westerns we self-proclaimed hardcores cut our teeth on. Think back for a moment…Roy Rogers, riding the range in a sequined shirt, saving the umpteenth ranch from an evil banker/land baron, on behalf of the poor widow du jour. Realistic? Hardly. Entertaining? You bet. How about Gene Autry, in sometimes less/sometimes more gaudy duds, swapping horses for planes, trains and automobiles at the drop of a cowboy hat, often all in the same picture. What the hell year was it supposed to be, anyway? Did we ever know? Did we care? And you could be sure that if a guitar appeared, either of those fellows would abruptly pause in the midst of his heroic derring-do and burst into song. Historically accurate? Man, I hope not, or America’s a sillier place than Camelot.

“Now consider the standard against which most detractors are judging this film– the Clayton Moore/Jay Silverheels versions. There was Tonto, wearing a costume than looked like it came from a bad Thanksgiving pageant. There was the Masked Man himself, wearing a form-fitting, unicolor outfit that would be more at home on a figure skater than a Western icon, and strapped with a double buscadero gun rig so blingy and pimped-out it would be the envy of any modern-day rapper. Did that bother anyone?

“My point, of course, is that Western films and TV shows have always been escapist, and have always included the fanciful as well as the factual - some going for realism and historical fidelity and others made for pure entertainment. And as long as the filmmakers and producers are honest about which sort they’re making, I think that’s o.k. There’s room for both. There always has been.”
Also, press reports on the ‘failure’ of LONE RANGER at the box office are misleading. Stan Smith, manager of Big Sky Cinema in Dillon, Montana, explains it this way. “Just to give some insight on the release schedule, Disney released RANGER on Wednesday to limited screens as their other current film, MONSTER U, was ending its 2nd week. They went wide on Friday with RANGER on a weekend that is considered the busiest of the summer for outdoor activities. DESPICABLE ME 2 was released wide on Wednesday with many more screens than RANGER. Out of fairness RANGER opened well for the release it had. It was up against an animated family film. Also, film critics are notoriously hard on westerns. I, for one, never regard anything critics have to say as worthy of my attention. I run a first run movie theatre and we opened THE LONE RANGER to sold out shows, 3 shows a night. Everyone I talked to enjoyed it thoroughly! I thought it was a good direction to take the story. Much like was done with the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films. I knew Clayton Moore in his last years. He was a gracious gentleman. I am certain he would have loved their take on this story.”
And I would like to add that this is the first theatre-released Western I can recall in decades that is making an active play to get kids in the seats – there are even two ten-ish boys with major roles. And many of the negative reviews are from critics who have no knowledge of or sympathy with the history of the American West, whether factual or fanciful. 
I’m not saying it’s perfect; I am saying it’s damned good, and great fun, and if people don’t buy tickets, then studios will conclude understandably that audiences don’t want Westerns, and this mini-boom of Western production, which has been growing since 3:10 TO YUMA (2007), with miss-steps like JONAH HEX and COWBOYS & ALIENS, but triumphs like APPALOOSA and TRUE GRIT and DJANGO UNCHAINED, will run out of track. Let’s not forget that LONE RANGER was initially cancelled by Disney, due to the disappointing box office of COWBOYS& ALIENS.The success of every Western helps our cause, and the failure of every Western hurts it. You know Disney, and you know Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer: they want this to be a franchise; they want to make more, and it’s in our best interest to help them. 
And while we’re on the subject, if you haven’t caught Ron Maxwell’s COPPERHEAD yet, in theatres or on pay-per-view, I’d suggest you do it. It’s not a big war movie like his previous Civil War pictures, but the story of those at home deserves to be told as well. Besides, he wants his next picture to be about Belle Starr, and he wants to do the third movie in his Civil War trilogy from the books by Michael Shaara, and the success of one leads to the possibility of the next. Spend your money!


