Wednesday 24 September 2014

Book Review: Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier - Walter Jakob

At present I'm simply not getting time to paint. But my voracious reading continues apace. I habitually keep notes, and I also find that writing reviews helps me focus on the books I'm reading, and hopefully both draw out what I want from them, and, perhaps, remember it all a bit better. In the past I would often post the resulting reviews on Amazon UK. I'm thinking I might transfer that habit over here, instead (or as well). I hope these reviews might be of use to those interested in such things!  

Before I commence with the book review, however, a quick aside: this is, I believe, my 33rd post on this ear blog. 33 is a nice number: it looks nice, and, thinking of the title if this blog, it's an oft-favoured figure ratio (1:33), and it's (almost) the speed at which ye olde vinyl albums rotate. Following on from that music related thought, it's also as far as I got - 33 posts - with my previous blog sounds from the funky goat! That is, or rather at present was, a music-focussed affair, which I hope one day to return to, as I grew a little band of followers, and music remains a passionate area of both interest and activity for me.

So, back to...

The Windrush Press Edition I recently bought.

Walter Jakob's Napoleonic diaries are very short and easy to read. I read this immediately on receiving it, today, in a single sitting of a coupe of hours. They're neither the best written, nor the most informative, but they are both illuminating and important in that they are one of the only known accounts from a private, the lowest rank in the army, serving under Napoleon.

Walter aged 50.

It struck me when looking at the illustrated works of Faber du Faur and Albrecht Adam that most of a Napoleonic soldier's life seemed to comprise of marching and bivouacking. One particular aspect of this, very forcibly brought home in Jakob's account (and many others, especially of the Russian campaign of 1812), is the element of foraging. A large proportion of this account is about the struggle for subsistence, especially on the way out of - but even on the way into, as well - Russia.
It's more usually the memoirs of soldiers of officer and general rank that get quoted, the Bourgognes and Segurs, so to hear from one of those editor Marc Raeff refers to as the 'suffering faceless common people' is a refreshing change of perspective. Raeff is actually describing the authors of six letters written by Westphalians serving under Napoleon in 1812 when he says this, which are included here as an interesting footnote or appendix type addition.

I haven't read Raeff's introduction yet, nor Frank E. Melvins 'historical commentary'. I just dived straight into Walter's account. He fought for Boney in 1806-7, in eastern Prussia mostly, and then during the 1809 campaign against Austria. In between times, he worked as a stonemason - which leads him to make certain professional observations on some of the buildings in some of the towns he passes through - into which trade he had returned before being recalled in late 1811 for the great Russian debacle.

When he wasn't worrying where his next meal was coming from whilst marching under Napoleon, Walter was a mason. We know he was a stone mason, whether he was a free-mason... I don't know!

He was a conscript, not a volunteer, and German, not French, but, whilst he doesn't have the Bonapartist fervour some French memoirists display, he never seems to have wanted to desert. A slightly superstitious Catholic, he's not quite the Lothario that the dashing duelling cavalryman Parquin is, but he does, at one point, lie to a nun he seems rather taken with. I have heard of Walter several times, when reading histories of 1812, most recently in a book about how typhus ravaged the Grande Armée. That books author maintained that the fever Walter complains of near the end of his account was most likely typhus.

My favourite memoirs seem to be by the middle rankers, like Bourgogne and Parquin, whose mix of eloquence and charming candour are perfect. The top brass can be too self-conscious, and often try to be overly thorough - the much lionised Clausewitz wrote what I think is, for the most part, an almost unreadably turgid account of the 1812 campaign - whilst accounts from the lower ranks are often very circumscribed, and can often read as rather naïeve.

According to Wikipedia, Walter was conscripted into the Von Romig regiment, as illustrated here by Ebner.

Still, the more the better, as far as I'm concerned; this is yet another of the many accounts of this epic campaign that I'm so glad to have both added to my ever-growing 1812 library, and read. Not the best, yet still full of humanity and pathos, and definitely worth reading. 

