It was a cool, overcast morning on Saturday, October 13th, 2018, as my Dad, my friend and fellow filmmaker JD Mayo, and myself packed the car for the seven-hour drive from Greensboro, North Carolina to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to attend the 25th Anniversary screening of the classic Civil War film, Gettysburg. For JD and me, this is the film that got us interested in history, and eventually led us to become filmmakers ourselves. Director Ron Maxwell, and several members of the cast and crew would be in attendance, giving us the opportunity to meet some of the people who were a part of this landmark film about the bloodiest battle in American history. For both of us, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up!
We arrived in Gettysburg around 2 PM and got to our hotel room. We originally planned to relax for a little bit before heading out. However, Frank Beachem, a Civil War reenactor who we both worked with on JD’s films Our War and Fire in the Forest, told us that parking was already getting crazy in town, and to get their asap! So, we put on our best dress clothes, and were quickly out the door! Anybody who’s been to Gettysburg know that the worst thing about being there can be the traffic getting into downtown. I’ve heard some say that Gettysburg is the “busiest small town in the world,” due to the number of visitors who come to visit the battlefield. Well, they weren’t lying! Still, despite the traffic, we were able to find parking, and get to the Majestic Theater around 3:30, well ahead of the 5 PM start of the event.
On the drive up, JD kept up with the Facebook posts about the screening. Ron Maxwell posted that the event was sold out, bringing 800 people to see the film. Within an hour of arriving, that estimate seemed accurate. We were among the first to arrive. But by the time they started seating us at 4:30, hundreds of people were crowding into the theater lobby. Several reenactors who were part of the filming of Gettysburg back in 1992 were there, dressed in their uniforms, representing their units at the screening. Our first sighting of an actor happened about half an hour after arriving, when Patrick Falci, who portrayed Confederate General A.P. Hill in the film, arrived in his uniform for the event. Even 25 years on, he still looked the part of the General (He would reprise the role in Gettysburg: Three Days of Destiny, the 140th Reenactment Video). As we got our seats, and started to settle in, we started looking around. The only one we recognized at first was Brian Mallon, who played General Winfield Scott Hancock in both Gettysburg and its prequel, Gods and Generals.
The event began at 5 PM, with Bill Sellers, the President of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Trust, giving a few remarks, before introducing the Allen C. Cuelzo, who offered a few comments on the film’s historical significance, before he introduced the film’s director, Ron Maxwell. During his opening remarks, Mr. Maxwell talked at length about some of the experiences of making the film. His longest piece was about the great moment in the film where Confederate soldiers are cheering for Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) prior to Pickett’s Charge. He stated that the scene was not planned but was a spontaneous moment that was thankfully caught on film. Maxwell stated that the scene took place on a hot, demanding day. To boost the morale of the reenactors, he asked Mr. Sheen, who had a rare day off from the production, if he would sit through the 90-minute makeup process and ride out on set as Robert E. Lee. He agreed to do so. Less than two hours later, Sheen rode out on set as Lee, and the men, seeing not the actor, but Robert E. Lee himself, the men cheered wildly for the man, and the crew were able to get the cameras rolling to capture it on film.
The most surprising part of his opening remarks, and the most fun part, was when Mr. Maxwell played a trivia game with the audience, where he would quote a line from the movie, and the audience would say which character said it. Many people didn’t miss a beat, including myself. With each quote stated, somebody in the audience had the answer within just a second or two. Toward the end, Mr. Maxwell, a big smile on his face, stated that he “couldn’t stump this crowd.” Afterward, he introduced the cast and crew in the attendance that night. One by one, they all stood up: Brian Mallon, Patrick Gorman, Olivia Maxwell, Bo Brinkman, James Patrick Stuart, Patrick Falci, Stephen Lang, Andrew Prine, and Composer Randy Edelman. We looked around as they stood. We sat near the back, right in front of the projection screen. We looked to our right, and just twenty feet away were Mr. Lang, Mr. Gorman, Mr. Falci, and Ms. Maxwell. People who had been in a movie that impacted our lives, just twenty feet away! JD and I did fanboy just a little bit, haha!
Ron Maxwell then introduced Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson, alumni distinguished professor of Virginia Tech, to introduce the film. Dr. Robertson is a historian I have admired for over a decade now. He wrote the seminal work, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Myth, the Legend, considered by many to be the definitive work on the Confederate General. He also served as a historical advisor on Gods and Generals. In his terrific introduction to the film, he spoke about the importance of the film; how Ron Maxwell adapted Michael Shaara’s novel “The Killer Angels” for the screen, while also correcting some of the historical errors the book made. He also addressed the current move by groups to remove monuments, and by those trying to rewrite the history of men like Robert E. Lee. It was a powerful introduction to the film.
Following his remarks, the film began. I won’t go into too much detail about the film itself, as much has been written about this film, more so than many others in the genre. The one thing I will say about the film was the amazing restoration done on it. Before the screening, Ron Maxwell said that we would be the first audience to see the “newly-restored Director’s Cut.” When the 271-minute extended cut of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, there was quite a bit of criticism of the picture quality presented. Mr. Maxwell did state that this was not the version he would have released. But, thanks to the support of Warner Bros., he was able to go back and do a full-on digital remastering the film. And let me tell you, the version we saw that night looked and sounded amazing! I haven’t seen the film look that clear and amazing since the DVD release from the early 2000s.