As I detailed in the June 27th Round-up, my interview with Ron Maxwell, the director of GETTYSBURG, GODS AND GENERALS, and the new Civil War-at-home drama THE COPPERHEAD (read part 1 of the interview, and my review, HERE was cut short because we were having too much fun, and went over time – other interviewers were waiting in the wings.  Ron promised we’d find time to finish our talk and, good as his word – always a surprise in Hollywood – two mornings later the phone rang, and it was Ron, in Atlanta, en route from the airport to a meeting.  We completed the interview as he rode along.  My next question was about novelist Bill Kaufman, who scripted THE COPPERHEAD from the novel by Harold Frederic.

HENRY:  Bill Kaufman is a well-respected writer, but as far as I know, this is his first produced screenplay.

RON MAXWELL:  It’s his first produced screenplay, but it’s his second screenplay.  He and I worked on a project before this one.  The working title is ANTEBELLUM – it takes place in the 1830s and the 1840s.  It’s an original screenplay based on real events.  I think he’d be the first one to admit I am his tutor as far as screenplay writing, but he’s a quick learner and, as you know, a very accomplished writer.  I work very closely with writers when we start to work on a screenplay.  When I first met him at a conference, I was impressed with his wit, his intelligence, his sense of humor.  He’s a man who’s free of cant, and who’s free of political correctness.  He’s a free man.  And those are the kind of free-thinkers that I appreciate. 

HENRY:  Now Billy Campbell played General Pickett in GODS AND GENERALS, for you.  What was it like to work with him again?            

RON MAXWELL:  Well, we actually did three movies together, because he plays Lt. Pitzer in GETTYSBURG.  He has that one kind of ‘laugh-line’ in the picture, when Chamberlin asks where the 20th Maine should be positioned on the third day, and he says the safest place in the battlefield,  right smack-dab in the middle.  He had just that one scene in GETTYSBURG, then he had the one scene playing Pickett during the Battle of Fredericksburg.  He’s a very accomplished actor, and so when I began this project I thought of him right away; he was just role of perfect casting for the role of Abner.

HENRY:  By the way, have you seen him playing Lincoln in the Bill O’Reilly KILLING LINCOLN? 

RON MAXWELL:  I did – that was actually filmed and aired while we were in post-production.  We filmed COPPERHEAD months before he filmed that; but being a big movie, we’ve got to take a lot of time in post-production.  So during the ten months of our post-production they filmed that and it aired, and I thought he did a good job.  And he got to play Abraham Lincoln, and an Abraham Lincoln critic, all in the same year.

HENRY:  (laughs) That’s range for you!  How’d you like working with Peter Fonda?

RON MAXWELL:  Oh, he’s a lot of fun; he’s an icon.  He comes from a dynastic family.  In the film, there’s one scene where he meets Abner, and they speak about the issues that are dividing the town.  And that first shot, when you first see him, is an exact replica, to every detail, to his father playing YOUNG MISTER LINCOLN in John Ford’s 1939 film.   The only difference is that film was in black and white, and ours is color.  After we finished filming that scene, Peter looked up in the sky and said, “Dad, I hope you’re proud of me.”

HENRY:  All of your Civil War films have been shot by Holland-born Kees Van Oostrum.  What special gifts does he bring?

RON MAXWELL:  This is our third picture together, so we don’t have to spend too much time talking about things anymore, because we share an aesthetic.  We have a style; all three movies have a certain style, I refer to it as the classical style.  We all have our own personalities, our own idiosyncrasies of course because we’re all individuals, but it’s the same style that Speilberg works in; that the Coen brothers work in; that Ang Lee works in.  The classical style which has been practiced for a hundred years of filmmaking.  It’s been refined and revised, and we make it our own, but it’s antithetical to what is the fashion today; moving the camera constantly, and fast cutting.  It’s a different way to make movies.  And Kees and I work in that tradition, that classical style, which is meticulous composition, meticulous lighting.  You just set up each shot one at a time, and design them.  So it’s a very deliberate, well-composed, well-lit filmmaking.  And within that style, Kees is a master.  He paints with the camera.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say COPPERHEAD is like a Vermeer painting from beginning to end, come to life.

HENRY: You have a very talented cast, but aside from Billy Campbell and Peter Fonda, I wasn’t familiar with many of them.  How did you assemble them? 