Two maps are included, practically as end-papers; they have nice local German detail at the western end, at the front of the book, and near the back show the eastern end, and turning point. Whilst not sufficiently detailed to show all of Walter's stops, they allow one to follow his general movements, and as such are perfectly adequate. In the body of the text some place names are rendered somewhat unusually, but I think Raeff says this a deliberate attempt to help keep the flavour of the original text.

This near contemporary Russian map shows the extent and degree of fire damage in Moscow. Not the exact image used in this edition, but the same map, I believe.

As well the intro and historical commentary, there are also the six Westphalian letters, and in addition to all this, the text is illustrated with a number of atmosphere setting artworks, reproduced as rather small black and white images, most of which 1812 diehards will have seen before (many being by Faber du Faur), but some of which might be new, such as the images of Cossacks force-feeding Boney-in-a-barrel, and a very interesting Russian map of Moscow from 1813, showing the extent of the damage the fires had wreaked (above).

I got my rather handsome hardback of Waletr's memoirs for just £2.81 on Amazon UK. Less than the cost of a beer, and, to my mind, more stimulating and nourishing!

Saturday 20 September 2014

Book Review: Napoleon on Campaign - Carruthers

This lovely shiny new book arrived in todays post. I sat down and read it, cover to cover, in a few hours, and I spent quite a bit of that time just looking at the pictures.

Before I commence with the meat of this review, a few of the salient facts: this book is approximately 30 x 20 cm, in a landscape format orientation. There are, I believe (I did a quick count, but didn't go back and check!) 88 artworks, all printed in full colour. Paper and print quality are on the better than average side of good, but not premium. There are no picture credits or indexes, etc. All pictures shown here, except where noted, appear in the book (all sourced from 'commons' stock, I hasten to add).

I like Harriet Carruthers' book, as it certainly is, for the most part, a thing of beauty. She has also succeeded in her stated aims of letting 'the images do the talking' and showing that 'from war and conquest can come something beautiful.'

Certainly I share her enthusiasm for the subject, and can only applaud her desire to share 'a selection of old favourites lovingly chosen by one devotee for the enjoyment of all the others out there.' And I also, like her, have found that 'developing an interest in the life of Napoleon and the great story it tells, can be addictive and all consuming.'

One of the most iconic of early depictions of Bonaparte, a heroic rendering of his action on the bridge at Arcole, by Gros. This is a better reproduction than appears in the book, where the picture is severely cropped and too dark.

However, there are a number of things that I feel would've improved it. In her introduction she mentions that such things as the medium in which the art is produced, and the location in which it hangs are, for the purposes of her book, relatively unimportant. Consequently, such information is, for the most part, not given at all. 

I think this is a pity, making her book avowedly populist history of the kind in which one cannot check sources against provenance. There's also the fact that one might wish to know the locations of the original artworks, to facilitate seeing them 'in the flesh', so to speak.

The book would also certainly have benefited from longer captions, even if only supplying slightly more information. For example, the very first artwork, depicting the Siege of Toulon, shows artillery firing, alongside text briefly alluding to Napoleon's early military history. Yet the caption omits altogether the fact that Napoleon was himself an artillerymen, information both interesting in itself, but doubly so because it makes the choice of illustration more pertinent.

Battle of the Pyramids, one of a number of superb paintings by Louis-François, Baron Lejeune. The version in the book is severely cropped, mostly on the left. 

The quality of the printing is, in itself, very good. However, some of the images appear to have been sourced from fairly low resolution masters. I suspect, rather horrifyingly, from the web! A good example of this would be to contrast the first two depictions of the Battle of the Pyramids (a total of four portrayals of this event are included!), the first of which, by Watteau, is quite dark and slightly blurred, whereas the second, by LeJeune, is crisp and bright. 

This issue of reproduction quality really is a pity. For example, page 38's painting 'Napoleon and His Staff' really does look like an image sourced from the Internet, perhaps with a Photoshop filter used, in an attempt to soften the pixilated look. Shocking really!