In a way, this screening of the film, my first time seeing it on the big screen, brought me back to that time in 1994, when at 10 years old, I watched it with my Dad for the very first time. Even at four-and-a-half hours, the film remains moving, fascinating, and exciting, the powerful performances and terrific writing keeping the movie rolling along at a fast pace, never becoming dull. Such is the testament to Ron Maxwell, and the cast and crew, who made a true classic of the historical genre, which remains powerful, even twenty-five years later.
During the intermission, we were able to meet, and get photographs with, Patrick Gorman and Brian Mallon. When I introduced myself as Steven “Hancock,” Mr. Mallon said: “Ah, Hancock! That’s a good name.” I talked a little bit with Mr. Gorman, who played Confederate General John Bell Hood in the film, and got my photo with him as well. I returned to my seat and waited for the second part to begin. JD came back a few minutes later, saying that he got his picture taken with Olivia Maxwell as well. Despite the event running late into the evening, the excitement we felt going in never waned through those several hours.
With Patrick Gorman and Brian Mallon
Unlike most screenings like this, where the cast and crew stand come up during the end credits, Mr. Maxwell wished for us to sit through the entirety of the film’s closing credits, so the reenactors in the film could see their units listed toward the end, and cheer for them. Although neither of us were a part of the production, we still cheered when Dad and I saw our reenacting unit, the 49th North Carolina Troops, listed amongst the units who took part in filming. Following the screening, which ended around 11 PM, Mr. Maxwell and the cast and crew went up for a proper curtain call, and each member of the cast and crew introduced themselves to the excited audience. They all took a bow, and afterward, we were invited to come back out to the lobby, for autographs and pictures with the stars.
Dad and JD each brought their copy of the Collector’s Set of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals to sign. For myself, I brought my Blu-ray digibook edition of Gettysburg to have signed. Without intending it, this provided a little bit of amusement to the proceedings. First to sign was Brian Mallon, who looked for a spot where he could sign his name above a picture of him and the Union officers in the film. Next to sign was Patrick Falci, who I had sign the inside of the front cover. Andrew Prine and Olivia Maxwell signed there as well.
The next two in line were Bo Brinkman, who portrayed Major Walter Taylor, one of Lee’s aides in the film, and Stephen Lang, who portrayed Confederate General George Pickett (And would give an equally-great performance as “Stonewall” Jackson in Gods and Generals). I opened the book up to a picture of the Confederate officers in the film, in which Mr. Lang and Mr. Brinkman are featured. When I handed it to Mr. Brinkman, he flipped through the book.
“I haven’t seen this version before,” he said. “When did this come out?”
“Came out the same year the collector’s set came out,” I replied.
“That’s awesome,” he said, before signing his name. He then handed it to Mr. Lang, who looked through it as well for a second.
“That’s pretty cool,” Mr. Lang remarked, before signing his name. It next went to James Patrick Stuart, who portrayed Confederate Colonel E. Porter Alexander in the film. Mr. Stuart had the same reaction that Mr. Brinkman had to the digibook, before signing his name next to a photo of him with Tom Berenger as General Longstreet (Who sadly was not in attendance that night).
Next, Mr. Gorman signed his name in the front. “What is your name again,” he asked?
“Steven, with a V,” I replied. He then signed it with the message: “Steven, thanks for coming, Patrick Gorman. J.B. Hood.”
Last, but certainly not least, was Mr. Ron Maxwell. The man who devoted fifteen years of his life to getting Gettysburg made, and created a film that has withstood the test of time for 25 years. I had him sign his introduction to the film and booklet. He looked through the digibook for a second. “I almost forgot about this one,” he said. He then looked at the picture of him with Mr. Sheen and Mr. Brinkman.
“Almost didn’t recognize myself for a second,” he said, as he signed below his name.
“That comes with age, I’m afraid,” my Dad remarked.
I almost felt embarrassed for a moment, before I heard Mr. Maxwell chuckle. I had hoped to have a few moments to talk with him about his films, and how they inspired us to become both historians and filmmakers. But given the lateness of the hour, I just thanked him for making the movies, and got a quick photo with him, before we departed.
My one regret from the night is I didn’t get photos with any of the other actors, including Mr. Lang! But, JD was able to snap a photo with him, and you could see the top of my head in it. So, I was in a photo with Steven Lang, haha!
It was after midnight when we got back to our hotel. We were exhausted but had a great time at the event. The staff of the Majestic Theater did a great job of organizing the event with the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Trust. It was a night that none of us who were there would ever forget. Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time and getting to meet some of the cast and crew who worked on this amazing piece of cinema, was a truly memorable experience. And the weekend was just starting, as we would be visiting the Gettysburg battlefield the following day. But, that’s another story…
ADDENDUM: Ron Maxwell said at the event that the version of the film we saw that night will be available digitally very soon. So, keep a look out on Amazon and other streaming devices for the fully-restored version of the Director’s Cut!