C.S.A.: The Confederate States Of America

"Good"

C.S.A.: The Confederate States Of America Review


The photo in the film's opening montage is familiar, it's the shot of American soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima, only there's something just a bit off: the flag they're raising is a Confederate one. This is the sort of image often used for the covers of alternative history novels, usually under a tagline reading something like: "What if the SOUTH had WON THE CIVIL WAR?" It's also, in short, the premise of Kevin Willmott's faux documentary CSA: Confederate States of America, a transmission from a future that could have been.

What's most jarring - in both good and bad ways - about CSA is the sheer mundanity of its presentation. Instead of a screen crawl providing historical background, Willmott starts off with a commercial, one of those too-bright, too-loud ads that run constantly on cable news channels in the wee hours, featuring your typical white suburban family happy that they (and their smiling black slave) are protected by Confederated Life Insurance. Then it's on to the main program: a British documentary about the history of the CSA, which will tell in sweeping, Ken Burns-esque terms the entire story from the Union defeat at Gettysburg to the grim 21st century present, where slavery is not just legal, it's encouraged as good for the whole country.

In most alternative history, the primary satisfaction comes in the scenarios constructed, seeing at what point the author decided to branch off their new history from the old one and where they went with it. In that sense, Willmott shows that he has a good head for this sort of thing. While the historical divergence point - the Confederacy finally persuades Britain and France to join their side, effecting a Union surrender in 1864 - may be a bit creaky (Britain was too staunchly anti-slavery to have ever done such a thing), many of the following details are imaginatively worked out and for the most part quite believable.

While sometimes cheaply presented, CSA has its fill of shocking moments of frisson, the coulda-been that disrupts the standard, comforting flow of schoolbook history. An ancient-seeming filmstrip that records the last words of Lincoln, spoken from exile in Canada. Photographs of Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Susan B. Anthony are used as examples of the northerners who leave for Canada after the Union's defeat. Footage of a 1960 speech by John F. Kennedy describing half the world as "enslaved" and the other half free is presented as him speaking as an abolitionist - this when in reality JFK was speaking about Communism. Much of the film is buttressed by historical reality; Willmott's having the Confederacy conquer all of Latin America (and then imposing a system of apartheid) seems a stretch at first, but in fact the Confederacy discussed doing just such that, creating a "tropical empire" to the south. Other things just make sense, like the Confederacy not taking up arms against Hitler, and the postwar paranoia scare using abolitionists instead of Communists as scapegoats (an uncommonly clever bit is a faked-up snippet from a 1951 exploitation film, I Married an Abolitionist).

To heighten the sense of this all being just another TV documentary, Willmott structures it as a long skein of talking-head scholar interviews stitched together with archival photos, film snippets, and a soothingly erudite British narrator. As such, it can lure one into occasionally believing that one is watching the real thing, and it's hard to imagine a higher compliment. The problem with Willmott's approach, though, is not the story he's telling, it's the skills he's brought to the table. The actors are for the most part an amateurish and unconvincing lot, while the fake ads running during commercial breaks are not only poorly produced, they're a thin joke that sours with repetition.

If the world constructed by CSA can seem at times shrill and cheap, however, that may in fact be a good indication of what this world would have been like to live in. All one has to do is look at the scenes from a fake D.W. Griffith film about the capture by Confederate soldiers of Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln, whom she had put in blackface to help him escape into Canada (the irony can sometimes be heavy-handed, if effective). The actors caper shamelessly, the film is jumpy and poorly put together, the taunting of a cornered Lincoln difficult to behold. It seems at first just a schlocky send-up of Griffith. But then all one needs do is remember what Griffith actually did with Birth of a Nation - that crude and twisted fairy tale of racial vengeance that could, shockingly, somehow be produced in a world where the Union and the Emancipation Proclamation reigned victorious - to imagine what sort of vile country we would inhabit today had the opposite turned out to be true.

Where'd I leave my copy of An Actor Prepares?



C.S.A.: The Confederate States Of America

Facts and Figures

Run time: 89 mins

In Theaters: Friday 24th June 2005

Box Office USA: $0.4M

Distributed by: IFC Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 14

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Kevin Willmott

Producer: Rick Cowan

Starring: Greg Kirsch as Confederate Family Dad, Rupert Pate as Sherman Hoyle, Ryan L. Carroll as Bobby, Brian Paulette as Jefferson Davis, Larry Peterson as John Ambrose Fauntroy V

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.