For those who like to compare Napoleon with Hitler - something all to frequently done (especially by English historians), and a comparison which is, to my mind, although occasionally useful, more often isn't very enlightening - there is the Gautherot painting of 'Napoleon Ordering Troops Into Battle at Augsburg, 1805'. In this painting Napoleon's troops are depicted giving the Roman salute, as do the Horatii in David's famous painting of around the same time, 'The Oath of the Horatii'. At this time the Roman salute, in an era steeped in classical learning and allusion, had not yet acquired the sinister import it has taken on since Hitler and Mussolini.

Lejeune, Napoleon at Austerlitz, 1805 (poss. painted 1808?)

Returning briefly to the theme of tiny captions, I really do think a great opportunity has been missed. Okay, I can find out elsewhere about the artists themselves, or the more general art historical stuff, but more info on what is actually depicted would've been most welcome, and is sorely missed. 

A good example might be Napoleon at Austerlitz, on page 41, another great painting by Lejeune, in which Napoleon is shown in the centre of the painting, talking to some captured locals. Within this one highly skilful and deeply interesting painting, ranged around this central scene, are depicted numerous fascinating vignettes. Several typical rear echelon scenes are depicted: at centre left we see troops foraging, or rather pillaging; behind Napoleon we see his carriage, and around him his ADCs, including his Mameluke, Roustam. Elsewhere one sees such activities as troops gathered around a bivouac fire, whilst others gather wood, and yet others carry logs towards an artillery position, presumably for the building of defensive breastworks.

Overworked editor at a specialist press is overcome by fatigue and subsequently misses an entire proofing run.[1]

Although this book is absolutely fantastic in many ways, I still think it appropriate to remark that a suitably professional level of editorial finesse is severely wanting. The very scanty captions are littered with bad grammar and the like, as on page 44, where one sees two clumsy errors: the first, where the word 'on' appears where it should say 'of'; and the second, where a sentence begins clumsily with 'This however this did not bring...', instead of, presumably, 'However this did not bring...' One of he worst gaffes, but sadly not the only one of this sort, is when Carruthers says 'Napoleon's surrender ushered in almost 500 years of international peace in Europe'!

Even at what I assume was the intended 50, that'd be historically inaccurate (Crimean War anybody?), but the extra zero turns it from sloppy sounding history into a kind wacky and even more inaccurate Nostradamus style utterance! Near the end of the book we are also told he died in 1921! One has to wonder if anyone looked over the text in an editorial capacity.

Most of Felician Myrbach's works were entirely new to me, including this one, titled Marbot's Soldiers Foraging on the Retreat, showing troops in Russia rounding up cattle.

On the plus side, this book is chock full of wonderful paintings and prints and so on. Many of these images will be very familiar to those who love things Napoleonic, but there will also, more than likely, be some that you may not have seen before. I really like depictions of behind-the-scenes activities, such as the page 97 reproduction, depicting soldiers foraging on the retreat, in Russia 1812. This artwork, by Myrbach, who, though new to me, is featured heavily in this book, shows what I believe are French Chasseurs rounding up a herd of cattle in a forest.

Carruthers' captions running theme is the history of the Napoleonic wars, rather than information on the paintings illustrated. Those autodidact scholars, to whom Carruthers refers in her introduction, i.e. the dreaded Napoleonic buff, will almost certainly find a fair bit to quibble with, witness this review, brief as her synopsis style history is. There is also a slightly strange and possibly somewhat arbitrary balance, or imbalance, regarding the quantity of images given over to particular subjects, such that we have four paintings of the Battle of the Nile, but only one depicting Borodino.

Sadly this superb Lejeune painting, depicting Somo-Sierra, is not one of the two Peninsular War paintings that appear in this book.

Many British readers may be somewhat disappointed at the very thin coverage of the Peninsular War, in which England was heavily involved on the ground, rather than in her more normal role as financier. But for me, as someone more interested in the Austrian campaign of 1809, and yet more so the 1812 campaign in Russia, I could've done with more on those subjects. That said there are some very good images of both, particularly Russia 1812, including the fabulous 'Crossing the Berezina River', by Peter von Hess, a painting packed with imagery familiar to anyone who's read histories or memoirs of that disastrous but endlessly fascinating campaign.

