Hall of Fame Speech #13: Gods and Generals

Brief note before we start: last July we got together and worked out a third class to be inducted into the Smaddies Baddies BMT Hall of Fame. It has been nearly eight years since we started BMT and the films we had seen more than five years ago, in some cases, deserved a rewatch and reassessment. This is the third installment leading up to the sixth (eighth?) Smaddies Baddies bringing you previews and Hall of Fame Speeches for the five films chosen. Five years ago I foolishly decided to watch Gods and Generals. During the time I watched it I lived, raised a family, grew old, and then died. And now I am dead. Or at least it feels that way. And for real, that is the reason Gods and Generals is in the Hall of Fame. Enjoy!

Hall of Fame Induction Speech for Gods and Generals

Gods and Generals fits into a number of superlatives for BMT. What is the longest film we’ve watched for BMT? Gods and Generals. What is the most boring film we’ve ever watched for BMT? Gods and Generals. Has there ever been a film that made you question the idea of BMT? Gods and Generals. It’s not here because of the joy it brought to our BMT lives. It’s not even here because it exemplifies some bad movie trope or characteristic that we hold dear. It’s here because it may be the most terrible thing we ever watched. The perfect storm of terribleness for the historical epic gone wrong. Much like Strange Wilderness before it, Gods and Generals is being inducted as a warning to all mankind. Do not watch this film.

The top things I remembered from our first viewing:

  • I had an existential crisis. I wondered if this is life, just unendingly watching Stephen Lang be a crazy person while I wait for him to die. But it went on so long I begin to wonder whether he may outlive me.
  • It is easily the most boring thing we have watched… and it’s like 70% battles!
  • The beards and accents were embarrassing and made me sad.
  • It played like a Civil War reenactment… which is basically what it was.

By far the most important bit is the first one obviously. The film is nearly five hours long. But it is so action packed it feels like it is 10 hours long (heyyyooooo). While you watch it you start to have a panic attack because what if you never are able to not watch Gods and Generals? What happens if it just … never ends? It is the only thing anyone could possibly remember about this film.

So how did the rewatch go? Perhaps, I thought, on second viewing we would see the errors of our ways. Realize that we had unjustly slandered an informative and stirring Civil War epic… nope. The reality is far, far worse. I think we may have grossly underestimated just how terrible this film was. It almost has no redeeming cultural, historical, or artistic qualities. The film was split into five parts and I would say the first, fourth, and fifth are straight up terrible pro-Confederacy, pro-Stephen Lang acting like a crazy person, pro-wasting-my-time entries. They focus almost entirely on Stonewall Jackson and how he was a total weirdo that everyone loved and also the war wasn’t about slavery so don’t worry about it. I will say that Jeff Daniels’ portions concerning Joshua Chamberlain were actually pretty good and almost definitely should have been used to balance out the Union/Confederacy stories… you know if the point of the film wasn’t apparently to mythologize the South.

And I think that’s the craziest takeaway from the second viewing. Originally I felt like its greatest crime was being the longest, most boring thing I had ever seen in my life. What I didn’t remember noting the first time was just how pro-Confederacy the slant of the story was. There are a total of two African-American characters in the film and they are both minor parts. Both roles occasionally broach the subject of slavery and its inherent moral repugnancy, but otherwise seem to be used to give voice to the complexity of the relationship between the South and slavery… which is problematic. I feel like in the five years since I first watched this film society has become much more finely tuned to this type of Lost Cause revisionist bullshit narrative and it has certainly not aged very well even from 2003. It strongly paints the story of the war as one of fighting for the freedom of the South from unjust Northern aggression rather than one fighting for treason and slavery. It uses Stonewall Jackson and his religious fervor, family values, and adoration of his troops to prop this idea up. Jackson is painted as the ultimate hero and not a leader of a rebellion defending the institution of slavery. It is galling and terrible and I hated the film even more for it.

So where is this film’s place in BMT history? How can we understand how it stands amongst the Strange Wildernesses and Norbits of the world? It doesn’t have someone accidentally getting their dick stuck in a giant turkey (that scene must have been cut) like what we typically think of for the worst-of-the-worst BMT films. But despite that this may in fact be the worst film we have ever watched. Sure it has some silly accents and beards (those were still hilarious), but it also was inexcusably apologetic towards the Confederacy. I used to say that it played like a film meant to be shown to high school kids when their teacher calls in sick. Now I would say that you shouldn’t let it come within 10 feet of a classroom.

So there you have it. If you ever want to watch literally the longest and most boring ever, well … we got you covered. That movie is Gods and Generals. You’re welcome. I mean, I guess congrats Gods and Generals. You did it! You are the most boring movie I have ever seen (and god willing, will ever see). Welcome to the Hall of Fame.

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