History and Hollywood Meet: The 25th Anniversary Screening of “Gettysburg”

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.


Majestic Theater in Gettysburg

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.


Director Ron Maxwell at the screening.

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.


Curtain Call with Cast and Crew. L to R are: James Patrick Stuart, Andrew Prine, Patrick Gorman, Bo Brinkman, Brian Mallon, Patrick Falci, Olivia Anne Maxwell, Stephen Lang, Randy Edelman and Ron Maxwell.

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.


With Director Ron Maxwell (R)

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!


JD with Stephen Lang. My head can be seen over JD’s shoulder. Bo Brinkman sits to Mr. Lang’s left, about to sign my Blu-ray of the film.

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!

Movie Review: “Gods and Generals: Extended Director’s Cut”

GODS AND GENERALS: Extended Director’s Cut (Ted Turner Pictures, 2011).

Starring: Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall, Mira Sorvino, Chris Conner

Running Time: 280 Minutes

Rated: PG-13 for Sustained Battle Sequences and Some Disturbing Images

Gods and Generals, Ronald F. Maxwell’s prequel to the critically acclaimed Gettysburg, was released in February of 2003, and met with a lukewarm critical reception, and became a failure at the box office. Many critiqued the religious overtones of the film, while some called it pro-Confederate. As someone who has loved the film since first seeing it, there are two complaints I had about it. One, the story was a little imbalanced at times editing wise. And two, the film did not seem accessible to modern movie viewers. Nevertheless, the film did a fantastic job of bringing to life the people, places and events of the American Civil War from 1861-1863.

In 2011, after being anticipated for over eight years, Ron Maxwell’s Extended Director’s Cut of the film was released on Blu-ray. A full hours worth of footage was added, bringing the total length of the film to four-hours, forty minutes. Big questions would be answered by the new version of the film. What changes would be made to the overall feel of the film? Would this version of the film be more accessible to those unfamiliar with the Civil War and its people? And finally, what scenes would be added to the film?

I’ll begin by saying this: If Gods and Generals was not the definitive Civil War epic when released in 2003, it sure as hell is now! Ron Maxwell’s full vision for the movie is a brilliantly-realized portrait of a country at war with itself, and how it affected the lives of the men who fought it, the families who lived through it, and shaped the views of one of the men who would fire the most devastating shot of the war at its conclusion. The film itself is divided into five  fifty to sixty-minute parts (Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Moss Neck, and Chancellorsville), which allows for the viewer to view each segment as if watching a miniseries (Band of Brothers and The Pacific come to mind). But as Ron Maxwell says in his introduction, if you’re a huge Civil War Buff, you’re likely to watch all five parts in one sitting (Which I sort of did). Finally, the full-length cut not only gives the film a proper editorial and story balance that progresses most evenly, but also gives the film a more epic scope. The film is now very Shakespearean in tone, giving it the classical feel that Ron Maxwell intended.

For those familiar with the theatrical cut of the film, I will go over what has been added. But first, I will briefly mention that two moments from the original version have been removed entirely. The first is Jackson’s prayer before First Manassas. I loved the scene in the theatrical cut, but I will be honest, with its removal, there is no break in between the arrival of Jackson at Manassas Junction and the battle itself. We go right into it, and this actually makes the battle scene more exciting. The second is some dialogue in the Beale house, where Martha, the Beale’s slave, is talking to Hancock. Her quote from Esther is removed, but this doesn’t affect the scene all that much.

Now, here is what has been added to the film:

John Wilkes Booth

One of the major additions to the film is a subplot with John Wilkes Booth, played by Chris Conner, who features in five scenes throughout the narrative. Conner plays the character effectively, and we see Booth how he really was before his hatred of Lincoln turned him into an assassin: a passionate man torn between serving the Confederacy, and his life as one of America’s most formidable actors. But the Booth character is not just thrown in just to have him in there. The character is actually used to propel the dramatic effect of the film, and this is done effectively.

One of the Booth scenes comes in after Antietam (More on that in a moment). Historically, Booth was on stage in Chicago performing Hamlet on the evening of September 17th, 1862, the evening after the bloodiest single day in American History. In the scene, Booth is on stage giving the “my thoughts be bloody” soliloquy from Shakespeare’s masterwork, with the line that really fits what has transpired: “While’s to my shame, I see the imminent death of 20,000 men That, for a fantasy and trick of fame, Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot , Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, Which is not tomb enough and continent To hide the slain?” A powerful line from Hamlet used to describe what has happened. This is very effectively done.