Marshal Ney, 'bravest of the brave', as depicted by Adolphe Yvon

Rather sadly, 'Marshall Ney Sustaining the Rearguard', by Adolphe Yvon, is one of those images in which the reproduction quality is, whilst just about adequate, certainly not of the best. Thinking again of images I hadn't seen before, another pertaining to 1812 in Russia, pictures Napoleon and his staff surprised by Cossacks. No information is given about the scene depicted, but I suspect this may be a rendering of an event that occurred at some point around the battle of Maloyaroslavets.

Why are there four battle of the Pyramids paintings, and only one of Borodino? This Lejeune painting of the battle certainly should've been included!

Almost no supplementary information is given about the artworks, which, by and large, appear to have been gathered from material produced fairly close to the times of the events themselves. But sometimes this can be gleaned from a careful examination, as on page 109, where Rosen's 'Napoleon Leaving the French Army at Smorgoni' is clearly dated 1894, putting it amongst the later works used here. It's a pity there are no images from the great Napoleonic panoramas, like DuMoulin's of Waterloo, or Roubaud's Borodino.

Interestingly, given the general paucity of information or opinion in her overall narrative, it's interesting that Carruthers is amongst those who openly doubt the figures so frequently cited in narrations of the retreat from Russia. 

Oops! This one, A Resting Place for Prisoners, by Vereschagin, shouldn't be in the book at all, as it depicts events of the winter of 1877, in the Russo-Turkish War!

Whilst one cannot doubt Carruthers' enthusiasm for the subject, there are here a few reasons to question her depth of knowledge about it. One really quite big, bad blooper is the inclusion, on page 111, of Vasily Vereschagin's 'A Resting Place of Prisoners' (above). Although I have seen this illustration used once before in conjunction with Russia 1812, I can't recall offhand if in that instance they mention the issue at stake: which is that this is actually a painting relating to a much later conflict. The dead giveaway is the depiction of telegraph poles! 

Here's the caption from the website for the Brooklyn Museum of Art (where the painting hangs) about the artwork:

'With loose, expressive brushstrokes and sensitivity to raw emotional detail, Vasily Vereshchagin here conveys on a massive scale the horrors he saw firsthand in the Russo-Turkish War. In the winter of 1877, while working as a war correspondent, he witnessed thousands of Turkish prisoners freezing to death while being marched to Russian war camps.' (link to source).

Now, it may be that Carruthers knew this, and that the image is simply used (as it was in the other book where I saw it) to depict a scene not otherwise illustrated. But if this is the case, then I think an explanation in the text is a must! Carruthers commits an even bigger blooper, in terms of Napoleonic historiography, when she states, on page 142, that Napoleon's stay on the island of Elba was 'where he was to live out the remainder of his life in exile'!

Horace Vernet's painting of the battle of Hanau (1813).

The artworks are ordered chronologically, following the story of Napoleonic history, which is a very sensible strategy. Most of the content is, unsurprisingly, by French artists, with the occasional Russian or English, or even more occasional Polish painter, making an appearance. This changes rather dramatically once we enter upon the 'Hundred Days' campaign, climaxing in Waterloo. In this segment British artists make a significant inroad, with Hillingford and Lady Butler to the fore.

Sadly some of these well known pictures are affected by the issue of poor reproduction. I'm left wondering, as already briefly alluded to, if this was caused by images being sourced from the public domain, perhaps so as to avoid expense in terms of copyright issues? This might in turn have helped keep the book cheap to produce and therefore buy. But alas, if so, because it also leaves certain images looking plain cheap. In the images below I compare and contrast some images of Phillipoteaux's superb work 'Charge of the French Cuirassiers at Waterloo' (a book belonging to a childhood friend's dad, with this painting on the dust jacket, is amongst my earliest recollections of things Napoleonic).

