‘If I Should Fall, Remember What You See Here’: Looking Back on 1989’s Glory (Spoilers Ahead)

We – historical commemorations notwithstanding – are inclined to believe that the media exist to cover the present.

That said, the groundwork for history often lies in the media being our first interface with posterity.

We can only talk to the world to come or, in the appropriated words of Matthew Broderick’s Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, ‘men and women whose poetry is not yet written’, through the media and the power of their archives.

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Director Edward Zwick on the set of his 1989 feature film, Glory (CelebrityImages.com Photo and Caption)

In that spirit, is director Edward Zwick’s 1989 feature film, Glorythat makes the point that the media is an interface with posterity through records (à la Colonel Shaw’s decision to give Christian Baskous’ journalist Edward Pierce his letters so that ‘if I should fall, remember what you see here’ ).

On a more personal level, it is also implied that those best suited to responsibility may be hesitant to accept it (as shown by Morgan Freeman’s Rawlins’ ‘ain’t (being) sure I want this’ promotion to Sergeant Major and being replied to by Colonel Shaw with, ‘I know exactly how you feel’.)

Building upon that, that warfare is often a rigidly rehearsed and formal affair (as seen by Colonel Shaw’s warning to Cary Elwes’s Major Forbes to never ‘question my authority in front of the others’ and his practised delivery of shooting orders to the riflemen when facing their first Confederate force).

Somewhat separately from the above, but almost foreshadowing 2003’s The Last Samurai somewhat, is the suggestion that violence is all in its depiction (where the Battles of Antietam and Fort Wagner are recreated with gunfire, cannonade and the resultant human blood(shed).

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(from left to right) Stars Jihmi Kennedy, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman in a scene from 1989’s Glory (FDB.pl Photo and Caption)

The above being said – and despite allusions to a present-day audience with Edward wanting to ‘wire (details of the battle) it in’ to Harper’s and the ‘million readers (who) want to know what happens’ – the film’s narration via letters and Colonel Shaw’s pre-climactic handover of his letters to Edward reinforces the idea of the media as an interface with posterity.

Unlike the cavalier attitude of Cliff De Young’s Colonel Montgomery towards his own regiment, both Colonel Shaw and (later) Sergeant Major Rawlins approach their duties with hesitation. Colonels Montgomery and Shaw also differ in their choices to unleash (in the pillage of the Georgia town) versus lead (on the beach against Fort Wagner) their troops against enemy settlements, respectively.

Warfare, as seen in Colonel Shaw’s regiment, is repeatedly practised. There are several marches, rifle training and speeches. The Confederate Army is, conversely, shown as less organised but more clever (as seen by their trap during the battle for Fort Wagner).

Despite the parades, uplifting choral score and idealism of its protagonists, the film is violent as soldiers’ aspirations or orders charge headlong into cannonade, gunfire and bayonets (the film’s prologue is followed by an officer being decapitated by cannon fire).

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(from foreground-left to background-right) Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes in a scene from 1989’s Glory (FilmCinema.it.org Photo)

Very simplistically, director Edward Zwick’s 1989 feature film, Glory, treads a fine line between idealism & sentiment – accompanied by a choral score from James Horner no less – and the violence and bloodshed when ideals collide with the American Civil War.

Newcomers looking to start with director Zwick’s filmography will find 1989’s Glory foreshadows the director’s films; existing Zwick fans, à la 2003‘s The Last Samurai, will also find plenty to ponder over.

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Director Edward Zwick on the set of 1989’s Glory (ToutLeCine.com Photo and Caption)

Director Edward Zwick’s Trademarks in 1989’s Glory:

  1. A focus on humanism in characters: Especially the case with Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and Private Trip, there is good in people regardless of how strict or violent they may seem.
  2. Absence of an overt directiorial aesthetic: While certain warfare scenes foreshadow 2003’s The Last Samurai in their violence, there isn’t much else of a link between 1989’s Glory and other seen films in director Zwick’s filmography.

