The next installment of The Rockland Horrorseries is set in 1917, early in the age of the automobile.
That, of course, means Henry Ford’s iconic Model T. The Ford Motor Company manufactured the Model T between 1908 and 1927.
The Model T was mass-produced with simple specifications. The car originally came only in black, though a few other color choices were added in later model years.
The Model T was also quite affordable. The base price for a 1916 Model T Runabout was just $345, or $8,324.76 in 2021 dollars. This was, obviously, much cheaper than just about any car manufactured for the U.S. market today.
But this simplicity came at a price. If the Model T was cheap (even by early 20th-century standards) it was also far more difficult to use than modern vehicles.
The Rockland Horror 3 (now in production) will be a horror novel, not a book about early automobiles. But the story does involve some car chase scenes, and I wanted to make these scenes reasonably authentic.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1921, and even he never owned a Model T. Driving the Model T is one of those experiences that has passed out of “living memory”, so to speak.
I therefore went to YouTube, where there were, indeed, a few videos about starting and driving the Model T. I’ve embedded two of them here.
You probably already know about the crank start. But even that isn’t the worst of it. To start a Model T, you had to arrange a series of switches and levers inside the car in the right combination. Then you had to “choke” the engine by priming it with gasoline, and then…
I finally got around to watching 1917 last night. This is going to be a very quick review, with one minor spoiler.
1917 is the story of two World War I British soldiers who set off across no-man’s land and German-occupied territory to deliver an important message to a British officer. Not far into the film, one of them is killed. (That’s the spoiler; and I’ll explain in a moment why it was necessary.)
As is usual with journey-based stories, things happen along the way. Obstacles are met and overcome. That’s what keeps you watching.
I would give 1917 a mixed review. The film is, on one hand, visually stunning. The journey through no-man’s land is appropriately bleak and gruesome. I’ve read many nonfiction accounts of World War I trench warfare. 1917 seems to achieve some historical accuracy, and it certainly achieves realism.
The problem, however, is that a story of one soldier walking across the French countryside doesn’t quite have the narrative drive needed to support a movie of almost 2 hours (119 minutes). The adventures that the main character, Lance Corporal William “Will” Schofield (George MacKay) experiences aren’t connected to any central storyline. As a result, they seem episodic and often disjointed.
1917 definitely comes up short when compared to similar “journey through the battlefield” films like Fury and Saving Private Ryan. Fury is the story of an entire World War II tank crew, their interactions, and their final act of self-sacrificing heroism. Saving Private Ryan is a complex movie with multiple storylines and richly developed characters.
The Will of 1917 completes his mission…sort of. But he doesn’t really do anything heroic, and he doesn’t change. Also, for most of the movie, he has no one to interact with. This movie therefore often devolves into seemingly random scenes of Will walking alone for long stretches, dodging this or that, observing this or that.
It might be unfair to compare a WWI movie like 1917 to modern-day World War II classics like Saving Private Ryan or Fury. The Second World War, after all, is widely regarded as a heroic struggle. Most Americans think of Eisenhower and George Marshall as noble men. The World War II generation—now sadly passing from the scene—is our “Greatest Generation”.
World War I, by contrast, was a vast waste of lives and resources that should never have been waged by either side. World War I wasn’t a moral crusade against the Nazis. It was a bloodbath with unclear aims and causes, waged against the Kaiser’s Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire over the assassination of an archduke.
That could be part of the reason why 1917 falls short of Fury and Saving Private Ryan. When there are no real villains, there are often no real heroes, either.
Also, American audiences in particular are less connected to World War I as a film topic. Whereas many of us grew up hearing firsthand accounts of World War II from our parents and grandparents, World War I is a distant conflict that relatively few Americans participated in. (I have met many, many World War II veterans in my lifetime. I have never met a single veteran of the First World War. And many of them would have been alive during my younger years.) A movie about World War I therefore must bring a lot to the table in order to draw us in.
1917, in summary, is not a bad movie. But nor is it one that you can’t afford to miss.
John Brown (1800 – 1859) is remembered today mostly for his attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The attack ended with Brown’s arrest, conviction, and hanging.
Before Harper’s Ferry, though, John Brown was also involved in the troubles in Kansas. During the 1850s, pro-slavery southerners clashed with anti-slavery free soilers. The results were often bloody—hence the term, “Bleeding Kansas”. The violence in Kansas never really extinguished itself; it spilled into the larger violence of the U.S. Civil War.