Phillipoteaux's magnificent Charge of the French Cuirassiers at Waterloo, in a pretty good quality reproduction, not found on Wikipedia.

A detail from the above image: note the clarity of the detail.

This is the Wikipedia version of the Phillipoteaux work, in which the colour has been brought out in a nice brighter way, albeit perhaps a little over saturated.

The same area as per the Wiki-sourced image. Not quite so clear!

It appears that this image has had brightness and contrast dialled up, in Photoshop, perhaps. But hang on a minute, what's that going on in the centre of the picture? What's with the mashed up cuirassier? He's not been hit by canister, rather he appears to be suffering from dodgy montaging. This image is also grainer, i.e. less smooth, than the top one. And the image in Carruthers' book is, sadly, exactly like the Wikipedia one. So much so, I suspect they are one and the same (or at least sourced from the same original file somehow).

Vernet's depiction of Montmirail

The painting immediately above is, I hope you'll agree, a stunningly beautiful work of art. There's something rather poetic in that the light could easily be twilight (altho' it equally well be dawn: can anyone with more knowledge of the battle tell me which is more likely?), and this was, though a decisive French victory, amongst the very last hurrahs, as 'the sun of Austerlitz' finally set on Napoleon's glory for good.

In terms of the artists and artworks featured here, I think the single artist who emerges as my favourite, overall, is Horace Vernet, with Lejeune a close second. That he was incredibly talentd is perhaps less surprising when you realise he was third in a line of illsutrious French painters, and indeed, work by his father, Carle Vernet also features here.

Horace Vernet's father Carle Vernet depicts a scene from the battle of Wagram.

Horace Vernet's oil paintings have the high classical finish of artists like David and Ingres, and yet are, relatively speaking, more 'realistic' (i.e. less pseudo-classical), and he also frequently favours larger scenes, which convey well that essential Napoleonic development, the rise of the 'big battalions'. Their richness and grandeur is commanding, and he paints all the elements, horses, men, equipment, and landscape, with a stunning facility.

Napoleon at Jena (1806), Vernet

In the work reproduced above Vernet zooms in on a smaller scene for a change, as Napoleon and his entourage, including the ever flamboyant Murat, turn towards a grenadier, who calle out to them, perhaps simply shouting 'Vive L'Empereur!' (Or is he complaining that his hat doesn't fit?) Vernet captures a kind of charismatic intensity in Bonaparte's face which one imagines he must have possessed, to have lead the way he did. 

Horace Vernet.

Horace Vernet, looking supremely cool. Mind you, his bum might be quite toasty, if that stove's lit. Vernet was, quite literally, a child of the revolution, being born in 1879. Neither this nor the picture below appear in Carruthers' book.


Lejeune didn't just paint Napoleonic battles, he took part in them. With a kind of pleasingly poetic if not exact symmetry, Lejeune, around 14-15 years older than Vernet, died in 1848, year of France's February revolution, which founded the Second Republic, and saw the beginning of the Second Empire under Bonaparte's nephew, Louis Napoleon.

Having praised Vernet, and at least in part for a degree more realism than some other artists who depict Napoleonic battles, I must note that the final picture of his to appear in this book, also the final image of the book itself - 'Apotheosis of Napoleon' - is a different kettle of mackerel altogether. 

I've read somewhere that Boney was a keen fan of the myths of Ossian, creation of Scots author James McPherson. This fact would lead to such artworks as Girodet's 'Ossian Receiving the Souls of the French Fallen', and finally this work of Vernet's. In this work we see fact transformed into pure myth, as Napoleon rejoins his fallen generals and troops, is reunited with his sundered family, and unchained from Promethean captivity on the rock of St. Helena, the broken barque of his conquests and his laurels being reclaimed by the sea.