RON MAXWELL:  Rene Haynes did our casting out of Los Angeles, which was international casting – we cast from the entire Anglophonic world of actors for the six or seven leads.  And then the remainder of the cast, the other twenty-five or so parts, we cast right out of the Maritimes where we knew we were going to be filming.  Sheila Lane was our casting director in Halifax, and she did a good job of bringing forward some of these regional actors; and what talent, what depth there was there.  We found some veteran actors like Hugh Thompson who plays Hurley, and total newcomers who’d never done film before, like Josh Cruddas who played Jimmy.  And then on the international casting out of Los Angeles, we found Casey Brown, who plays Jeff Beech, and he at the time was a junior at USC; this is his first film.  So we’ve got first-time actors alongside veterans like Angus McFadyen, Billy Campbell and Peter Fonda.  They all worked really well together; seamlessly, I would say.  I think it’s a wonderful ensemble of actors; I’m very pleased and very proud of their work.

HENRY:  Where in Canada did you shoot?

RON MAXWELL:  We shot it in New Brunswick, along the St. John River.  They have a historic settlement called King’s Landing, and that enabled us to make a movie that otherwise would have been off the charts; it would have been hugely expensive, and therefore probably not even producible to make an independent, serious-minded film.  So it just gave us the opportunity to shoot it with scope and breadth, depth, really create the nineteenth century. 

HENRY:  How a long a shoot was it?

RON MAXWELL:  Thirty-four days.  You can do that when you have enough pre-production; we had four solid months of pre-production.  Enough time to do your homework, and a couple of weeks with the actors on the set.  So you prepare a movie properly, you can shoot at a pretty fast clip.  

HENRY:  Speaking to the whole question of doing a serious-minded film, a historical film, does it bother you how difficult it is to get a historical film made, and yet it seems easy to make ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, with a $69 million budget?

RON MAXWELL:  Well, as you know, our budget was ten.  Look, vampires and zombies, that’s all the rage now, so that’s what the studios are doing.  They’ll be doing something different a year from now.  I’m in a different game.  That’s the studio game, and they can find very accomplished filmmakers to deliver the goods.  I’m an independent filmmaker; I do what interests me, not what the factory wants to produce.  And what interests me is where I spend my time.  It’s a little more difficult to put things together, but I’m an entrepreneur as well as a filmmaker, and you’ve just got to figure these things out. 

HENRY:  In 1939, when my mother was in high school, her American History teacher fell behind, so she skipped teaching the Civil War, and assigned her classes to see GONE WITH THE WIND – which they were tested on.  I have a number of friends in their 20s and 30s that saw GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS in high school, as part of their study of the Civil War.  Are you surprised at the films’ longevity, and growing reputation, that they are taught?

RON MAXWELL:   Well, I’m delighted.  I was surprised initially, when I realized what was going on, not just in junior high schools and high schools, but in colleges, and in graduate programs.  There are people, executives, who get on a bus, to visit Gettysburg for leadership training, and going up and coming back, they’re watching GETTYSBURG on the bus!  It speaks to people of all ages, all kind of professional levels, and I’ve just been so profoundly pleased that the film has taken on this life.  And I’m not exaggerating, Henry; it’s more important to me than what the critics say, what the box office results are; because that stuff was important on the day.  But when the dust settles, it’s the life that the movie has afterwards.  And the fact that neither of those movies, GETTYSBURG or GODS AND GENERALS, has been forgotten.  On the contrary, they’re being rediscovered, reaching wider and wider audiences.  And I meet people all the time, and they can recite the script, they’ve seen these movies so many times, they know them better than I do.   I think they are respected because people realize we really tried to be honest to the time, honest to the people, honest to the history.  We knew we were never going to get it all right, I would never make that claim, but I think people understand that we made a best-faith effort to get to the truth of what made those people tick, and that’s why they like the movies; that’s why they connect with the movies.  Hopefully the same connection will be made with THE COPPERHEAD. 

