Trip: “I ain’t fighting this war for you sir.”
Col. Robert Gould Shaw: “I see.”
Trip: “I mean, whats the point? Ain’t nobody going to win. It’s just gonna to go on and on.”
The above dialogue is between Trip, a fugitive slave soldier fighting in the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the all black members group, and the white man who heads it, Col. Robert Gould Shaw in “Glory” (1998). Shaw is specifically speaking about the Civil War they’re involved in. Trip’s words, prophetic and all-knowing, speak of the racial divide that will continue in our country. “Glory” is one of the best Civil War movies – but most importantly, it documents the Union Army’s first African American battalion – and their role in helping to gain their own freedom. It’s a passionate and complex film with an Oscar winning performance by Denzel Washington – and soaring visuals.
Screenwriter Kevin Jarre was inspired by a monument to the troops at the Boston Common where he saw black men depicted. He didn’t know black men had fought in the war. He used Colonel Shaw’s actual letters as a foundation for his script as well as narration. It starts at the Battle of Antietam – where Shaw (Matthew Broderick), then a captain, is traumatized by the horrors he witnesses. As he lays on the battlefield, he’s awakened by a black gravedigger staring down at him – covering the sun. It’s John Rawlins (played by Morgan Freeman) and their paths will cross again. Shaw is sent to his home on medical leave. His parents are Boston abolitionists, and he is offered the command of the all-black brigade and a promotion to colonel. He enlists his friend Cabot Forbes to be his second in command. The free African American and academic Thomas Searles – also an old friend – volunteers to join the other recruits who include Rawlins and Silas Trip – an escaped slave.
They learn that in response to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederacy has ordered that all black soldiers fighting for the Union be executed – and so too the white officers. While undergoing rigorous training, the black soldiers encounter bigotry and their duties entail manual labor. Shaw lobbies for a combat assignment. Eventually, the regiment volunteers to the suicidal mission to attempt to overtake Fort Wagner where all the tough discipline they learn will be put to the test.
Director Edward Zick achieves an authentic atmosphere with rich historical detail and a sense of intimacy. Freddie Francis, who won the Academy award for best cinematography uses a simple approach to the lighting focusing on the shadows and light on the soldier’s faces to convey the drama on the field. Depth of field captures the battlefield with unnerving clarity. It is stunning imagery, compounded with choral sounds. It’s as if we’re witnessing history come alive. It’s rousing and elegiac.
There’s issue to be had for so much focus on Colonel Shaw, and casting Matthew Broderick was not the wisest move. But despite this, the movie triumphs, and we get swept up in its momentum. This owes greatly to Freeman’s and Washington’s performances as Rawlins and Trip. They’re quite a contrast. Rawlins is the wise spiritual leader – and his sermon the night before the battle is quite moving. Trip – is the jesting, world-weary and proud soul of the troop. In one of the most unforgettable scenes he’s believed to have deserted – instead he was looking for shoes. He gets flogged, and Washington stares at the camera in anger and defiance – one single tear on his cheek.
“Glory” is enriching.
Rawlins: “Lord, we stand before you this evening, to say thank you! And we thank you, father, for your grace, and your many blessings! Now I run off, leaving all my young’uns and my kinfolk, in bondage. So I’m standing here this evening, Heavenly Father, to ask your blessings on all of us. So that if tomorrow is the great getting-up morning, if that tomorrow we have to meet the Judgement Day, O Heavenly Father, we want you to let our folks know that we died facing the enemy! We want ‘em to know that we went down standing up! Amongst those that are fighting against our oppression. We want ‘em to know, Heavenly Father, that we died for freedom! We ask these blessings in Jesus’ name. Amen!”
Available to stream on Netflix and IMDbTV and to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Microsoft, YouTube, iTunes, VUDU, FandangoNOW, Redbox, DIRECTV, Apple TV and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Kevin Jarre
Based on the book by Lincoln Kirstein and Peter Burchard
Directed by Edward Zwick
Starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Cary Elwes
Bringing “Glory” to the Screen
…Jarre explained in an interview…Kirstein, a dyed-in-the-wool Bostonian, lived near the home of Robert Gould Shaw, the 23-year-old Harvard graduate who formed the regiment and led it to glory. He knew Shaw’s family and he loved the Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue honoring the regiment that was erected opposite the Statehouse in 1897 and paid for by public donations. Kirstein later wrote a monograph, “Lay This Laurel” (the title from an Emily Dickinson poem) about the regiment, and it became one of the sources for “Glory.” Jarre, born in Michigan, had a well-traveled childhood, living for a time in Wyoming with a father he calls Hemingwayesque and who combined ranching and fashion photography. Later, living in Los Angeles, Jarre did extra work and bit parts in the TV series “Flipper,” which starred Brian Kelly, to whom his actress mother was then married. She subsequently married composer Maurice Jarre, who adopted Kevin and whose name Kevin took. In England, where Jarre was scoring “Ryan’s Daughter,” Kevin became a friend of David Lean’s. “What do you propose to do with your life?” Lean asked one afternoon. “Act,” Jarre said tentatively. “ No! ” Lean roared, and explained why not. “He was not flattering on the subject of actors,” Jarre says. Lean counseled writing and directing as the only way to fly.
