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Glory (1989, Edward Zwick)

A young commander in the civil war is asked to recruit and lead the first all-black Confederate battalion into the Civil War.

I am not too interested in details of the American Civil War but the film managed to stir my interest in some ways. I might want to look up the difference in treatment of the many Chinese laborers that were employed in the development of the West and what kind of legacy this particular group of people has to suffer from in contrast to the better-known fate of African-Americans.

There are some interesting scenes in the film. I decide to examine the battle scene in the beginning. It introduces Broderick's character as a naive and brave but inexperienced soldier - a great choice of casting, especially in contrast to the hardened appearance of Washington. According to imdb footage was used from re-enactment groups and intercut with the staged film.

Before the battle scene commences Broderick walks in row of soldiers and talks over the pictures of the gathering army, reading a letter to his mother. He introduces his character as a a young and idealistic soldier. He proudly mentions his promotion and we can quickly see his mother read the letter, then we return to the battlefield as the sun is rising.

After a couple of shots of soldiers walking towards the battlefield (South from the left, North from the right) the battle scene begins without slowing the rhythm of the editing with a quick title, announcing time and place: Antietam Creek, Sept. 17, 1862.

A battalion of soldiers marches toward the enemy, a close-up shows Broderick marching proudly upfront, his sword stretched towards the enemy. 

After having established the directions, the Southerners also shoot a canon. They hit only trees - implying that the weapons must have been way less than accurate. (I have no idea about the historical state of technology). Wood showers down on Broderick's people. But nobody seems harmed and they march on.

The next thread is a long row of rifles, pointed at the Union Army, ready to shoot. There is a revealing shot, where we see upfront on the Northern troops - the picture looks surprisingly empty compared to the earlier footage.

Looking over the heads of the troops as they approach the fence behind which the Confederates wait the rifles are shot at the same time, giving a rippling smoke effect. A few dead horses lie on the ground. The close battle begins.

An editing technique used quite often is the jump-in. A few seconds to establish the orientation, then a zoom-in, depicting for example soldiers being shot. This keeps the editing tempo up although the actual movement of the troops is rather slow. It seems that this technique is used throughout the battle scene. Sometimes the other side is cut between the long and the close shot.

The following shows the Southern Army moving into the battlefield ground, from behind - with a wide shot and very smoky environment.

Another special angle is the approaching Union as seen from over the shoulder of the Confederate riflemen. The following battle "beat" is also told in Wide-OtherSide-Close-Closer editing combination. Another pattern I notice is that the Confederates are shown in large groups shooting their rifles or firing a cannon, and the "reaction" of the Union army is appended in two or three short scenes.

The first dialogue of the movie is a two-person-shot of Broderick right behind his superior - followed by a closeup of his head exploding. We see Broderick's reaction. End of Beat.

The next 30 seconds depict the chaos that the army is in. The Confederates shoot and there are two or three very short scenes where the opposing soldiers die and scream in agony. Most of the shots are closing in on the soldiers and show some kind of explosion with wounded men falling to the ground.
The sense of left and right is disturbed, as the riflemen are shown from the front, shooting directly into the camera, involving the viewer more.

At the end of this very fast-paced sequence Broderick lies down and covers his head in panic. He realizes he's wounded.

While the Northern army suffers heavy losses in many shots of confusion and disorder the main shot is slowly zooming in on Broderick as he covers his ears and closes his eyes until his image disappears in a cloud of smoke. The battle is over. The camera returns to wider shots towards the end of the battle and re-establishes the left-right order.

Overall the editing on the scene is amazing and by keeping the strong sense of left-right it is clear which of the two armies is in a shot at any time. Even after repeated watching I find it hard to discern between the documentary and the staged footage. Steven Rosenblum deserved his Oscar nomination.



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