Kinch has 'is popcorn and is ready to go
Unlike Bob or Foy, I am really terrible at maintaining blog posts that are series. Not for me Hoopdoodle #241 or "I have been to...", I tend to get distracted by something shiny and forget to do anything further. So in the interests of breaking that particular habit, here is the final post in the series "Muskets at the movies."
4.War & Peace
To be honest, this is on the list for the sheer mass and scale of humanity that are present in the battle scenes. I haven't watched it since I read the book, but my overwhelming memory of the film was spectacle. Particularly in these CGI days, it is worth noting that those are real men and real things happening on screen.
The Russians certainly do things in a grand style.
I love this film and there is a lot to love about it. It has an intense evocation of time and place, a powerful ensemble cast, a brilliant score and great script. I was surprised that Denzel Washington got the Oscar, not that his performance wasn't good, I just thought that Freeman and Broderick were better. But disregarding it's value as a very fine film, Glory does seem to me to be a convincing portrayal of black powder combat in American Civil War. The general amateurishness of the armies, the long range fire fights, the sudden and brutal hand to hand combat are all captured perfectly on film.
But the stand out moment for me in Glory is a scene in a hospital where the action isn't shown. It's all done in closeup and I really captures to my mind the horror of the pre-chloroform surgery. The story is told entirely through Mathew Broderick's face and the dialogue. It would have been easy to have done this gratuitously, but everything about this particular piece of cinema is perfect. I have not been able to find a better quality recording of the clip, but there is a clip below. Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart or the easily upset.
2. Barry Lyndon
Barry Lyndon is a film like Glory - it's just a great show. The acting, the music (I can't hear Sarabande without getting chills), the sets, the whole thing is just fantastic. But in addition to being a great film which you should see regardless, it does get a lot of things right in it's portrayal of black powder battle. The stand out scene for this is the "nameless skirmish" where British and French infantry face off against each other during the Seven Years War.
There's a lot to like in this scene, but the fact that they have the appropriate number of men, performing (to my inexperienced eye) the appropriate evolutions at the appropriate pace and you get to see it up close and in long shot is worth the price of entry alone. The stately pace of 18th century battle along with its gruesome aftermath are enough to stir the blood of any wargamer.
The scene above is the most extraordinary depictions of black powder battle I have ever seen. War and Peace may have had similar scale, but the tidal wave of horseflesh washing around the infantry squares is simply breath taking. The battle scenes are excellent, the acting is top notch and the casting is second to none.
In as much as a film can, I also think that Waterloo also manages to give some sense of what occurs when a general is commanding, the decisions that he makes and the agony of making hard choices with limited information under time pressure. Steiger is a marvelous Napoleon, Dan O'Herlihy is superb as Ney and I will always have a soft spot for Christopher Plummer (Wellington) and Jack Hawkins (Picton).
The shots of the attack on Hougomont are particularly good. The action fills the frame in the foreground, but you can still see the reserves moving up in the background. To have accomplished such a thing in a time before CGI is an extraordinary achievement.
I can't say enough good things about this film to be honest.
So there you have it. A short and very subjective whistle stop tour of black powder battle on screen.
Any glaring ommissions?