While in Kansas, Brown carried out operations with his own small militia group. Brown was fueled by a mixture of abolitionist fervor, religious zeal, and (probably) mental illness. Stark egotism was also a factor. Brown occasionally freed slaves. But mostly he killed whites whom he deemed guilty of association with slavery—sometimes rightly, and sometimes wrongly.
John Brown was—-in some ways—not unlike the violent white progressives of modern times, who foist themselves on Black-dominated groups like Black Lives Matter, often for purposes of their own agendas and their own self-aggrandizement. For this reason alone, I was extremely skeptical of The Good Lord Bird, a historical miniseries about the latter days of John Brown. This is an election year, and I figured that The Good Lord Bird would be some kind of leftwing Hollywood agitprop.
Having watched the first two episodes, I am happily surprised. The series is actually quite good, and not overtly political.
The Good Lord Bird is told from the perspective of Henry Shackleford, a fictional escaped slave who joins Brown’s militia operations with mixed emotions. We get the sense that Shackleford just wants to get on with his life, but Brown is determined to draft him into a higher spiritual/political cause.
Ethan Hawke is cast as John Brown. Having read several biographies of the real John Brown, I don’t find Hawke completely convincing. I don’t fault Hawke for falling short here. John Brown would be an extremely difficult role for any actor.
John Brown, moreover, isn’t really the star of The Good Lord Bird. Despite the weightiness of this historical period, the miniseries is best described as a coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of American history. Henry Shackleford (played by the young actor Joshua Caleb Johnson) is the real star of The Good Lord Bird.
In the second episode of the miniseries, Shackleford disguises himself as a young woman in order to make his way through pro-slavery territory with another escaped slave. The two are diverted to a town that is a staunch pro-slavery enclave. While there, Shackleford takes refuge in a brothel, where he teaches a worldly prostitute how to read, even as he develops an adolescent boy’s crush on her.
The Good Lord Bird is set in the 1850s. At this time, slavery was legal in much of the United States. Racial inequalities were taken for granted. What we now refer to as racial epithets and hate speech were then just common speech.
Where appropriate, The Good Lord Bird deals frankly with these shameful aspects of our history. What The Good Lord Bird does not do (so far, at least) is descend into racial guilt porn. The writers and producers of the miniseries assume that you already have a negative view of slavery.
Nor is this a hagiography of John Brown. The Good Lord Bird depicts Brown as the very conflicted moral figure that history reveals him to be. For example, one scene shows Brown executing an innocent Southern sympathizer and family man in cold blood. In another scene, Brown is shown blithely risking the lives of escaped slaves and white accomplices alike in an ill-conceived militia operation.
The Good Lord Bird also has a sense of humor about its subject matter. This is not needlessly edgy, inappropriate humor of the Quentin Tarantino variety, but rather the kind of humor that one would expect in a well-written coming-of-age adventure story.
If you like good storytelling set against a historical backdrop, you can’t go wrong with The Good Lord Bird. The miniseries is available on Showtime.
Like a lot of Americans, I have Irish ancestry. My grandmother’s people came from County Cork around the turn of the 20th century.
I’m also fascinated by foreign languages. (I’m always reading at least one book in Japanese, and another in Spanish.) It is only natural, then, that I should be drawn to the Irish language.
One of my great-great grandmothers came to the US by herself as a young woman. (This was actually a common pattern with Irish immigration.) She died about ten years before I was born, so I never met her. I’ve been told, though, that she spoke English with a heavy brogue. But she spoke no Irish. Continue reading “Irish on YouTube”
80sThen80s now is one of the few accounts I follow on Twitter, because, well…I’m nostalgic for the 1980s.
Today the account tweeted this post about the movie Red Dawn (1984). In response to the poll, I gave the movie a 9.
Red Dawn wouldn’t necessarily be a 9 if it were released today, mind you. But you have to evaluate a movie by the filmmaking standards of its era. A lot of movies in the early 1980s were pretty rough, compared to the slick, CGI-enhanced productions of today. And so it is with Red Dawn. Continue reading “Remembering ‘Red Dawn’”
This is a compelling historical film that blends history with action. Although Midway is focused on the great battle that took place in June 1942, the first half of the movie covers events that led up to it—including Pearl Harbor.
The film is well cast. For once Woody Harrelson appears in a role in which he is not personally annoying. (That hasn’t happened since Cheers.) Dennis Quaid is a convincing William “Bull” Halsey.
But the star of the movie, by far and away, is Dick Best (1910~2001), the US Navy pilot who sank two Japanese aircraft carriers in a single day. I enjoyed Ed Skrein’s interpretation of the role. Continue reading “‘Midway’ (2019): mini-review”