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January 17, 1990 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-01-17

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the Michigan Doily

Wednesday, January 17, 1990

Page 8

Rise to Glory

ir. Edward Zwick
On an overcast day in September,
1862 as the sun bobbed in and out of
the low hanging clouds over Anti-
'tem Creek, Maryland, two massive
armies approached each other fcr a
day of battle. The gray army, num-
b ting several thousand, was situated
iiseveral rows deep behind a picket
fence at the top of a small hill, their
:dillery situated behind them. The
Ibeher army, dressed in royal blue,
marched slowly toward the fence.
Tfbey marched in 12 regiments of a
tliousand soldiers each toward the
When they came within 30 or 40
yards of the fence, the gray army
opened fire. The blue returned the
fire. Hundreds on each side fell dead
or wounded as the American Civil
War took a major turn. One of the
officers in blue that day was Robert
Gould Shaw, a young *man from a
prominent Massachusetts abolition-
ist family. So begins Glory, the
story of the first Black regiment of
soldiers to fight in the Civil War.
z.'hat follows is two hours of ex-
-: ordinary filmmaking, storytelling,
,and history.
Matthew Broderick plays Shaw,
the short, awkward, yet determined
soldier who is commissioned to or-
ganize the 54th Regiment of Mas-
sachusetts Volunteer Infantry, made
up entirely of Blacks. Glory is a
tribute to this momentous event
within the most important period in
American History. For those who do
not understand the significance of
arming Blacks during the war, this
film illustrates the dramatic nature of
the occurance about as well as it
does everything else.
Glory takes the form of a three-
pronged film in its exploration the
first Black regiment in the war.
First, it is a character study of Shaw.
Second, through several excellent
performances, it examines different

views of Black America in the ante-
bellum period. And third, like a his-
torian, the camera chronicles the
events of the war involving these
soldiers and their contribution to the
war and to society as a whole. With
a project as major as this, it is quite
unbelievable that the film works so
Broderick brings to Shaw an exu-
berance and naivete in assuming the
role of an abolitionist Union officer
within an extremely racist society,
North as well as South. He is a firm
disciplinarian on one hand and a car-
ing crusader of civil rights on the
From a historical
perspective, Glory is
the most accurate and
brutal motion picture
yet made about the
Civil War. The three
battle scenes
(Antietem, James.
Island, and Fort
Wagner) are handled
by director Edward
Zwick and his team of
Civil War buffs with
exquisite detail in an
epic-sized scope. The
widespead carnage
and killing are
graphically filmed
with a terrifying
other. The arming of Blacks was a
war measure, as was the Emancipa-
tion Proclamation ending slavery,
and Shaw usesathese tools to justify
his regiment as no worse than a
white one. Broderick is effective in
this role, although he lacks the in-
spiring qualities ofhleadership one
would hope this character would
The Black actors in Glory are re-
sponsible for bringing greatness to
the film. Denzel Washington por-
trays Trip, the freed slave full of hate
and rebellious disdain for the war and
everything it stands for. He wants to
fight not for anrestored Union or for
his enslaved fellow Blacks. He fights
for revenge and a bitter vindication
to those who supressed his freedoms.
Washington is spectacular as he
brings to his role an intensity and
energy which carry the film in quiet
yet powerful dramatic moments.
Morgan Freeman's (Driving Miss
Daisy) contribution to Glory is also
profound. Playing the elder

gravedigger turned soldier Rawlins,
Freeman symbolizes wisdom and
experience to everyone, including his
white officers. The pain within him
is obvious, never really exposed ex-
cept in one scene by a fire on the eve
of the big battle, when he tells the
regiment about how he escaped from
bondage, but left his family to suf-
From a historical perspective,
Glory is the most accurate and bru-
tal motion picture yet made about
the Civil War. The three battle
scenes (Antietem, James Island, and
Fort Wagner) are handled by director
Edward Zwick and his team of Civil
War buffs with exquisite detail in en
epic-sized scope. The widespead car-
nage and killing are graphically
filmed with a terrifying realism.
The film traces the training of the
Black troops to their eventual com-
bat assignment. Their march through
Boston en route to the South exem-
plifies the magnitude of Blacks in
uniform as the civilians cheer them
on. But for most in the Union and
the Confederacy, the existence of
Black troops was sickening. Despite
the creation of this regiment, oppo-
sition to this idea was very strong,
especially among the Southerners
who vowed to kill any Black soldiers
in Unioncuniform as well as their
white officers.
The final scene in the picture is
the climactic attack on Ft. Wagner,
the massive Confederate earthwork at
the mouth of Charelston Harbor.
Shaw leads his troops in the dra-
matic charge into history. This scene
definitely stands out as the film's
finest moment as the three elements
of the film - Shaw, his Black sol-
diers, and the war itself - come to a
collision with destiny. The power of
this sequence is difficultto explain;
only in seeing and feeling does the
finale of this masterpiece find its
true place in the senses.
Aside from being an excellent
film, Glory is important to all of
our lives. It teaches us many things
about history as well as race rela-
tions during this turbulent moment
in history. The film celebrates a
grand victory for Blacks just emerg-
ing from bondage into a hostile
world. This is not a romanticized
version of the war Ai la Gone With
the Wind. Instead, it shows it as it
was, with blood, hatred, and hostil-
ity. Glory finds a moment of tragic
celebration and social achievement
within the war which meted out so
much needless death and destruction
into the annals of our history.
GLORY is playing at Briarwood and

The 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry parades through Boston in Glory, a film that
celebrates the accomplishments of Blacks in the Civil War.

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