April 19, 2011

"The Conspirator"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Robert Redford’s courtroom drama The Conspirator castigates the 1865 trial by a military tribunal of Confederate partisan Mary Surratt for her murky role in John Wilkes Booth’s plot to murder Abraham Lincoln. Redford obviously intends his movie as a parable denouncing George W. Bush’s employment of military tribunals instead of jury trials for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. 
... Still, The Conspirator is of considerable interest, both for its cast’s quality and because the 74-year-old Redford seems to have no idea how unfashionable his view of post-Civil War history has become since he arrived on the New York stage in the late 1950s. The Conspirator reflects the anti-Republican prejudice endemic in history textbooks when Redford was in school. To imply that 21st-century Republicans are deluded by Islamophobia, Redford argues that 1865’s Republicans were crazed by Confederophobia. ... 
Everyone says history is written by the victors, but it’s actually written by the historiographers. For the first century after 1865, white Southerners wrote most Civil War histories and almost all the accounts of the subsequent Reconstruction. Their anger over the postwar military occupation was transmitted in two vastly popular movies: 1915’s The Birth of a Nation and 1939’s Gone with the Wind. After FDR’s 1932 victory, white Southerners made up a large fraction of the New Deal coalition. Hence, the liberal Democrats who wrote most mid-century history books pandered to the South’s view of Reconstruction as a grave injustice. 
Only with the rise of blacks in the late 1960s did Reconstruction come under scrutiny. Redford’s movie, set entirely in Washington, DC in 1865, features only one line spoken by an African-American.

Read the whole thing there.

49 comments:

Whiskey said...

FWIW, at the conclusion of the War the die-hard Nathan Bedford Forrest told his men that he was going home, and any one who wanted to continue the war was fit only for a lunatic asylum. Beautiful piece Steve!

The Wilkes plot just shows how slapdash and really non-existent Presidential security was in the 19th Century, alien to us today. There wasn't really any organized spy service (the Pinkertons had to be pressed in) or security (ditto). Cronyism rather than competence ruled the day.

Whiskey said...

Or in other words, a slightly less inept conspiracy (Wilkes Booth and Co.) met up with a more slipshod security and intelligence system.

By contrast, Napoleon who had many who wished to kill him foiled them all (perhaps until St. Helena) by the simple expedient of being unpredictably early or late for everything, or mixing appointments around. No one could stage elaborate plots because he was always on the move -- something Saddam copied.

Anonymous said...

"Everyone says history is written by the victors, but it’s actually written by the historiographers."

In a relatively free society.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Redford thinks it will make him seem less partisan if he shows a Confed woman in a favorable light. He could be saying he has a sense of right and wrong beyond politics.

After all, the message of the film is not the rightness of the Confederate cause but the dangers of righteousness-as-political-weapon(even among the good guys).

Redford would probably say the North had the right to defeat the South but had no right to abuse power.
Similarly, Redford supports the War on Terror but opposes the abuses in its name.

Even so, Redford is a dreary director. Even if he were conservative, I wouldn't like his movies cuz they so waspy bland dull and boring. Earlier generation wasps had more grit and guts--Raoul Walsh, Peckinpah, etc. Redford is just dull.

Justin said...

History may be written by the historiographers, but that means only historians read it.

History, as in the popular conception of the past, is indeed written by the victors, because they have the means to propagate their viewpoint through education and media channels.

The fact that a lot of dead Southerners have dusty old books rotting on bookshelves means squat today. Their view is anathema, and no one gets exposed to it.

agnostic said...

The scrunched brow, pursed lips, and stiffened arm make that dork in the picture look like some 13 year-old girl posing for her MySpace profile.

Does anyone know how to act anymore, or are they all that self-conscious?

Anonymous said...

"Everyone says history is written by the victors, but it’s actually written by the historiographers."

I think it's written by the brain-washers. Every time I sign into Yahoo Email now I'm confronted by a nice picture of a Chinese woman or a cool Asian kid or a cool black guy, etc. White guys are typically portrayed as idiots in the few pictures they appear. I'm starting to like these people - even the dumb white guys.

Jeff Burton said...

