Washington County is considering several possibilities, including a lawsuit, to collect $300,000 from filmmaker Ron Maxwell, which he borrowed a few years ago when he was planning on filming parts of the Civil War drama The Last Full Measure here. If they do take him to court, any chance I could join in to get my money back for Gods and Generals?
Hagerstown’s answer to the Springfield Shopper, the Herald-Mail, has the story here. The gist of it: In 1993 Maxwell adapted Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels into a film which he rather unimaginatively titled Gettysburg. It wasn’t anywhere near worthy of the praise heaped upon it by Civil War enthusiasts, but it was a decently good movie with some stirring moments, and it was reasonably successful in theaters and especially on cable channel TNT, which ran it ad nauseam throughout the mid-1990s. So about ten years later Maxwell, with the backing of Civil War buff and billionaire lithium addict Ted Turner, set out to make the next two films in what he envisioned to be a trilogy — Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. Since a good number of the historical events to be depicted in the films took place around here, Maxwell set up shop in Hagerstown and borrowed some of his budget from the local government. In 2003 he finished Gods and Generals and it was released by Warner Bros. to theaters all over the United States.
Then something funny happened: the movie was horrible and everyone hated it. It was so horrible and everyone hated it so much that nobody wanted to make The Last Full Measure. Turner sold his rights to the story to someone else, and Maxwell was left up Shit Creek with a $300,000 bill from Washington County.
It sucks for Maxwell; all he wanted to do was make a movie, and now he’s stuck with the check for one he never even got to make. Yet I can’t help but feel he had it coming — Gods and Generals was that bad. I mean sweet fucking Christ, how many times do we have to see Stonewall Jackson drop everything and start praying before we get the fucking point? He’s pious, okay, thank you. And I know Joshua Chamberlain was an educated guy, but I somehow doubt he spent the Battle of Fredericksburg earnestly quoting Shakespeare while observing the fighting from a hilltop. There’s hardly a line of dialogue in the whole fucking 200+ minute film that isn’t a quote from some classical piece of literature or an entreaty to the almighty. Apparently people in the 1860s preferred volleying rhetoric to talking directly to one another.
Seeing the movie did give me one of my most pleasant film-going memories, though. I was standing in line for my ticket when this guy comes up and gets in behind me. The dude is dressed head-to-toe in a Union Army uniform. Dark blue wool coat, hat, boots — the works. He’s all by himself too, not with some company of re-enactors out on the town. I turned to him, looked him up and down and said, “Here to see Chicago?” He looked at me and laughed, said “Yep, you got it.” I bet he was a nice guy if you got to know him.
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