Created on 14 June 2013
Last night GCC was honored to host a preview screening of Ron Maxwell's new movie "Copperhead." A fundraiser for GO ART!, the theater was filled to capacity. No doubt, much of the appeal of the screening was to witness Elba native Bill Kauffman's handiwork come to fruition. Kauffman wrote the screenplay, which drew in part on the work of a novel about the home front during the Civil War. As the opening credits rolled, loud applause erupted when Kauffman's name appeared.
Clocking in at just over two hours, "Copperhead" was a beautifully crafted film set in 19th century Upstate New York. As usual with Director Ron Maxwell's work, the attention to historical detail was painstaking. The central theme of the film revolves around a small community coming to terms with the Civil War, far removed from the smoke of battle. Much of the community supports the war and Lincoln's Republican Party, but there are a handful of dissenters – anti-war Democrats who are not shy to let their views be known. I will not divulge more, but suffice it to say that turmoil ensues and the viewer is left to ponder the role of dissent and free speech in society.
There is no doubt that this is a thoughtful, engaging, and emotional film. The casting was quite well done, though it is easy to wish that Peter Fonda had a larger role. The theme of dissent in wartime also has resonance in today's society. Politically we live in a deeply divided country where we toss around insults and label those who disagree with us, quickly assuming the worst of motives. In the film, the term "Copperhead" was used as a derogatory label for those whose dissent was considered traitorous. Today's version might be "Socialist." In any case, scenes in the film take shocking and provocative turns as the community decides that they cannot abide serpents in their midst.
I think this is a brave film. It takes up a timely theme and depicts an aspect of the Civil War that was very real, though forgotten. This is not a film that will satisfy those in search of battles and notable generals. But for those that seek an authentic portrayal of average folks struggling with the dilemmas of the age, you could not do much better. It is a film everyone should see.
Review by Prof. Derek Maxfield, Coordinator of GCC's Civil War Initiative