Topic: The Confederacy's Collapse from Within
Speaker: Robert Lee Hodge
Topic: Trying to Get it Right: Filming the Civil War with Historic Accuracy
With our November program, we are well into our 2016-2017 Program Year. Although our theme for the remainder of the program year will be "Confederate Connections," Robert Lee Hodge will address filming of the Civil War from both sides.
For over 45 years Hodge has had a keen interest in what he calls "visual history" – trying to understand what the Civil War looked like. "Thankfully, with the advent of photography, there are hundreds of thousands of photos from the Civil War," said Hodge. "However, our visual understanding is still compromised. For instance other than photos of the dead and some prisoner photos there are just a couple images of Confederate soldiers "in the field of operations," which I find odd. There is much mystery as to what the Rebels wore."
For decades Hodge has delved into Civil War photography, period drawings, paintings, sculpture, and original items to understand what the Civil War looked like.
This quest for accuracy led Hodge to look at the authenticity, or lack thereof, in historical movies. "Since I was in elementary school I thought the validation of history through film was important because that was how the masses could learn about a subject in a medium that is very palpable. For example, HBO's WWII drama 'Band of Brothers' and its antecedent "Saving Private Ryan" did wonders for the memory of World War Two, making it pop-culture, and having a level of visual authenticity that really put the viewer into the story. I would love to see that impact in a Civil War film – but rarely does Hollywood even get close when it comes to almost any historical genre."
Hodge, an Emmy Award winner and Civil War reenactor, will show clips from some of his Civil War films that have been compared to Ken Burns. Hodge said, "Ken Burns rarely uses reenacted scenes because, in part, often reenactors lack believable authenticity. On the other hand Burns doesn't have a trained eye for the detail of material culture of the soldier from that period, which is typical of most directors of history, regardless of it being a drama or a documentary."
Hodge was also a principal Civil War researcher at Time-Life Books for 5 years where he learned to comb through archives looking for unpublished information mostly related to the soldier experience. "I often have filmed reenactors for scenes but I try to make sure they look the part, not only with authentic clothing and equipment, but including avoiding gray hair and expanding waistlines."
But it was with the 1998 book "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz that he became a household name. Being a reenactor extraordinaire, Hodge spent a couple of years taking the Pulitzer prize-winning Horwitz on an eclectic and memorable Civil War tour-de-force of historic sites, and indoctrinating him into the Civil War culture. He became a major subject of the book and a photo of him was even used on the cover, as you see above. The book rocketed to the top of the New York Times best seller list,
Not only will Hodge also show photos, paintings, drawings from the Civil War to illustrate his quest for "what it looked like" he will also have authentic uniforms and equipment for display and discussion. We are excited to have Robert Lee Hodge as our November speaker, which will prove to be entertaining and fascinating. .