Toward the end of the film, Booth and several actors are giving a performance of Julius Caesar in Washington, with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his wife Fanny in the audience. Afterward, Chamberlain and Fanny talk with the actors, including Booth and Henry Harrison, the man who became a Confederate spy, as seen in Gettysburg. Fanny Chamberlain asks Booth if he considers Brutus a hero or a villain, and after a little interlude from Harrison, Booth states one of the film’s most powerful lines: “It is for the audience to decide who is hero, and who is villain. We only play the parts allotted to us.” This is not just a statement about the characters in Julius Caesar, but also of all the characters featured in the film itself. All the characters, both North and South, are shown as they were, in their full humanity. It is up to the audience to decide who in the film the heroes are, and who are villains, if that can be done. All the characters in the film do is what their hearts and duty call them to do, or as Booth says, play the parts allotted to them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Booth scenes in the film. Conner does a fantastic job of humanizing the character, and not creating a one-dimensional stereotype of Booth, which is very easy to do. We see him in the beginnings of his transformation into the assassin, but since that is two years away, he is a man of passion, who enjoys presenting Shakespeare to the masses. And in the scenes, we get to see Harrison, one of the best characters from Gettysburg, on screen again, while also seeing a good, though brief, appearance of Abraham Lincoln, played warmly by Christian Kaufmann.

Additional Camp Life Scenes

There are several scenes which add a lot of dimension, and character moments, to the film. Most of these scenes involve soldier camp life. One scene in particular that is fascinating to see is between Antietam and Fredericksburg, as Jackson and his staff are relaxing after a campaign. Here, Jackson receives a new uniform coat as a gift from General Stuart, and presented to him by Heros von Borke, a very animated figure played very well. As Jackson tires the coat on in front of his men, we hear the rebel yell come out of nowhere in the background, and continue for several moments. It is an eerie and powerful moment, with Jackson commenting on how that is some of the sweetest music he’d ever heard.

The introduction to the 20th Maine is also extended. We see more of Adelbert Ames, as he explains the need for discipline in the ranks, and instructs men how to load in nine times, which Chamberlain’s brother Tom does poorly at first. The whole scene feels very complete with the added footage. Ames is more of a unique character in the film, and as a Civil War reenactor and historian, we see how difficult it is to do things such as loading a rifle.

One of the most unique scenes added though involved Jackson purchasing Little Sorrel, the horse he will ride for the rest of the war, before Manassas in 1861. He originally intends to purchase the sorrel for his wife, but preferring his gait and temper, decides to keep him for himself. Although it has nothing to do with battles and waging war, it helps to humanize the character of Jackson as a man who loves to ride. And in a scene very reminiscent of John Ford westerns, we see Jackson riding the sorrel across the hills of Northern Virginia, with powerful music by John Frizzel and Randy Edleman playng along.

The Battle of Antietam

Perhaps the greatest addition to the film is, of course, the entire sequence involving the Battle of Antietam itself. From the planning of the invasion of Maryland, to the battle itself, this represents probably the best sequence in the film. The battle itself is the shortest in the movie, only about six minutes total. But for that short amount of time, we get what is probably the best and most intense Civil War battle scene ever put on film. The artillery duel is spectacular, and the fighting in the Miller Cornfield is brilliantly recreated. We see troops firing back and forth as fast as they can; whole companies falling as if done on command; stalks of corn being cut in two by bullets; all chaos and death. Those who worked on the film said the Antietam footage was some of the best shot for the film, and from what is shown, that was an understatement.

The one complaint about the scene: the date for the battle is shown as September 19th, 1862, which in reality was two days AFTER the battle was actually fought. It does seem like these films do have mistakes in their subtitles on occasion. But, this is a small complaint, and that mistake can be clarified by historians who show it in their classrooms.

Final Thoughts

It took eight years to do so, but Ron Maxwell’s full vision for Gods and Generals has finally been released, and the wait has definitely been worth it. This is almost a completely different film than what was seen originally. The additional footage not only makes this a complete film, but also manages to do what Ron Maxwell did with Gettysburg, which is create a movie that is not only historically accurate and epic and scope, but makes the story accessible to those who are not students of the American Civil War. Despite the mistake in the date for Antietam, the extended director’s cut of Gods and Generals is far superior to the theatrical cut, and makes this the definitive film on the American Civil War. Despite its length, I have no problems recommending this film to all who enjoy history and serious films!

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give the film a 10, or A+