HENRY: Your battle scenes, and the moments leading up to the battle, are unusual because, in some unspoken way, you communicate the terror of individual soldiers going into direct combat to a degree that other filmmakers don’t.  Do you know what you do differently, that it registers the way it does?

RON MAXWELL:   Well first of all, I write the scenes that you have to have.  And you’re quite right: very few movies, and I would never say ‘none’, but very few movies spend time anticipating the battle, building up to the battle.  And anybody who’s ever been in combat will tell you – and I’ve never been in combat, but my father was in World War II, and I have friends who were in Vietnam – and they’ll tell you.  The joke is, it’s weeks of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  And it’s the anticipation of battle that’s so important to see.  Not just to set it up in terms of what’s going on logistically; so the audience knows who’s where, and what the stakes are, tactically.  But also, the character of the men, see the adrenaline building, the fear building.  All the energy that breaks through before they have contact.  Because until it happens, no one knows if they’ll survive it.  It’s so important to establish, before the clash occurs.  Otherwise, all you’re left with is that action, which can be visually interesting, but it won’t be emotionally interesting. 

And the other thing, from a camera point-of-view is you’ve got to get close.   It’s all well and good to have the big panoramic action scenes, but you have to get close, you have to have big close-ups, with your leading actors, and see what they’re going through, and I think that’s what really connects with the audience and makes it emotional.

HENRY:  While most war movies have traditionally focused on action, yours focus as much on tactics, especially with Gettysburg and Little Round Top.  Do you think most of your audience can follow it?

RON MAXWELL:  Yes; I think it’s very important to be specific.  What you know, having watched these movies as carefully as you have, is that no two battles – you can look at the three-days battle in GETTYSBURG, and the four battles that are in the director’s cut of GODS AND GENERALS – no two are the same.  Why?  Because the terrain was different.  Time of year was different.  The protagonists are different.  Rivers were involved in some; rivers were not involved in others.  You had to have pontoon bridges.  The time of day; whether the light was in the eyes of the soldiers, or not.  The tactic that a particular commander used.  Whether it was cavalry; whether it was infantry; whether it was artillery.  You have to take all these things into consideration.  And then, they’re different battles, so they’re going to be photographed differently.  I think that’s what these films have; they have a unique way of presenting mid-nineteenth century battles, and nothing is generic.  It’s the generic fighting, where the director takes the movie, and he treats the fighting of the Peloponnesian War as he would the Civil War as he would World War II…  There’s a sameness that is deadening, because the camera isn’t looking at specific things.  I think that one of the things that makes these movies work is they’re very specific, in terms of how people fought, the weapons they used, that kind of thing.  And another thing that we chose to do is just to limit the violence.  You could make these movies horrifically violent; blood and gore non-stop, and you know what?  It would be authentic.  But the problem with that is, first of all you move to an ‘R’ rating, which eliminates all the kids under seventeen years old – which is ridiculous, because these are movies about American history.  They should see them.  Secondly, I want to communicate with people’s hearts and souls.  I don’t want to make them feel sick.  What’s important to me is that Armistead dies.  That’s a man; that’s a human being.  It’s not about the particular wound, about how the bullet entered his abdomen, how the blood gushed out – that’s not what’s it’s about.  We know those graphic things happen.  What it’s about is that the man died; that the human being perished.  The man we’ve been with through the movie, and cared about.  My emphasis is on the people, not on the wound.  We show the wound, but we don’t show it graphically, and I think that is another thing that distinguishes me, distinguishes these movies from what other filmmakers do.  But I don’t criticize other filmmakers who do that – it’s just not my style. 

So you take all those things together, the feelings of the people, the feeling of the men in the battle, and the fact that you understand tactically what’s going on.  Another thing we try to do is to not confuse the audience.  It’s a thin line to walk, because war is confusing; there is chaos.  So you’ve got to capture the chaos, but at the same time, not confuse the audience.  If the audience is confused, then they tune out.  So the audience has to understand who is where, and understand at the same time that the characters are in a state of chaos.  So that’s why it’s story-boarded, thought through, and shot in a very deliberate manner. 