(Whilst the opinions and observations above are, unless stated otherwise, the author’s own, the following sources were used for information:  DenOfGeek.com, IMDb.com, Script-O-Rama.com)

The Reverse-Screenwriters’ Club (Spoilers Ensue):

Plot: a white Union Army colonel must lead a regiment of African-American troops into battle against Confederate rebels.

Prologue: a day in the life of Robert’s regimental encampment; Robert marches on with his colleagues.

Act 1: Robert and his regiment decide to charge into Confederate fire; Robert decides to hunker down amidst the firing.

Act 2: Robert decides to inspect the damage all around; Robert decides to visit the infirmary for care.

Act 3: Robert decides to speak to Governor Andrew at the party; Robert decides to agree with Governor Andrew’s proposal for a new regiment.

Act 4: Robert decides to accept Forbes and Thomas’s decision to come along; Robert decides to start recruitment.

Act 5: Robert decides to address the assembled troops; Robert decides to assemble them into their companies.

Act 6: Thomas, Trip and Rawlins decide to encamp for the night; Robert decides to commence training exercises the next day.

Act 7: Robert decides to address the troops about the Confederate threat; Robert decides to resume the training exercises with the remaining troops.

Act 8: Robert decides to confront Sergeant Major Mulcahy over his treatment of Thomas; Robert decides to back down.

Act 9: Robert decides to commence the troops’ rifle distribution and training; Robert decides to confront the troops over their lack of speed.

Act 10: Robert decides to ask Sergeant Major Mulcahy to intercede for Thomas against Trip; Robert decides to refuse to talk to Thomas afterwards.

Act 11: Robert decides to attend the Christmas party in the mess hall; Robert decides to ask the quartermaster for troops’ shoes, unsuccessfully.

Act 12: Robert decides to confront the deserter Trip; Robert decides to order his flogging.

Act 13: Robert decides to speak to Rawlins; Robert decides to get more shoes for his troops.

Act 14: Robert decides to confront the quartermaster over the lack of troops’ shoes; Robert decides to return to camp with the shoes.

Act 15: Robert decides to address the troops over their pay cut; Robert decides not to take his pay too when they refuse the cut.

Act 16: Rawlins decides to accept his promotion to Sergeant Major; Robert decides to order their landing on the river shores.

Act 17: Robert decides to accept General Harker’s orders; Robert decides to order his regiment to march to Georgia in the morning.

Act 18: Roberts decides not to confront Colonel Montgomery about his pillage of the town; Robert decides to order his regiment to torch the town.

Act 19: Rawlins and Trip decide to confront the passing Union company; Rawlins decides to defuse the situation with Major Forbes soon after.

Act 20: Rawlins decides to stop Thomas and Trip from fighting; Rawlins confronts Trip over his impetuousness and racism.

Act 21: Robert decides to confront General Harker over the pillaging; Robert decides to accept General Harker’s decision to deploy his regiment.

Act 22: Robert decides to order the regiment to attack the charging Confederates; Robert decides to order the regiment to charge the second wave.

Act 23: Robert decides to inspect the battle damage and injures; Robert decides to promise the injured Thomas not to send him back.

Act 24: Robert decides to speak to Trip at the camp; Trip decides to refuse Robert’s offer to bear the flag.

Act 25: Robert decides to plan the Fort Wagner attack with General Strong; Robert decides to volunteer his regement to lead the attack.

Act 26: Robert decides to prepare for the attack; Robert decides to begin the regiment’s march to Fort Wagner.

Act 27: Robert decides to address the regiment; Robert decides to order the regiment to charge Fort Wagner.

Act 28: Robert decides to order the regiment to hunker down until nightfall; Robert decides to order the charge at night.

Act 29: Robert decides to hunker down again; Robert decides to scale the fort’s embankments alone, fatally.

Act 30: Trip decides to urge the troops forward; Rawlins decides to lead them over the fort walls.

Epilogue: Confederate soldiers bury the dead Union troops on the beach.

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