Friday, February 24, 2006


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 clich├ęs, 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!)


L. Rob Hubb said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Dennis! Just one thing to clarify... I know Kevin but have not had the chance to work with him... yet.

Those who like C.S.A. might want to search out Kevin's first feature, NINTH STREET, with Issac Hayes and Martin Sheen. It's on DVD.

L. Rob Hubb said...

and one more correction - Kevin teaches at Kansas University [KU](Lawrence, KS) rather than at Kansas State University [KSU](Manhattan, KS).

Brian Darr said...

So many things to see! I really do hope to make it to this one though. Sounds truly fascinating!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Robert: Sorry about the goofs. My fact checkers have been summarily dismissed. :) I appreciate your checking in and clearing that stuff up-- the article has been fixed too. I hope to get out to see C.S.A. this weekend!

Michael Guillen said...

Dennis, "C.S.A." is showing right now in San Francisco at the Roxie Film Center. Almost went to see it last night. Maybe tomorrow?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Please check back in and let me know what you think. This week is going to be such a busy one for me that I really have to hope it holds over in one of the two theaters where it is playing here in the Los Angeles area for at least another week, because getting out anytime before next Monday seems unlikely to impossible.

By the way, say "hi" to the Roxie for me. I went there for the first time last October with my best friend, frequent SLIFR commenter Blaaagh, for a screening of Los Angeles Plays Itself. I didn't know it at the time, but Brian (of Hell On Frisco Bay, whose comment on this post is just above mine) was in the Mission District just a few doors down at a jazz club (it was a jazz club, right, Brian?). One of these days we're gonna have to have a summit meeting or something!

Anonymous said...

This film sounds fascinating; I had read LaSalle's review and that piqued my interest, but now I see he's not a lone voice. And that trip to the Roxie in October was my first one, too--hopefully not the last. It reminds me of the friendly art houses of our youth. Long may it stand! On a side note, I know everyone seems to be down on Lars von Trier, and I almost hanged myself after I saw 'Dancer in the Dark,' but I thought 'Dogville' was really good.