Tag Archives: Revolutionary War movies

The Patriot and rites of passage

As many of you probably know, Michael Kammen passed away a couple of weeks ago, ending a distinguished career marked by several important books and a term as president of the Organization of American Historians.

Coincidentally, when I found out about Kammen’s death I was about to start re-reading his book A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination.  In this work, he argued that a common theme in fiction about the American Revolution was the notion of the founding as a rite of passage.  Novelists have portrayed the War for Independence as a national coming-of-age story, and many have amplified this theme by populating their stories with characters on the verge of adulthood.  For these characters, participation in the Revolution marks a transition to maturity, so that their own life stories reflect the larger story of their country.  Many of these novelists have also employed generational conflict as a narrative device, with their young characters chafing under parental control just as America sought independence of a different kind from the mother country.

Kammen’s book deals primarily with novels, plays, and imagery.  He relegated films about the Revolution a short sub-section of one chapter, due to a scarcity of original material.  In the three decades since the publication of A Season of Youth, we’ve seen a few more (but not that many) theatrical and TV movies about the Revolution, and for the most part I think his thesis still holds up.

In fact, the most successful recent movie about the Revolution fits Kammen’s argument to a T.  The Patriot is a story of generational conflict between Benjamin Martin and his oldest sons.  Martin knows what sort of devastation the war with England will bring and is reluctant to get involved, while the two boys are eager to enlist.  The protagonist gets dragged into the war by his children, one of whom is burning with patriotic idealism, and one of whom seems more fascinated by the trappings of war than anything, playing with toy soldiers and trying on his father’s old uniform coat.

The movie also portrays the war as a transition of a different sort for Martin’s younger children.  For them, the war is not so much a step into maturity as a loss of innocence.  Just as Martin predicts in an early speech, the Revolutionary War is fought on their doorstep.  The family farm is an idyllic sanctuary in the movie’s opening sequence, but when the shooting starts, Martin’s attempts to shield his children from all the death and destruction prove futile.  Check out this deleted scene:

There’s another way in which The Patriot supports Kammen’s thesis.  He argued that by pitching the Revolution as a coming-of-age, Americans have also domesticated their own history.  We’re a nation born in revolution, but we value order and stability.  If the founding was a passage into adulthood, it was a one-time event that doesn’t need to be repeated.  The notion of the Revolution as a rite of passage is thus a way of celebrating our violent and radical beginning without endorsing the overthrow of the status quo.

The Patriot’s closing scene shows us the Martin family returning to the site of their burned home at the war’s end.  When they arrive, they find white and black veterans of Martin’s command working together to build them a new dwelling.  The implication is that the destructive work of war and revolution is over, and it’s time to move on to the constructive work of building on a foundation.  The movie thus emphasizes the possibilities the American Revolution opened and passes over the issues it left unresolved.  And it would take another such violent upheaval to resolve some of them.

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The Rev War on the silver screen

Daniel Eagen considers the state of American Revolution movies and doesn’t see much cause for optimism.

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Release Ye Olde Kraken

My favorite historical subject is, of course, America’s fight for independence, so I generally root for movies about the Revolutionary War.

Since I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs, whales, giant squid, and other particularly large and fearsome creatures from the time I was a wee lad, I also generally root for movies about sea monsters.

I’ve yet to make up my mind about movies that combine the two.

Brian Helgeland has been hired to write “Here There Be Monsters,” a movie about Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones — except with sea monsters, individuals close to the project confirmed.

Producers of the Warner Bros./Legendary project are in talks with Robert Zemeckis to direct.

“Here There Be Monsters” is based on an concept by Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull.

Tull is producing along with Legendary’s Jon Jashni and Mandeville’s Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman.

Helgeland, who won the Academy Award for 1997′s “L.A. Confidential,” also wrote the 2003 “Mystic River,” the 2010 “Green Zone” and 2010′s “Robin Hood.”

Zemeckis directed a string of 1980s hits, including “Romancing the Stone,” “Back to the Future” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” as well as 1994′s “Forrest Gump.”

This is one of those occasions when I can sympathize with the Apostle Paul, torn as he was between his two natures.  The mature, academic part of me that went to grad school is really, really nervous.  The behemoth-loving part of me that squeals with delight when I watch the Kraken sequences from Clash of the Titans is thinking this could be one of the Best. Things. Ever.

Don’t settle for the 2010 remake, by the way.  The only true Clash of the Titans is the 1981 Clash of the Titans.

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A Rev War movie on the Oneida Indians is headed your way

…based on the book Forgotten Allies by Joseph Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin.  The cool part is that the Oneida Nation is doing it themselves.  They decided that a movie would be a good way to get this part of their story out there, so they’re putting up the $10 million for the film themselves.  Here are the details.

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The Revolutionary War on film

I’ve been looking up early American course syllabi recently to see if I’m on track with my ideas for teaching a colonial course this fall.  Not long ago I ran across a website with teaching resources, including a list of films dealing with early American history. 

For reasons I’ve never understood, the Revolution hasn’t fared well on the silver screen.  There are a few period films that I enjoy watching.  1776 remains a personal favorite of mine, because it helps restore some of the suspense and urgency that two and a half centuries have worn away from the debate over independence.  I’ve also got to confess that I’m a fan of The Patriot.  It’s a compelling story told well, and it focuses on the critical war in the South, even if it plays fast and loose with the facts.  A&E’s made-for-TV films The Crossing and Benedict Arnold: A Queston of Honor also deserve an honorable mention.  I haven’t seen HBO’s Adams miniseries yet, but I’ve heard some great feedback.  Still, the Revolutionary War can’t match the Civil War or WWII in terms of number and quality of film adaptations.

This hasn’t always been the case.  As the filmography at the above website shows, the Revolutionary War was a pretty popular subject during the infancy of moving pictures.  From the early 1900′s to the 1920′s, filmmakers were turning out Revolutionary War stories at a surprisingly high rate.  Similar projects often appeared close to the same time: Paul Revere and Nathan Hale were both popular subjects in the 1910′s, and Francis Marion got his own film in 1911 and again in 1914. 

It’s clear that moviemakers were interested in the Revolution from the first days of putting stories on film.  It’s also clear that interest in making Revolutionary War films didn’t keep up with this initial burst of enthusiasm.

There are a lot of stories from the War of Independence I’d like to see on the screen, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.  Countingdown.com lists quite a few WWII movies in the works, but I couldn’t find any Revolutionary War-related projects in any genre.  Maybe the current Founding Fathers craze will bring more filmmakers around.

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