Back when I was teaching a course on Reconstruction at UCR, we discussed a few scenes from Gone With the Wind. The discussion included Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off the screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. We watched her Academy Award acceptance speech for her role as Mammy as well. What does this suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?
How’s this for good news? Students of American history now can get limited access to the Americanist Independent website for FREE. That’s right friends, gratis. No charge. Nada. I have developed a section of the site especially for students that will feature downloadable PDFs focusing on some of the most pressing issues and debates in United States history AND hold on…there will also be PDFs with suggested readings on various topics written by scholars in subfields of US history. If that is not enough, student members will have access to the AI forum. Do you have a question? Now’s your chance to engage with world-class experts in the field. Fire away.
Last evening I ventured out to the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale to attend the museum opening reception of Vroom: The Art of the Motorcycle. There were drinks, meatballs, and of course a bunch of very cool vintage bikes. We had an up close look at some Harleys, Indians, and even an old Crocker. And you know what else, a picture of me modeling (yes modeling) some retro motorcycle gear turned up in a display for NLAMC. For reals.
Here is a brief write up on the exhibit from the museum website:
Vroom: The Art of the Motorcycle is a meticulously curated exhibition that will offer an in-depth look at the dynamic history of motorcycle culture, featuring some of the most beautiful, historic, rare and collectable vintage motorcycles; one-of-a-kind hand-painted motorcycle helmets, previously worn by world and national racing champions; painted motorcycle gas tanks and fenders; as well as paintings, sculpture and photographs by a dozen of today’s most celebrated motorcycle artists—many of whom are Southern California natives and/or residents.
The exhibit runs until January 5 so if you are near Glendale you should stop in. If you can’t make it – enjoy these few snaps I took last evening.
For those of you who have not seen this film – There are a couple of things going on. First – the tense love-hate relationship between Union Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne) and his prisoner, Rebel-supporting Miss Hannah Hunter of Greenbriar (Constance Towers). Second, there is the even more tense, pretty much all-hate relationship between Marlowe and Major Henry Kendall (William Holden), a Union army doctor.
All of this is set in the Civil War Confederacy, behind enemy lines, so to speak – where the Union soldiers wreak havoc on the Rebel’s ability to fight. Tearing up railroads, burning cotton and salt mills…you know, the stuff the Union army was great at doing.
Infused in to the war backdrop is an overtly patriotic bent. Both sides seem intently wedded to their cause. And they express this both verbally and through music – as the men of both armies march in to action singing national and otherwise patriotic songs.
But another theme runs alongside – weaving a reconciliatory thread into the story. While both sides clearly want victory – neither seems particularly hostile (emotionally) toward their enemies – well, at least the men act this way. I’ll talk about the women some other day. Of course they fight gallantly – it is their duty to do so. But the film contains all the essential ingredients for a “we are all just soldiers after all” wrap up.
Take the encounter between Kendall and one of his old army buddies who had gone with the Rebs. They have a pleasant exchange, naturally, and go their separate ways to their respective causes. This type of scene in a Civil War film is about as obligatory as the one featuring an amputation. Every Civil War picture has it, you know. But the last scene in the film is really my favorite. It leaves you just plain feeling good about things – when a Rebel officer offers his regimental surgeon to look after Union wounded.
See – we can all just get along…right after we kill each other in great profusion.
There is so much more to talk about….slaves, loyal slaves, Confederate women, the transposition of the Battle of New Market (VMI Cadets…) into the Western Theater, Bill Holden’s tight pants, John Wayne’s acting chops….the list goes on – so I will save some stuff for a later date.
For now, I want to suggest this. Ford released The Horse Soldiers just two years before the Civil War Centennial (1961-1965). This was a commemoration that highlighted the tragedy of the brother against brother war and the spirit of reconciliation. The film is most certainly a reflection of the times on one hand – but on the other….the centennial commemorative period was (officially) devoid of problematic issues. The films highlights a few. Slavery makes more than one appearance in the film in very interesting ways….stay tuned – I will have lots to say about that later.
Yesterday I was walking to the market (I needed mushrooms) and I came across this little placard outside someone’s Hollywood bungalow. While slightly abridged I would otherwise say this is a pretty accurate narrative. What I most appreciate is the intersection of art and history. I wish more of my neighbors would make this kind of effort.