…In 1986, Jarre and another writer and the writer’s dancer wife were in Saratoga for the summer season of the New York City Ballet. There Kirstein saw a snapshot of Jarre on horseback and was struck by the resemblance to an equestrian statue of Col. Shaw. The two men met at Mother Goldsmith’s place and talked about the 54th. “I knew about the 54th,” Jarre says. “I’d been a Civil War freak myself ever since I got some toy soldiers when I was a kid. Lincoln’s interest was deeper. It related to his whole philosophy about surrendering yourself to something bigger, some larger cause. He’d always wanted to make a movie about the 54th.” Jarre read everything he could find about Shaw and the 54th, including Shaw’s letters, which have been published, and “The Journal of Charlotte Forten,” who was the colonel’s love interest but who is not represented in the film. “Then,” Jarre says, “I moved into Room 421 at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, opposite the Players Club, and wrote the script in four weeks, on spec. I never thought I could interest anybody in it. A Civil War epic, about black people? But I’d got really attached to the story. I had to kill everybody off and I’d end up in tears when I got through writing.” Kirstein showed the script to Merchant Ivory Productions, but it was well beyond their scale.
“They couldn’t make head or tail of it.” An agent sent it to director Bruce Beresford, who committed to do it and brought in producer Freddie Fields, who set up a deal at Columbia. But then began what Jarre called “an unbelievable odyssey.” The project was attacked within the studio and by at least one outside consultant, a University of Virginia black historian. It was called racist, partly, evidently, because Jarre is white and partly because the language is outspoken and the characterizations not invariably idealized. “The professor even denied some of the irrefutable facts about the regiment,” Jarre says. “I was able to punch holes in his attack.” But when David Puttnam jumped, fell or was pushed from Columbia, Beresford left the project and it was clearly dead at the studio. “But Freddie Fields took it to Tri-Star,” which agreed to do it. Edward Zwick became the director. Jarre gives Fields high and grateful marks for assembling the production team, including cinematographer Freddie Francis, that did the film. (Jarre visited the production only briefly. “Once production starts, the last person anybody wants around is the writer,” he says, although this is not as invariably true as it used to be.) (latimes.com)
The Making of “Glory”
It took four years for the film to get major studio financing; ”Glory” was finally taken on by Tri-Star Pictures, which is now a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. Hollywood decision makers rejected the project for years ”because their computer printouts said it was about all of the things that don’t fit the conventional formulas for box-office success,” said Freddie Fields, the film’s producer. A one-time mega-agent and former head of production at MGM/UA Entertainment Company, Mr. Fields was first smitten with ”Glory” in 1985 while filming ”Crimes of the Heart,” which won three Oscar nominations. ”Getting this movie made, it became a real passion for me,” he said. Mr. Fields’s independent production company bankrolled the preproduction costs for three and a half years; last July, to save money, he and Mr. Zwick lugged tripods and cameras with a pickup film crew in Pennsylvania, scurrying to capture evanescent battle footage during a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.”It came as a real surprise to me that black troops fought so heroically in the Civil War, and I thought it could make a moving story that would also be socially and historically significant,” Mr. Fields said. (nytimes.com)
Depicting History on the Screen
Shelby Foote, the historian who has been a consultant to ”Glory,” believes that the production ”really is making an attempt to be historically accurate,” he said, ”and I think the closer it gets, the better the film will be.” Mr. Foote made suggestions to ”take out the anachronisms,” he said, ”and to get the speech right.” In addition, the production has deployed 70 Civil War re-enactors on ”Glory” locations to give scenes authenticity and to train extras in battle and crowd performance. Some 40,000 history buffs regularly don 1860’s garb and head off to Civil War re-enactments across the land, and the ”Glory” re-enactors, who have brought their own uniforms and equipment to the production, are people who ”are wonderfully committed to historical accuracy to the point of madness,” said Edward Zwick. The film’s director has tried to accommodate their recommendations.
The re-enactors, in their authentically scuzzy uniforms and their unshaven, weathered faces, look like living Matthew Brady portraits even when they’re at ease, smoking and killing time between scenes. ”This is the first film to show the life of the common Civil War soldier – white or black – in such detail,” said Ray Herbeck Jr., one of the ”Glory” associate producers, a re-enactor who has served as a technical advisor. The production is employing 38 black re-enactors – just about all there are. ”One of my ancestors from Arkansas, Aaron Hervey, took up a musket and served in the Union Army,” said Ronnie Nichols, a 38-year-old re-enactor from Little Rock who is serving as a movie extra. He hopes the film ”will keep me from having to explain to everyone at reenactments why a black man is wearing a Union Army uniform.” (nytimes.com)
About Director Edward Zwick
Born in Winnetka, Illinois, Edward Zwick began directing and acting in high school and trained as an apprentice at the Academy Festival in Lake Forest. While studying literature at Harvard, he continued writing and directing for the theatre. He was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study in Europe with some of the major innovative theatre companies. For his work on the television movie “Special Bulletin” (as director, producer, and co-writer), Zwick received two Emmy Awards. He and Marshall Herskovitz created The Bedford Falls Company for film and television projects. Together, they produced the films “I am Sam,” as well as “Traffic” – winner of two Golden Globes and four Academy Awards – directed by Steven Soderbergh. Zwick went on to direct Academy Award winning films “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall.” Zwick has been honored with three Emmy Awards, the Humanitas Prize, the Writer’s Guild of America Award, two Peabody Awards, a Director’s Guild of America Award, and the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Award from the American Film Institute. He received an Academy Award as a producer of 1999’s Best Picture “Shakespeare in Love.” (gordonparksfoundation.org) A few of Zwick’s other works include “Courage Under Fire” (1996), “The Siege” (1998), Unfinished Business (2003), Blood Diamond (2006), Defiance (2008), Love & Other Drugs (2010), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), Trial by Fire (2018) and most recently an episode of “Away” in 2020.