Monday, October 12, 2009

Revolution -- Movie Review

I am very afraid of revolutions.

They are violent, unpredictable, original rebels often end up as strongmen or dictators. Just consider Castro. Or more recently, the strong man of Chechnya, Kadyrov. Usually the evils of a previous regime are substituted with a situation just as bad or worse.

There are great hordes of refugees; many lives are ruined for ever.

Our Revolution produced a huge contemporary upheaval in France, 1789. That started out to bring freedom to the citizens, but what did they get instead? The Reign of Terror.

I don’t think France ever really recovered. In the next century, it lost part of its mainland, Alsace-Lorraine, to the Germans. Sure it got it back, at the end of World War I, but at a terrible price.

Revolutions in the 20th century involved millions; we still live with the effects of those in Russia and China and many others. Often there is a raging civil war which accompanies them. There are smaller revolutions usually focused on a specific group of people. They are designated as rebellions, insurrections, civil unrests, military coups.

Much closer to home, Mexico was riddled with revolution till practically World War II. A civil unrest in Sri Lanka has just concluded after decades. In Spain, Basque separatists still surface periodically to inflict terrorist damages.

Do Revolutions produce anything of value? Probably, very very little. But usually the average revolutionary follower is pretty desperate. There likely is no way to redress glaring problems and injustice. Consider the case of Russia. The last Tsar likely would have gradually adopted a more constitutional monarchy. Nobody was willing to wait for this. Instead, the rebel leaders promised people the moon, prosperity, a new order, freedom. None of this happened.

Then what is the amazing difference between our revolution and others? Most significantly, ours did not produce a dictator. We finished a war, signed a peace treaty, wrote a permanent constitution and concentrated on domestic affairs. Our issues with George III and Great Britain were over. Today, our former adversary is considered our oldest and strongest ally. Where else do you find that?

Revolutions have produced some memorable books and movies. The classic A Tale of Two Cities captures the danger of the French Revolution. The romantic Dr. Zhivago plays at the height of the horrendous Russian Revolution. The Spanish Civil War is the the background for Hemingway’s tragic For Whom the Bell Tolls. Marlon Brando portrays the Mexican Revolutionary Zapata in Viva Zapata.

The American Revolution has produced countless history books and documentaries, but I don’t find that much entertainment. So I wanted to mention that I just finished watching a rather interesting movie, with an unusual history. It was made originally in 1985, but was not well received at the time. Revolution: Revisited has just been remastered, with narration and a new introduction.

Al Pacino plays the lead, a very reluctant common revolutionary foot soldier. It’s not his fight, he states often; he doesn’t understand the burning issues which have mobilized people into revolt. He is press ganged into service, separated from his young son, who was tricked into joining up for a few shillings.

The American forces are ragged, ill-treated. They have nothing. But their cause is noble and patriotic; at least that’s what the recruiters tell them. I thought the plight of the common soldier was well portrayed.

What Pacino wants is to just find his son. His wife and other children perished with “fever”. He is doubly desperate. His sole support, a boat, has been commandeered from him with a worthless US chit. He doesn’t read, which would help him understand official-looking documents. The movie script is not strong or that logical. Pacino does find his son, and now they can plan to escape the bedlam around them. A fiercely patriotic girl, but from a loyalist family, turns up in a few confusing scenes. Confusion in some movie scripts seems to be a hazard for me. Strong regional accents don’t help.

Pacino is never converted to the revolution’s patriotic cause. Oh sure, the end of the movie expresses some inspiring sentiments, but I found them superfluous.

This is one man’s story. However, the end of this movie has a scene which I thought was good and very accurate. Pacino is shortchanged on his military pay. Worse, the 150 acres of land he has been promised are non-existent. The have been speculated away to help pay for the war. So Pacino, at the end, still has nothing. This scene shows well the classic case of a hapless citizen trying to deal with government bureaucracy. You may root for these citizens with all your might, but you know they don’t stand a ghost of a chance.

The musical score by John Corigliano throughout is good.

There are quite a few crowd scenes which seem amateurish. The extras are not well directed. One encouraging thing, though: I liked this movie a lot better the second time around.

My rating: a B-. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

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