Four-legged Mr. Tumnus? I think you accidentally inserted an 'o' in the first word.

Carol said...

My god agnostic, you're right. The acting is so bad now that even the stills are execrable.

Maguro said...

Don't you mean "Barack Obama’s employment of military tribunals instead of jury trials for Guantanamo Bay prisoners"?

Mr. Anon said...

"Whiskey said...

The Wilkes plot just shows how slapdash and really non-existent Presidential security was in the 19th Century, alien to us today."

Imagine that - they were not much better off than any of the rest of us, and they were forced to live with the consequences of their actions.

Sounds much more sensible to me than the current system, in which the President is surrounded by a Praetorian Guard that will pay any expence, violate any basic liberty, and inflict any amount of inconvenience on the citizens of this nation, in order to protect the life of someone who is easily replaced.

Anonymous said...

Can we get a discussion on what America would look like if the white nationalist Abraham Lincoln hadn't been killed?

goatweed

Anonymous said...

"History, as in the popular conception of the past, is indeed written by the victors, because they have the means to propagate their viewpoint through education and media channels.

The fact that a lot of dead Southerners have dusty old books rotting on bookshelves means squat today. Their view is anathema, and no one gets exposed to it."

That is complete nonsense. Steve was right: the Southern i.e. hostile view of Reconstruction, in which the great villians were Thaddeus Stevens, Negro politicians and "carpetbaggers", while the heroes were the KKK, was culturally dominant in the US for many decades in the early 20th century. Yes, it's no longer the dominant view - but so what? In 1920 the North had already won the Civil War, as you may or may not know, but Southern historians dominated the POPULAR, not merely the academic, view of history. Today they don't - but you're stitll wrong in saying "no one gets exposed to it"; obviously you haven't spent much time in South Carolina.

Anonymous said...

I took a class on the Revolutionary War period in college, and the professor said the histriography of the war changed with the political/demographic realities in America. It was around the late 19th century that a new school arose which argued that the Revolutionary War was unnecessary, cruel, and pointless. It had been instigated by colonial elites who didn't wanna pay taxes and were filled with 'big ideas', most of them unfortunate. Our professor said that this new perspective developed in context to the massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. Before this influx, the founding of the American republic was seen by most wasps as rise of Wasp power. But with massive immigration, wasps were beginning to feel threatened. Therefore, the American wasp elite community began to feel nostalgic for the Anglo order of the Britains. Like Pat Buchanan says Anglos should not fought their racial cousins the Germans, especially in alliance with the 'bolshie-asiatic' Russian hordes, many wasp Americans came to loathe the new ethnics from the Other Europe and wished America had remained close to the Mother Country of pure Anglo stock.

We were also told that massive immigration also changed the perspective in the North about the South. After the war, the North was all righteous and gung-ho about their victory in the Civil War, both militarily and morally.
But when Northern wasps were faced with new immigrant hordes of Other Europeans--who seemed dirty, diseased, degenerate, stupid, hopeless, etc--, they began to sympathize with how Southern wasps felt about blacks. If these Other Europeans were hopeless, then blacks must be even more hopeless. Thus, the Southern perspective on the Civil War--that it has been a pointless conflict started by 'radicals' and 'economic interests'(just like the American Revolutionary War had been)--came to be accepted even by Northerners.

Massive immigration made Wasp Americans have second thoughts about the Revolutionary War and made Northern Wasps have second thoughts about the rightness of the Civil War: maybe, wasps shouldn't have fought fellow wasps in the RW, only to be overrun by ethnic hordes; maybe, Northern wasps shouldn't have fought Southern wasps in the CW, only to see Southern wasps threatened by dark hordes. This is also when the Republican Party also became more politically and socilly conservative.

Anonymous said...

Support the North against the South but support the Democrats against Republicans. That is the Jewish way. Script was by some guy named Solomon.

Just like "support Christian American soldiers against Islamists and Arab dictators in the Middle East, but then also support Muslim minority against the Christian-patriotic right in the US."

dearieme said...

"In John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 bestseller Profiles in Courage, JFK’s speechwriter Theodore Sorensen lambasted....": well said, Mr S.