HENRY: Your first two Civil War movies were made with the legendary entrepreneur Ted Turner.  What was your working relationship like?

RON MAXWELL:  It couldn’t have been better.  I’m in Atlanta as we’re talking, and we’re going to screen the film tonight, for a charity of his choosing.  We’ve been doing benefit screenings for six weeks now, all across the country, and I called Ted and said we’d love to do a screening for one of your charities, so he selected the Atlanta History Center; that’s where we’re showing it tonight.  He’s a great guy.  I didn’t have contractual final cut on either one of those movies, but in reality I did have final cut, thanks to Ted Turner.  Because as we know, he’s a man with strong ideas; he lets you know his opinions, and they’re mostly really good, mostly really good ideas.  But every time he would say, “Ron, it’s your film.  Do it the way you want.”  So in fact, thanks to Ted Turner I was able to make the movies I wanted to make, without any pressure of any kind. 

HENRY: Your films brought a lot of overdue recognition to Jeff Daniel’s character, Col. Joshua Chamberlain.  His home in Brunswick, Maine, long split into apartments, is now the Chamberlain Museum.  With the 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg a few weeks away, have you heard President Obama is being lobbied to award him a posthumous Medal of Honor?  Think he should? 

RON MAXWELL:  That shows you how ignorant I am – I didn’t know that Chamberlain didn’t have a Congressional Medal of Honor.  I thought he did.  Well he certainly deserves one! 

HENRY: I was curious; why did you leave Custer out of Gettysburg?

RON MAXWELL:  Well Custer was part of the cavalry battle on the third day, what we know as Cavalry Field, and it’s separated from the current National Park; it’s part of the National Park, but it’s separated by a mile of town.  The reason it’s not in the film is the reason a lot of stuff is not in the film.  A huge part of the Battle of Gettysburg is not in the movie GETTYSBURG because it’s based on Michael Shaara’s book, THE KILLER ANGELS, and it tells the story of those characters, which is a work of fiction.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, not for history.  So it’s the Battle of Gettysburg from the point of view of those characters who were in THE KILLER ANGELS.  There are parts of the battle that needs to be commemorated by other filmmakers. 

HENRY: If someone who had not seen your Civil War films, in what order would you suggest they be watched?

RON MAXWELL:  They probably should see the two previous ones on their own, because they are of a piece, they follow the same characters.  And I think the best order to see them in is chronologically, even though GODS AND GENERALS was made ten years after, I think you start with GODS AND GENERALS because it takes you from 1851 through the spring of 1853, it ends soon after the Battle of Chancellorsville, and GETTYSBURG picks up in June of 1853.  The director’s cut of GODS AND GENERALS is five hours; the director’s cut of GETTYSBURG is four and a half hours, so that’s nine and a half hours: that’s more than enough for a weekend!  COPPERHEAD stands on its own.  It can be seen before or after, because it’s a different story; a different time. 

HENRY: You directed two of our finest actors, Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall, in the role of Robert E. Lee.  Which performance was your favorite, or more historically accurate?

RON MAXWELL:  Again, if you look at the title of the book that GETTYSBURG was based on, it was THE KILLER ANGELS.  And there’s a scene in GETTYSBURG when Killrain and Chamberlain are talking about the rights of man, and he refers to the quote, ‘What a piece of work is man,’ etc.  The title comes from Shakespeare, and so if you look at those two actors, who are both terrific actors, they both brought things that are authentic to the role of Robert E. Lee, but they’re very different, in the same way that two actors can play Hamlet, and you’ll have the same text, but two different interpretations.  So if you think of the title of the book, Martin Sheen’s Robert E. Lee was more of the angel, and Robert Duvall’s tended to be more of the killer. 

COPPERHEAD is playing in theatres around the country, as well as on pay-per-view.  To find out more, visit their official website HERE. 

Well folks, that's about it for this Round-up!  Hope you have a great week!  If there are a lot of little boxes around words, and stuff highlighted in blue, I have no idea why, but I couldn't figure out how to get rid of it.

Hi-yo Silver!  Away!

All Original Contents Copyright July 2013 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

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