Rather than reproduce yet more of the works that can be found in Carruthers' book, here's the rather quasi-operatic painting by Girodet I mention above, which isn't: Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of French Heroes (1801)

A bluntly realistic view on all this mythologising might point out that this hybrid paganism, part Ossian part Greek tragedy, glosses over Napoleon's deathbed return to a Catholicism he could never utterly relinquish, whilst ignoring the fact that his family abandoned him (Marie Louise rejecting him and returning to the Austrian royal fold, and his son, The King of Rome - if Napoleon fell from great heights to become the ruler of a rock, his son's short life was, by comparison, a complete non-event - pre-decreasing him), and, far from rising to Valhalla, his bones lay mouldering in an unmarked grave. What a gap between myth and reality! Well, that's propaganda for you.

'Vie de Napoléon en huit chapeaux', Steuben.

Perhaps a more poignant if no less bizarre an epitaph to Napoleon's period of ascendancy, his rapid rise and even faster fall, is this painting by Baron Charles de Steuben. 'Vie de Napoléon en huit chapeaux', or 'life of Napoleon in eight hats'! I saw it in the little Museum on the Waterloo battlefield that was Napoleon's H.Q. on the night before the battle, in postcard form. This is another one that isn't in the book, by the way.

For my Amazon review of this book I wanted originally to give it five stars, the highest possible score. Now obviously, this couldn't be based purely upon how comprehensive, accurate, scholarly, or whatever other criterion one might choose, it is, but would be due to the fact that, despite it's several flaws, I love it (that is, after all, Amazon's 'definition' of a five-star review). And, at least via Amazon, it's available at such a modest price that I can tolerate the flaws. But in the end I had to dock a star for the editorial blunders and the lower than ideal quality of a significant number of the images.

Gillray's Maniac Raving's, or Little Boney in a Strong Fit. Napoleon is said to have alleged that Gillray did him more harm than all the armies of Europe! Satirical cartoons like this are not part of Carruthers' remit. She sticks to the 'Fine Art' stuff.

Cruikshank's The Corsican Shuttlecock, in which Gillray's 'Little Boney' becomes even littler. I didn't see him on first glance: that's him in mid air! If this sort of thing is the kind of Napoleonic art you dig, then you'd be better off with Mark Bryant's Napoleonic Wars In Cartoons.

Anyway, to conclude: this is, despite all the flaws, a beautiful book, and I certainly would recommend it to Napoleonic nuts. Maybe one day I'll get my chance to write a huge, lavishly illustrated compendium of art on this era, but, until then, this is one of the only books of this type I'm aware of. Or rather, the only one! As such, it's a worthwhile addition to any self-respecting readers Napoleonic library.


[1] I'd like to make it very clear here that I love Pen & Sword publications. I have a lot of their books, and will doubtless buy many more. Indeed, with all its mistakes and other issues I still love this book, and I hope that that comes across clearly in this review. Also, as a regular contributor to a musical periodical for over a decade, I have quite frequently witnessed the grammarian or syntactic mangling of my submissions, and (one hopes?) never due to malicious intent. And finally, although I'm perhaps loathe to admit, sometimes some of these mistakes may even have originated from me!

Thursday 18 September 2014

Film Review: Gettysburg (1993)

Having recently made a small digression, a flanking manouevre, perhaps, into ACW territory, with my post about the National Geographic ACW 100th anniversary series, I feel inclined to follow it up with a review of (or if not quite a review, then thoughts arising from watching) the Gettysburg movie.

My return to things ACW was begun with a purchase of Ken Burns' utterly magnificent epic documentary The Civil War. After watching this superb series I started adding ACW titles to our Lovefilm queue. We started with Glory, in which Matthew Broderick is a touch unconvincing (there's an irony here, in that the character he portrays was beset by self doubt) as Col. Robert Gould Shaw, a white officer tasked with leading the first black infantry regiment - the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers - into the fray.

Then Lincoln came out, so we saw that at the cinema. Shortly thereafter - and I mean very shortly, i.e. immediately - I decided the time was ripe to watch The Civil War series again. After this second viewing I felt it was high time I overcame my aversion to the very obviously fake beards that had formerly put me off giving Gettysburg a punt. One of the chief reasons being that I fancied the actions of Little Round Top and Pickett's charge, both of which are so stirringly covered in the Burns' doc., would be certain to feature. 