Anonymous said...

I think part of liberal moral narcissism hankers for the unlikely causes/positions. Liberals just love to feel 'different'. So, even though liberals don't like Muslim culture, they get a kick out of championing 'Muslim victims' of American imperialism and 'Islamophobia'. This way, they can have it both ways. On the one hand, they are staunch defenders of progressive values--like 'gay marriage'--but they are also 'open-minded' people who believe no one should be abused.
Liberals were for the nuking of Japan but afterward did a lot of handwringing to show how 'conscientious' they were.

Similarly, while liberals revere Lincoln and believe in the righteousness of the Civil War, they don't wanna come across as 'simple-minded' and dogmatic in their positions--like conservatives presumably are.
So, they look for angles whereby they can show they are not entirely all pro-North and anti-South. They wanna show that they are 'fair-minded' and morally sincere enough to see the wrongness of even the right side and rightness of the wrong side.

Kylie said...

"Napoleon who had many who wished to kill him foiled them all (perhaps until St. Helena) by the simple expedient of being unpredictably early or late for everything, or mixing appointments around."

Hitler also foiled dozens of assassination plots by being unpredictable, according to one of those WWII programs the Military Channel use to air incessantly before it turned bland.

Kylie said...

From the review: "Stanton, tireless organizer of the Union war effort, ought to be an American hero almost on a par with Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman."

Grant and Sherman as American heroes? Only if the war they fought is seen as one waged primarily in order to free the slaves. But if it's seen as being fought primarily in order to preserve the Union*, with the freeing of the slaves used as a means to an end, then they were merely soldiers who did exceptionally well what they were ordered to do, at a horrific cost to their enemies, who were also their fellow citizens.






*"My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not to either save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some of the slaves and leaving others alone I would also do that." - Lincoln to Horace Greeley of the NY Tribune August 22, 1862.

Dutch Boy said...

Two of the conspirators had actually served in the Confederate Army, so the idea that the plot was hatched by the Confederacy did not seem far-fetched. The military tribunal actually recommended clemency for Mrs. Surratt but were overruled by Pres. Johnson with the comment that "she kept the nest that hatched the egg" (Johnson later denied that he had overruled the clemency recommendation).

Anonymous said...

"Similarly, Redford supports the War on Terror but opposes the abuses in its name."

Don't ya just love how libs think war should be clean? Right versus Wrong with no messiness, only the bad guys killed or beter yet caught and brought to justice in a civilian court, no collateral damage, no environment soiled?

Ah Utopia--the perfect war. Yes, Obsama bin Laden caught, then rehabilitated in a revamped American judicial system....

Idiots.

Anonymous said...

With more black clout in Hollywood, you'd think we'd be seeing a lot of 'good Carpetbaggers, bad Klan' movies. 'Wild Wild West' would have gained a lot from having Will Smith report to Frederick Douglass (US Marshall for DC, ex Secret Six) and having the villain be Nathan Bedford Forrest (plus some cinematic Kuklos steam velocipedes or at least steam dirigibles). And more horses. That turkey needed a LOT more horses to save it.

Formerly.JP98 said...

Steve -- Your reviews often (like today's) seem to stop dead just when they're picking up steam.

Anonymous said...

This is the first movie of the new American Film Company. These people are dedicated, so they say, to producing historically accurate movies.

Last year I became interested in the whole historical movie business. I ordered several books from Amazon on this subject. My views now, I suppose, are more balanced. I do fume less about loony plot points than I used too.

Actually Hollywood is obsessed with historical accuracy but only as regards costumes and scenery. They tend to ignore what characters do and say and focus on how they're dressed.

For example, Ridley Scott spent a fortune on getting the swords, armor and clothes right in his recent Robin Hood. The same is true for his crusader movie Kingdom of Heaven - great visuals but hardly historically accurate. If you are going to make a movie about the crusades, which one? If you wish to depict Europeans projecting power to defend the Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, you would choose the First Crusade. If you wanted a traditional hero driven story you would pick the Third Crusade - as in De Mille's The Crusades. But if you wanted to show Europeans in the worst possible light and glorify the Muslims you would what Scott did - choose the Second Crusade.

