"That's a nice-a donut."

Friday, September 01, 2006

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2005)

Imagine if the South had won the American Civil War? That, in effect, is the question that is answered in Kevin Willmott's mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. The film uses a very satirical - sometimes humorous, sometimes not - approach via a faux British documentary that looks at the history of the C.S.A., by blending in fake interviews, historic footage, and commercials. It is a daring, often very risque and in-your-face works that sometimes goes too far and sometimes doesn't actually go far enough.

The turning point in the fictional version of the Civil War is that the south got help - economically and militarily - from Britain and France, which led to an easy victory. This had many side effects. For starters, Lincoln is not assassinated, but instead becomes a fugitive. Also, it is rather tongue in cheek how in the new C.S.A. many of the liberals of the day (such as Frederick Douglas and Henry David Thoreau) fled to Canada amid the new policies and practices of the country, perhaps a slight jab at some of those liberals who have also threatened to head north in the last few years. Naturally, one might expect, "The War of Northern Aggression" is viewed simply in terms of slavery and not any of the more complex issues of the time, and ultimately the rest of the movie is left focusing primarily on that as well.

One thing that really left me puzzled, perhaps owing to lazy screenwriting, is that there were not nearly enough differences between the real U.S. history and the made-up C.S.A. history. For example, buildings built in the 20th century such as monuments like the Jefferson Memorial are still the same, the Vietnam war still happened, Kennedy still faces Nixon for the Presidency (and is later assassinated), etc. I didn't expect a "butterfly effect" to happen, where the course of the country would have been thoroughly thrown out of whack (not counting the issue of slavery, of course), but would still expect more. Some of the small details that are changed are interesting though, such as people who might now be Democrats actually being Republican in the film's modern era (owing to Lincoln being a Republican and the switch that happened over time with regards to social stances between the parties). Or how the C.S. A. sided with Hitler and Nazi Germany (though didn't enter that phase of the war) and actually preemptively attacked Japan on December 7, 1941 (instead of the other way around).

Ultimately though, there are too many fake commercials and fake movies and other entertainment, leaving the story of the C.S.A. barely half of the movie. It is an interesting exercise, and at least a nice change of pace from most other films, but perhaps a little too heavy-handed. If you hang your head in shame or cover your ears at racist terms or portrayals, you will likely be quite shocked at some of the forthcoming scenes here; not surprisingly there is heavy use of the "n" word and it is filled with many caricatures of Blacks and African Americans. The themes of racism feel a little too much like "beating a dead horse" on several occasions, and thus ignoring a great chance to really explore what the country really would have been like had the south won.

The finale of the film is actually perhaps the most shocking part of all, as it lists several of the things in the film that were actually quite real in the States and elsewhere over the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are several things about our society that the movie will make you ponder, but the product as a whole is rather hit-or-miss. In the end, it will be a disappointment to most people. But in the small, niche market of alternate history stories, it is at least worth your time.

The Verdict: C.


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