The 'hinge' of Chamberlain's fateful, decisive (and possibly legendary, in the mythical sense) 'gate', on Little Round Top.

When I did finally get the discs from Lovefilm, I initially failed to twig that it was a two-disc affair, or that both discs had been, unusually in my Lovefilm experience thus far, sent together (this remains, at present, the first and only time this has happend). The upshot was that I hoiked out disc two first, and watched that. It was good, but I really felt like something was missing! Only when I returned the disc to its wallet, intending to return it, did I see the other disc, and realise I'd goofed. So, I started again, this time with disc one. Unsurprisingly it was a far more satisfying viewing experience!

Having finally watched Gettysburg, in which my hopes were rewarded, in that Little around Top and Pickett's charge are not only covered, but are the two central features of discs one and two respectively, I realised it was high time I watched The Civil War again. And after that I felt I was ready for just one more viewing of Gettysburg, before returning the discs. The ACW bug had bitten deep! 

'If'n all a maw hayer turns white, wall, reckon I kin get me a job as Santy Claws...'


One thing I've gotten into a habit of doing with quite a lot of the books and DVDs and other sundry stuf I read, watch (or whatever), is posting reviews on Amazon UK about them. This is partly a by-product of having written a classic album column for Drummer magazine for over a decade, which allowed me to develop the penchant I already had for writing about stuff I like, into something of a paid hobby. I also find that keeping notes on stuff as I watch or read, and then writing a review when I finish, helps me focus my thoughts, and thereby remember more about the book, film, or whatever it may be.

When I posted a review of Gettysburg I was kind of not surprised to find the movie getting something of a panning, for numerous reasons, the most obvious being the most obvious-ness of much of the chinwiggery (my predictive text function doesn't like me minting this new term, and suggests 'chinwag grey'!): Gettysburg was clearly a big budget enterprise, and it wouldn't surprise me to find that the GDP of a small developing nation was expended on fake beards and moustaches. 

'Don't shoot me. I'm only the beard!'[1] Berenger as Longstreet, and Sheen as Lee. Thinks a passing Johnny Reb grunt: 'I do declayuh, them thar southen gennel'men, they sho' knowed how to dress.'

I feel tempted to say 'I've seen it done better', but when I think about it, one can usually spot false beards, 'taches, mutton-chops and the like, quite easily. I think Ian McKellen did a sterling job as Gandalf (tho' I have a soft spot for Sir Michael 'Paddington Bear' Hordern in the role, and even dig the fabulously named Heron Carvic in Ye Olde BBC radio verison of The Hobbit version) - and it, meaning his beard, etc., probably was done better - but I could still see it was fake, and that did occasionally niggle.

The problem facing the make-up dept. on Gettysburg was that there were almost as many acres of facial hair to be prepared for every shoot as there is wheat in all the massive monoculture cash crops of the entire US of A today. I mean, this was, after all, the conflict that gave us - so I've been read - the term 'sideburns', in honour of Ambrose Burnside, who, as can be seen below sported admirable, one could almost say 'benchmark', examples. As well as being a general in the Union army, and gifting us this new word for the face-fuzz lexicon, ol' Burnside was also the first president of the NRA!

Burnside, egg-headed 1st president of the NRA and the original Mr Sideburns!

Actually, when they show the characters, as they do during the titles for the movie, placing actors in make up against vintage photos of the original protagonists, you realise that it's not just that the fake beards and suchlike look a bit ridiculous, but that the real McCoy takes some believing in. The Remington fuzz-away was some time off, and these guys, real men's men, appear to have had beards on their whiskers. Anyway, that's probably enough about the beards and whatnot. 

Sam Elliot as Buford, giving one of his trademark looks, a kind of super-distilled semi-crazy intensity. Perfect for a high ranking C19th military type in the field, methinks. Elliot is such an excellent 'lean and rangy' cowboy-type, and - what a bonus - that's a real 'tache!

