Monday February, 25 2019 at 03:15 AM
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Edward Zwick's Glory (1989), a Civil War historical drama starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman, is especially memorable for its attention to physical detail- the cinematography and production design are both breathtaking. But Zwick's story, which is based on real events, also deals with the plight of African-American troops during the War Between the States, a topic that, quite shamefully, is barely touched upon in this country's history books. For that reason, the film is more challenging than your average Civil War picture. Many of the narrative's key battles are fought between men who are supposed to be comrades in arms.
Broderick is Union Gen. Robert Gould Shaw, a baby-faced Bostonian who's assigned to lead the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Army, the first Black fighting regiment in the war. The men of the 54th are a scruffy collection of former and escaped slaves. We follow the men - including a rebellious, deeply embittered escaped slave named Trip (Washington), and a wise, emotionally-measured gravedigger named Rawlins (Freeman) as they're turned into soldiers. But first, they have to be accepted as human beings by the often brutal military officers that are training them. The men's inner and outward battles will finally come to a head during a horrific suicide mission at Carolina's Fort Wagner.
Zwick was careful when filming Glory not to turn it into a Black story with a more commercially convenient white hero. "We didn't want this film to fall under that shadow," Freeman said. "This is a picture about the 54th Regiment, not Colonel Shaw, but at the same time the two are inseparable." In order to assure accuracy, Zwick hired Shelby Foote, who would later become a semi-household name courtesy of Ken Burns' popular 1990 PBS nine episode documentary The Civil War, as a technical advisor.
It's interesting to note that Washington was reluctant to take on his role in Glory. "I had a lot of reservations about doing something like [Glory]," he said in a 1990 issue of Ebony magazine. "My father-in-law was a principal at one of the top Black high schools in North Carolina and he always told me the worst thing that ever happened was integration. In a lot of ways I agree with him, because we have gotten further and further away from (Black) culture." But he finally recognized that Glory gave him a shot at "an honest portrayal, a fully realized character." He accepted the role, of course, and won an Oscar® as a result.
In 1995, when he was promoting Courage Under Fire (1996), Zwick said he was unhappy about having to go to the Department of Defense to get help with his Gulf War picture. The generals wanted him to change a few scenes to their liking, and this infuriated him. He said he was convinced that this sort of government interference arises when bureaucrats with no writing experience try to shape a narrative that they're incapable of judging. And he used his experience on Glory to prove his point.
"[Glory] is shown today in Officer Candidate School as an example of the tribulations of leadership and as inspiration to the rank and file," he said. "Had I originally shown that script which describes racism, a whipping by a junior officer, incidents of all sorts of insubordination and questionable treatment to the Department of Defense, I do not think at that time they would have been able to support it."
Zwick's stance was that fact-based motion pictures such as Glory and Courage Under Fire require conflict, or they simply don't work. "Without conflict," he continued, "without a more textured portrait, you would have a recruiting film. That's fine when someone is making 'Be all that you can be commercials,' but that's not drama."
Glory received widespread critical praise upon release with Variety proclaiming that it "has the sweep and magnificence of a Tolstoy battle tale or a John Ford saga of American history." Vincent Canby, The New York Times film critic, concurred, writing "Glory is the first serious American movie about the Civil War to be made in years. There haven't been that many anyway - D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915), Buster Keaton's The General (1927), David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind (1939) and John Huston's The Red Badge of Courage (1951). Almost everything else has been balderdash...Although Glory employs the devices of fiction and sometimes is as brightly colored as a recruiting poster, it seems as severe as a documentary alongside those earlier films...Glory is celebratory, but it celebrates in a manner that insists on acknowledging the sorrow. This is a good, moving, complicated film." In addition to Denzel Washington's Best Supporting Actor Oscar®, Glory was nominated for four other Academy Awards including Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Cinematography (by Freddie Francis); it won in the latter two categories.
Director: Edward Zwick
Producer: Freddie Fields
Screenplay: Kevin Jarre (based on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein, One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard, and the letters of Robert Gould Shaw)
Editor: Steven Rosenblum
Cinematographer: Freddie Francis
Music: James Horner
Production Design: Norman Garwood
Art Design: Keith Pain, Dan Webster
Special Effects: Kevin Yagher, Carl Fullerton
Set Design: Garrett Lewis
Costume Design: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Cast: Matthew Broderick (Col. Robert Gould Shaw), Denzel Washington (Trip), Cary Elwes (Cabot Forbes), Morgan Freeman (John Rawlins), Jihmi Kennedy (Sharts), Andre Braugher (Searles), John Finn (Sgt. Mulcahy), Donovan Leitch (Morse), John David Cullum (Russell), Alan North (Gov. Andrew).
by Paul Tatara