Scott could have just let the disaster of the Battle of Hattin speak for itself but he chose instead to tack on a formal moral in case anyone in the audience missed his point. Our hero, skinny little Orlando Bloom runs across Richard the Lion Heart and warns him that Westerners should stay out of the Middle East. Bloom plays Cindy Sheehan to the Lion Heart's George Bush.

Heavy handed as it was it was absolutely circumspect compared to the earlier Costner crusader vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which preached the superiority of Islam over Christianity.

Hollywood's idea of historical accuracy extends to what you see not what it meant. The Conspirator seems to be from the same mold, costume and scenery verisimilitude to push a modern left of center message.

Albertosaurus

slumber_j said...

Rob and Web Stone are two of the movie's producers--another instance of filmmaking brothers for your catalogue.

Anonymous said...

History has been written by the losers ever since Bonaparte spoke those words, ironically. He was the first loser to write the history, the Confederates soon followed. Look at modern history textbooks, they are all written from a social history perspective that denies the importance of traditional history. Howard Zinn is very popular in high schools and in lower level undergraduate history. This despite the fact that even a lot of ideologically similar profs find his work completely one-sided, not based on primary sources, and not scholarly.

Anonymous said...

"Steve -- Your reviews often (like today's) seem to stop dead just when they're picking up steam."

He should demand more word space at Takimag.

Kylie said...

"He[Steve Sailer] should demand more word space at Takimag."

He should also demand they scrap that horribly feminine and liberal banner or whatever you call it. Whenever I click on Taki's homepage and see that, I'm reminded of the type of blog written by some woman who overuses the word "retro" and thinks it's chic to post while wearing ritzy mules, sipping froufrou cocktails and listening to Edith Piaf.

Anonymous said...

"White guys are typically portrayed as idiots in the few pictures they appear. I'm starting to like these people - even the dumb white guys."

Whole bunch of them did vote for Obama and volunteer to fight wars for Israel. Aint that idiotic?

Anonymous said...

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/18/a-better-way-to-teach-math/

Is it possible to eliminate the bell curve in math class?

Anonymous said...

"http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/18/a-better-way-to-teach-math/
Is it possible to eliminate the bell curve in math class?"

Sure. Multiply every grade with zero.

Anonymous said...

OT

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KWNbJeY2uaE

So, is this what decades of PC in schools and on MTV produced in the minds of young people? 'Power shift' and 'climate justice', oh my, how catchy. I guess 'environmental racism' hysteria of the 90s simply didn't catch on.

Never mind Wall Street is just itching to cash in big on 'green energy'. Green tech means lots of greens, another hot-air economic BUBBLE just waiting to happen. And... grow your own tomatoes!! Are these kids really this gullible and stupid?

It's too bad Jerry Garcia died. All these kids would be following the Dead than Gore, Jones, and Obama.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad Jerry Garcia died. All these kids would be following the Dead than Gore, Jones, and Obama.

Frank Zappa, the Ron Paul of rock, is still alive.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to make a movie about the crusades, which one?

Why limit youself to anti-Muslim crusades in the middle east? There is the genocidal anti-pagan Baltic crusade of the Teutonic Knights, and later the anti-heretic Cathar Crusade in southern France....

anony-mouse said...

Weird comparison alert:

Mary Surrat and Ethel Rosenberg. Both were American women who were executed by the US Government for crimes they probably didn't commit but almost certainly did know about by virtue of their living around and being related to the actual criminals.

Kylie said...

"Frank Zappa, the Ron Paul of rock, is still alive."

In what sense?

Anonymous said...

In the sense that Jimi Hendrix is still alive.

Anonymous said...

This being a Robert Redford movie, it should be called the CONSTIPATOR.

General 'Buck' Turgidson said...

How did Robert Redford become a movie star?

He seems to lack any sense of dynamicism, charisma or charm.

Redford's movies must've helped equate whiteness with blandness suggesting the US had a serious "vibrancy gap".

travis said...

Their anger over the postwar military occupation was transmitted in two vastly popular movies: 1915’s The Birth of a Nation and 1939’s Gone with the Wind.