After a while you get used to it... kind of. Well, that is until Joseph Fuqua makes his belated appearance as Major General 'Jeb' Stuart (see the pic above 'Chinwiggery'). With his his eyes a-goggle, and his wayward whiskers looking like some biblical bush, this funny little Fuqua put me in mind of Michael Palin in some vintage Monty Python or Ripping Yarns type sketch. Was he about to burst out singing 'I'm a Lumberjack'?

Well, strange to say, perhaps, after that long opening ramble through the tangle of nun's hair* and glue that might plausibly constitute 'a world of pain', beard and moustache wise, it might come as a surprise if I do a swift volte face, and say, or confess, even, that I absolutely love this movie.

The cast assemble for a Union brass group shot.

Ham & Gravitas, with a side order of Stirring Music.

When I posted my Amazon review on the movie, I'd only watched it once or twice. I've now watched it four times, and I'm halfway through viewing number five. And I like it more with each viewing. 

After the first proper viewing, when I managed to start with disc one, it was Jeff Bridges' turn as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain that sealed the deal for me, as well as the pure martial splendour of so many actors togged up so well, and the sheer pleasure of a double-disc axtravaganza dedicated to nothing more than a famous battle - there's no extraneous love sub-plots, nor even very much time set aside for the worthy themes that are the 'raisin detour' of (or could that be 'excuse for'?) Spielberg's Lincoln.

Indeed, I was so taken with the story of the 'textbook manouevre' by a College professor turned soldier, on Little Round Top, as portrayed in both the Burns doc. and this movie, that I ordered a copy of The Passing Of The Armies, which I'm currently reading (and loving), which is Chamberlain's narrative of the end of the ACW, and the role he and the V Corps, to which he belonged, played in the Appomattox campaign, leading up to the surrender and the end of the war. Chamberlain proves to be clever and articulate, as one hopes a college professor would, but, and better still, witty and independently minded.

'Chaaaarge!' Bridges' performance as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is pitch perfect, at least in terms of stirring drama, if not necessarily strict historical accuracy.

Watching the film again with a fuller insight into the man Bridges portrays only makes me enjoy the film more. Often a better literary understanding of a films sources does the reverse, and rather takes the shine off. Not here. Or at least not for me. I've also grown to appreciate some of the other portrayals more. Tom Berenger is superb as Longstreet, and whilst I initially thought Martin Sheen was the movies big casting mistake, as Robert E. Lee, the more I watch this, the better I think his performance is. Again, this can often be the reverse, esp. with modern mainstream films, especially of the Hollywood blockbuster type, where any initial charm (or indeed any recollection of anything at all about it) quickly fades.

The real Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Reading Chamberlains memoirs of the Appomattox campaign ought to help any wargamer, or other student of military history, realise what a Godawful chaotic mess war generally is, and both Sheen's Lee and Berenger's Longstreet (and numerous others, as a matter of fact) do great jobs of showing how commanders have to work with unfolding events that aren't going quite as they'd like them to.

Right, well, time for bed now. This review is a work in progress by the way! I've not said enough about the film itself by half yet, and intend to return to this post, as I return to the film itself, several times, to tweak and develop it.

JLC in miniature

If or when I start collecting ACW miniatures, I'm pretty certain I'll want a little JLC figure. I'm aware of several out there: a W Britains 54mm old-fashioned 'toy soldier' type, a 40mm from figure from an American firm, and a 28mm figure that was, I believe, the free figure at a show like Salute some time back.

* Some years ago, as a poverty stricken longhair contemplating lopping off my locks, I had the brainwave of selling my abundant and perfectly straight sheafs of golden tresses to a wig maker. I was surprised to hear that when it comes to the supply of human hair, Huns... sorry, nuns (ah me, predictive text, you gotta love it!) had long ago cornered the wig market. Now, I thought I was being taken for a simple country lad, for such I am I guess, when told of the Burnside sideburns switcheroo thing. This nun-wiggery business sounded even more like I was having me lanyard yanked. I've never bothered to investigate, but I like the yarn!

[1] A quote (or possibly a slight misquote) from Woody Allen's wonderful movie Broadway Danny Rose.