BLOG, or DIE. Author Bio
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
The Repercussions of Revisionist History

Most people are familiar with the “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson, Jason Isaacs and Heath Ledger. Released in 2000, this film depicts the story of a South Carolinian family swept up in the American Revolutionary War. The protagonist, Benjamin Martin, was loosely based on Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox) and the movie’s villain, Colonel William Tavington, was based on the British cavalryman Banastre Tarleton. Despite being nominated for three Academy-Awards, “The Patriot” received mixed reviews. There were some historical inaccuracies (like the church burning scene) tossed in for dramatic effect, but overall the film did an excellent job of depicting the trials suffered by both citizen and soldier.

Another Revolutionary War film that very few people know of is “The Spirit of ’76.” Produced in 1917, this silent movie has been lost for generations. Although no existing prints of this film have survived, the history of “The Spirit of ’76” resurfaced in 2000 due to the popularity of “The Patriot.” Originally this film was censored by the U.S. Government, because the United States had just declared war on Germany and England was an ally. After scenes of British atrocities had been ordered cut from the movie, the film’s primary writer/producer (Robert Goldstein) snuck them back in. As a result, Goldstein found himself prosecuted under President Woodrow Wilson's Wartime Espionage Act and sentenced to ten years in prison.

The sentence was later commuted to three years, but Goldstein was financially wiped out and spent the remainder of his life unsuccessfully demanding restitution. He sent many letters to the Academy of Motion Pictures complaining of his ill treatment and asking for help in reclaiming his career. In one letter he wrote, “I am merely a lone man suffering a great wrong for no reason whatever, can you refuse to help me obtain justice? I have never done the slightest thing to warrant this persecution and prejudice against me, which denies the very right to exist. What, in the name of common sense, can be the reason for such wanton injustice?”

According to the “The Spirit of ’76's” wiki-page: The film was produced by Robert Goldstein (born September 21, 1883) who was a Jewish immigrant originating from Germany and owned a costume shop. It was considered controversial at the time because of its depiction of the British atrocities during the American Revolutionary War, such as the Wyoming Massacre, which did not fit well with the vast British Empire being now supported by America in a war against the original supporters of American independence which was furthermore squarely against American interest. The film depicted scenes in which British soldiers committed not just stock character atrocities—such as killing babies and dragging young women out to a "terrible fate"—but also pure fiction: the film purportedly not only showed King George III hitting Benjamin Franklin squarely in the face and also having Catherine Montour as a mistress. A court case followed in which the prosecution argued that the World War I effort demanded total Allied support. The film was seized by the U.S. Government and Goldstein was sentenced to ten years in jail (later commuted to three years by President Wilson) for making the film.

For more details, read Timothy Noah’s Slate article on Robert Goldstein titled The Unluckiest Man in Movie History or read Robert Goldstein’s book: Robert Goldstein and "The Spirit of '76" (Edited by Anthony Slide). 

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 9:01 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 18 May 2011 2:31 PM EDT
Permalink | Share This Post

Newer | Latest | Older