The Road that Takes You Home: The Opening Credits for “Gods and Generals”

Metaphorical Credit: Opening or closing film credits which carry symbolism through visual or song.

Perhaps the finest example of the metaphorical credit, at least in the modern era of cinema, is to the widely criticized, but still very good, “Gods and Generals” (Maxwell 2003). After the Ted Turner logo, the credits begin with a quote by George Eliot, scrolling upwards in a serif font (Times New Roman) which is as follows:Gods and Generals 2

‘A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of the earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.

As the text scrolls, a song, Mary Fahl’s “Going Home”, begins. Soft violins start the intro as the black screen fades into a medium shot of an 1860’s United States of America flag waving in the wind which is lit by a hard light that comes from the left; the framing for every flag is essentially the same with variations on flag placement, but all are waving and have hard light casting on them. The screen changes to a different flag, and so on. We realize quickly that the credits are that of every regiment and state flag that was present in the Civil War, or at least, in the early years from 1861-1863.

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As the U.S. flag fades, we are greeted with a medium close-up of the 20th Maine Volunteer regiment flag as well as the top billing, Jeff Daniels, who plays Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who commanded the 20th Maine throughout the difficult times for the Union, which is the period from 1861-1864. This is proceeded by an extreme close up of the first flag of the Confederate States of America, known as the Stars and Bars and the second billing superimposed, Stephen Lang, who plays Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.G&G4.png

We are followed by what would be considered a close-up two-shot, the Virginia state flag which is in front of the CSA flag with Robert Duvall’s name superimposed. So far, each flag is corresponding to the affiliation of the actual person, Chamberlain was from Maine, Jackson and Lee were from Virginia and fought under the Confederacy. Note, we are given a close ups here instead of a medium-close up like before. The reasoning behind this is because the flags replace human beings. The camera placement suggests that this film is going to focus on Thomas Jackson and Robert E. Lee as opposed to Joshua L. Chamberlain (which was mainly what Gettysburg, this film’s predecessor and sequel, was about).

The main title card comes over another two-shot of similar flags, both are flags of the United States, and are most likely regimental flags of unknown origin. G&G5.pngAs the cast and flags pass by, we are greeted by the 28th Massachusetts Irish Brigade, the placement of this flag here after the title is intentional. The 28th Massachusetts was present for every major battle in the Civil War (Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Petersburg, and the famous Overland Campaign) and was present at Lee’s surrender. In terms of this film, as well as to history, they are known as “These Brave Irishmen” who gave their lives at Fredericksburg. What proceeds are close ups of a flag that has a white floral design and the number 11, this is the flag of the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac (i.e. The Union).

The flag is followed by the 20th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers and an extreme close up of an unidentifiable blue fielded flag with the American eagle in the center. It is of an important note that this second flag is the only flag that is not straight, but is positioned at a diagonal angle. The 3rd Arkansas Volunteer flag is next which is given a close up with the famous, or rather, infamous “Southern Cross” design of the Confederacy, in the center of frame. It is a small thing, but this flag is damaged from wear and tear, suggesting that something is going to occur with this particular regiment in the film (like the 28th Mass., they participated in the major battles of the Civil War). G&G6.pngNext is the flag of the 12th NYSM (New York State Militia). We are then greeted once by a 20th Maine flag in a medium close-up but this seems to be a more formal flag than before, a ceremonial one as opposed to a battle flag, as this flag is closer to a state flag as it has a blue field with an eagle; as this particular flag is used so closely to the 3rd Arkansas flag, we can assume that the 20th Maine suffered heavy losses during the war (particularly in Fredericksburg, which is a turning point in the war as well as the film).

Texas follows next, and now we return to a medium close-up in a flag in an upright position. We are soon followed by an extreme close up of a lesser known Confederate flag, a blue field with a white star, known as “The Bonnie Blue Flag” (there is a song known as “The Bonnie Blue Flag” which makes an appearance in the film). The 58th New York is given a close up. Here comes the famous 33rd Virginia Infantry in an extreme close up or the infantry that Jackson commanded, known to history as “Stonewall’s Brigade” or “The First Brigade in the Army of the Shenandoah”, these gentlemen witnessed the heat of the Civil War and was also responsible for the death of General Jackson (as he was killed by his own men). This flag is waving the most vigorously, again hinting at the importance of the regiment in the film.G&G8.png

After this are the flags of lesser known fame of  Georgia and South Carolina, but then we are back to an extreme close up of the other side of the Irishmen who fought at Fredericksburg, the ones of the Confederacy, the Emerald Guards of Virginia. Out of all the flags presented, this one is waving the strongest, and cloaked in shadow due to the hard light coming from the left. The significance is due to the scene in which these men are mourning and saying goodbye to their fallen former countrymen, the shadow literally foreshadowing grief and despair from this particular regiment.

Michigan and Georgia appear next followed by an extreme close up of the United States Colored Troops, with their motto, Sic semper tyrannis prominently in view and resting in the upper thirds of the frame, showcasing the rise of freedom and death of slavery. Finally, the last two flags shown is “The Stainless Banner” flag of the Confederacy, which was used after the death of Stonewall Jackson, and the flag of the United States as we open the film to Robert E. Lee sitting in a carriage.

The overall impact of this particularly interesting opening credit scene is that we know what occurs in the film before the first dialogue or character is even seen through the use of symbolic flags. Not only does this credit scene have representative visuals, but also carries meaning through the song. “Going Home”, which is a slow, beautiful, country ballad song that was written specifically for this film, and tells the story of every person who fought in the Civil War and the yearning each person had for going home and for peace. This gives the credits a somber, but also hopeful, feel, as we know the outcome of the Civil War, but understand a sentiment, or perhaps a reasoning behind the war – it was home-centered. Before the first scene even happens, we understand every theme that the film is attempting to convey, which, is the purpose of the opening credit to begin with, but with this particular credit scene, what is interesting is the lack of a human face, but instead, the flags of the states and regiments that fought in the Civil War. Flags carry an emotional weight, and can serve as the face of a particular cause, country, state, or regiment, which, at least in my opinion, is why this opening credit scene is among the most interesting in film, because it forces you to take in the scope of the war without seeing any blood, without a single battle, and without dialogue. All you have are flags waving, a hard light, a song in the background, and white text.

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