Editors note: This is the second in a series of columns by Rebecca Hagelin
on director, producer and screenwriter Ron Maxwell and his new movie, “Gods
and Generals,” a major-motion picture opening Friday, Feb 21, 2003. (See Part 1 and Part 3). WND.com spent six days on the set and was granted exclusive interviews and photographs not published elsewhere. The photographs are posted with part 3 of the series. Hagelin’s first column on the subject took a look at the person and character of Ron Maxwell. Today she further examines his motivation and the message of “Gods and Generals.”
He leans forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin
on his folded hands as he stares intently at the monitor just inches from
his face. Something is amiss.
He abruptly taps on the screen at one
of the figures and says something to the military historian beside him – something I cannot quite hear from where I am standing. Ron Maxwell, director of “Gods and Generals” rises from his chair, firmly but calmly says “cut,” and heads over to speak with the young actors.
The scene at hand is of Stonewall Jackson’s casket being placed for viewing
in his former classroom at the Virginia Military Institute. The set is
designed after the very room in which Jackson taught mathematics before the
Civil War, and the details are perfect right down to replicas of the
beautiful leaded-glass windows.
In a few moments, after speaking deliberately and inspiringly to the young
actors playing the role of VMI cadets, Maxwell returns to his seat in front
of the monitors. It has been a long day and is nearly 10:00 p.m. But this
scene must be perfect; the focus of “Gods and Generals” is none other than
The great general has just died and his body has been
returned to his beloved classroom to await burial. The actors reset to
their original positions and the action resumes. There must have already
been at least seven takes of this scene, but after a few more tries, Maxwell
looks satisfied. As the actors place the casket and then precisely turn and
solemnly march from the classroom, the camera slides forward ever so gently
and slowly. A close-up of the Confederate flag draped over the casket fills
There is complete silence on the set as Maxwell slightly raises
his arms and directs an orchestra not present, waves his hands to a melody
unheard to those around him. I watch as my heart beats rapidly imagining
how moving the melody must be. (Randy Edelman, the composer of the musical
score of Maxwell’s film “Gettysburg”
has also written the score for “Gods and Generals” – I anticipate that it will be as powerful and majestic as the “Gettysburg” melodies that often fill my home.) Maxwell’s mouth moves and his head bobs to the music in his mind as the rest of the room
lies perfectly still. Then, “cut!” and another day of filming is over.
Later on, I had several opportunities to interview Maxwell about his work.
Already a big fan of “Gettysburg,”
I was anxious to learn of his motivation for making “Gods and Generals,” the $54 million film which is a prequel to “Gettysburg.” The new movie is based on Jeff Shaara’s
best-selling novel of the same name, and Shaara credits Maxwell for
inspiring him to write the story. Maxwell wrote the screenplay, and is also
producing and directing the film which stars Robert Duvall as Gen. Robert E. Lee
and Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson, as part of what Maxwell hopes will be
a Civil War trilogy, with “Last Full Measure” coming next.
There is obviously a deep desire within the director to tell a dramatic version of
the Civil War story and I wanted to know why.
“Just as in ‘Gettysburg,’ I
seek to show the humanity of the leaders of the Civil War,” says Maxwell. “In ‘Gods and
Generals’ I want people to get to know the full person of Stonewall Jackson,
a very important historical figure that, when not left completely out of
history lessons taught in most schools, is simply glossed over. My goal is
to show him as the full, complex man that he was – to portray him in all of
his humanity. And that includes portraying him as a man of faith. Faith in
God was a huge part of their lives – for both the leaders of the North and
the South. Yet, it is the element most frequently discarded by historians
and educators when teaching about the war.”
Maxwell passionately addresses the need for history to reflect truth: “What
is often spoon-fed to our generation is an over-simplified, one-dimensional
view of the conflict. The issues of the Civil War go far beyond slavery – my film recognizes that people were tarnished and impaired in their judgment
by slavery – but the war was much more complex and paradoxical than is being
taught to society.
“History, in general, is often a story of civil strife.
It’s so important for our people to know the stories of earlier Americans,
of the character of the people that came before us. I seek to bring
understanding, compassion and illumination of the trials of the 1860s.
There were enormous challenges, terrible choices to be made. It was never
an easy issue of allegiances. Yet, our country made it through.
Understanding the complex issues of our history can strengthen us and give
us wisdom in our approach to issues today.”
When Maxwell cites a poignant example, his words remind me why an accurate
portrayal of history is especially important for our children during these
troubled times: “In the climate we live in since Sept. 11, we can take
great solace and find peace in knowing that America has a history of strong
character – we can handle even terrorism if we know our past.”