There's a wonderful scene in Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows where two members of the French Resistance watch Gone with the Wind while on a visit to London with De Gaulle. As they are leaving the theater one of the men remarks, "the war will be over for the French when they can see this great movie."

TGGP said...

A while back at GNXP (Haloscan comments gone now) I asked Mencius what was so bad about Reconstruction. He didn't have much of an answer other than that standards were higher back then. Since this comment section is a wretched hive of scum & villainy, perhaps one of you could point me to an anti-Reconstruction argument.

Kylie said...

"In the sense that Jimi Hendrix is still alive."

No, don't think so. Hendrix is as much a Dead Rock Icon/Living Legend for how he lived and died as for what he played.

Zappa was never about anything but the music.

Anonymous said...

"A while back at GNXP (Haloscan comments gone now) I asked Mencius what was so bad about Reconstruction. He didn't have much of an answer other than that standards were higher back then. Since this comment section is a wretched hive of scum & villainy, perhaps one of you could point me to an anti-Reconstruction argument."

Surely you jest.

Try this thought experiment: you're a white man forced to live in modern, black-run Detroit. And you're not allowed to vote because "you're a damned rebel". And there's a federal army encamped around you to make sure that you and your fellow whites don't get "uppity".

Now try imagine living in a black-run lunatic asylum (post-industrial Detroit, post-Civil War South, post-colonial Zimbabwe, post-Apartheid South Africa - they're all pretty much the same) under those circumstances.

Any questions? Seriously, you can't possbily be that thick.

Anonymous said...

"Why limit youself to anti-Muslim crusades in the middle east? There is the genocidal anti-pagan Baltic crusade of the Teutonic Knights, and later the anti-heretic Cathar Crusade in southern France...."

Good point. The modern leftist "anti-colonialist" narrative wants to talk about the crusades as a kind of racist imperialism but whites were killing whites for religious reasons with equal or greater zeal than they did against the non-white "infidel".

Truth said...

"Now try imagine living in a black-run lunatic asylum (post-industrial Detroit, post-Civil War South, post-colonial Zimbabwe, post-Apartheid South Africa - they're all pretty much the same) under those circumstances."

Detroit is 10% white, and I thought that citizenship was citizenship.

The Neoconista said...

A while back at GNXP (Haloscan comments gone now) I asked Mencius what was so bad about Reconstruction. He didn't have much of an answer other than that standards were higher back then. Since this comment section is a wretched hive of scum & villainy, perhaps one of you could point me to an anti-Reconstruction argument.

Of course Mencious could say nothing bad about it. Reconstruction worked like a charm. Everyone knows that all people are equal. It's society that needs reengineering. We should keep blowing up the rest of the world and reconstructing it. What could go wrong?

Fred said...

TGGP:

Curious about the same issue, I read Dunning's book "Reconstruction: Political and Economic" to get an idea of the other side. A modern historian, in diagnosing the effects (and failure) of Reconstruction, is apt to emphasize those aspects that offended the white supremacist, whereas Dunning emphasizes the aspects (corruption, chaos, etc) that would offend those, like Moldbug, that believe in good government above all else. The most capable elements of society were disenfranchised, the most backward and ignorant enthroned, plans to modernize the South through high levels of taxation dissipated into graft and corruption, etc etc

However, I actually didn't find that Dunning and Foner (to use one example of a modern historian of reconstruction) disagree all that much on the basic questions, despite differences in emphasis, tone, and moral diagnosis.

James Kabala said...

A few points:

1. The vast majority of high-ranking state officials under Reconstruction were white Southerners (the so-called scalawags) or white Northerners who had moved South (the so-called carpetbaggers).

2. Confederate disenfranchisement was mostly short-lived. If it hadn't been, the Redeemer governments would never have been able to win elections!

3. On the other hand, it was indeed an era of military occupation, corruption, high taxation, etc.

James Kabala said...

P.S. While I certainly understand why the Free French would identify with Gone with the Wind, Hitler himself (or at least Eva Braun) apparently liked the film:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1534830/New-technology-catches-Hitler-off-guard.html