From D.W. Griffith's The Hunt for Dishonest Abe, the film he would have made instead of Birth of a Nation: "I ain't no president; I's a darkie!"
The Confederate States of America, a new film by Kansas University history professor Kevin Willmott, is making the rounds right now, and the reliable word is that, though it might take a little research to find out where it’s playing and a little effort to get there (it’s gonna be a little harder to seek out C.S.A. than, say, Date Movie or Running Scared), it will most likely be worth the research and effort. Blogger friend Robert Hubbard (he of (mim-uh-zeen) & other loss leaders, out of Topeka, Kansas)has been a good source of information and updates regarding C.S.A. and other locally produced films. He'ss been enthusiastic about the C.S.A. project for quite some time now and has posted a complete list of upcoming play dates from around the country on his site (you can find them on the movie’s official Web site too). He also points the way to an article regarding Willmott’s next project, a biography of Wilt Chamberlain.
Elsewhere, the film review site Rotten Tomatoes reveals that a whole lot of other film critics are catching up with Hubbard’s enthusiasm too, including Ty Burr (the Boston Globe), Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly), J. Hoberman (The Village Voice), Mick La Salle (the San Francisco Chronicle), Kenneth Turan (The Los Angeles Times) and Stephen Whitty (the Newark Star-Ledger). Manohla Dargis (The New York Times) is perhaps the highest-profile naysayer, unless you include Armond White at The New York Press, who dropped a less-than-subtle hint of what he thought of the film into the middle of his pan of Lars von Trier’s Manderlay:
“Manderlay is so ignorant of authentic American behavior that the calculated outrageousness of its premise is dull rather than scandalous. Its story would have to be convincing to be insulting (like the unholy jumble of history and flippancy in the recently released mockumentary CSA which posits what America would be like had the South won the Civil War—a lunacy worthy of von Trier).”
One wonders if the infamous contrarian White might have got wind of what fellow New York Press critic Matt Zoller Seitz thought of the film and decided upon a preemptive strike, for in the following week’s edition Seitz gave the film a rave:
“It’s like Jean-Luc Godard directing a screenplay by Dave Chappelle. It succeeds simultaneously as a comedy, a historical epic, an experimental feature, a send-up of PBS-cable documentary clichés, a dense and intricate work of speculative fiction, an inquiry into the terrifying arbitrariness of human events, a primer in how to achieve brilliance on a budget of nickels and dimes and a film editing achievement (by Sean Blake and David Bramley) in the same weight-class as Zelig, JFK and Fahrenheit 9/11…”
(Meanwhile, in the same issue White was making space to write a welcome and thoughtful consideration of Final Destination 3, which sounded almost as if White thought it was the first in the series, instead of the third.)
But rave reviews or not, C.S.A. looks to take a provocative premise—what would our country be like if the South won the Civil War?—and run with it, and if it only turns out to be half as complicated and funny and rewarding as Seitz and the others seem to think, then perhaps a little footwork on the part of the viewing public might just be worth it. And not that it’s an either-or situation, but I know I’d rather see C.S.A. than Date Movie.
(The Confederate States of America opened today (Friday) in downtown Los Angeles at Laemmle's Grande Four and at the Academy in Pasadena. It also opened today (Friday) at the Roxie in San Francisco, Brian!)
(This post was updated 2/25/06 at 2:22 p.m. A couple of facts were initially reported incorrectly and have been fixed. Thanks, Robert!)