Showdown at Gettysburgrnby J.O. TaternSitting through a showing of the recent film Gettysburg in arnmultiplex theater amid the abstract sprawl of suburbanrnYankeedom was somehow an unnerving experience. I don’trnmean to say that the movie itself was off-putting or unsuccessful,rnthough come to think of it, there were a few awkwardrnmoments here and there. No, the hard part was being in thernpresence of other Americans as the movie was shown. Therernseemed to be more at stake in that representation of historyrnthan the field where it was fought and filmed.rnGettysburg is a good movie as such, and as a movie about thernCivil War, one of the best ever made, if not the best. It representsrnthe contribution of many hundreds of reenactors; it is inrneffect a sort of pageant, a filmed reenactment. The figure ofrn30 million dollars has been cited as Ted Turner’s investment inrnthe project, and as you might expect, the footage (even longerrnthan the four-plus hours of the theatrical release) is supposedrnto become a cable TV extravaganza and video release later on.rnIt’s fine with me if Ted Turner gets his money back. After all,rnGettysburg is no ignoble undertaking, especially when comparedrnwith 90 percent of the trash that’s released today. It’srngraphically striking and well worth seeing.rnJeff Daniels has been widely praised for his portrayal ofrnJoshua Lawrence Chamberlain, “the Hero of Little RoundrnTop,” and rightly so. The heroic presentation of such a man,rnhowever, suggests numerous contemporary ironies that arernpart of the problematic “success” of the film. Moreover, thernemphasis on Chamberlain and on the extreme left of thernUnion position skews our perspective of the battle. I supposernthat Chamberlain is to a degree overemphasized for dramaticrnreasons, as a counterweight to the striking personalities of thernConfederate brass; that problem is presented to us as much byrnhistory as by the screenplay. Still, much more could havernbeen done with Winfield Scott Hancock, and nothing wasrnmade of Dan Sickles and his famous blunder, or the conse-rn/.O. Tate is a professor of English at Dowling College on LongrnIsland.rnquential loss of his leg.rnThe dominant presence in the film is a passive one: TomrnBerenger as James Longstreet spends a lot of screen time draggingrnon a cigar and listening to the expostulations of others.rnHis hair and beard are so false and heavy that he looks like arntransgalactic alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and hisrnimmaculate uniform seems to say, “General Lee, I’ve comernstraight from the dry cleaner’s.” Though the battle was foughtrnin the heat of eariy July, this Longstreet never removes arnjacket, opens a collar button, or loosens a tie in that blisteringrnsunlight. The thought of just how much anti-perspirantrnLongstreet used at Gettysburg had never crossed my mind beforern(a great deal, apparently), but then we all have much tornlearn from the reenactors.rnAs Robert E. Lee, Martin Sheen is an effective surprise. Hernconveys Lee’s achieved simplicity and intimidating perfectionrnof manner, a composure somehow innate, willed, mild, severe,rnaristocratic, military, and Virginian all at once. My complaintrnabout Sheen is his lack not only of a waist but also of much elsernneeded to evoke Lee’s physical grace. Perhaps elevator shoesrnand fewer peanuts with those Heinekens would have helped.rnBut I don’t really mean to carp. Gettysburg is good enoughrnso that its flaws—an unbalanced screenplay, little blood, nornsweat, few tears—are actually apparent. I suppose that it justrndoesn’t matter much whether I or anyone else particularlyrnliked the representation, say, of J.E.B. Stuart or A.P. Hill or JohnrnBell Hood or Lewis Armistead or Richard Garnett or GeorgernPickett. No indeed, because apart from its quite considerablerncinematic virtues, Gettysburg is significant not as a movie butrnas a rather astounding phenomenon on the cultural scene.rnWe behold Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg, but outsidernthat focus there’s the mind-numbing juxtaposition with all thatrnhas replaced them in the national consciousness, such as SenatorsrnKennedy and Biden, Beavis and Butt-head, and whatrnhave you. So the representation of the Civil War as somethingrnvery like “the last war fought between gentlemen” is surprisingrnin our ahistorical, absurdist context. Nineteenth-century elo-rn24/CHRONICLESrnrnrn