C.S.A.: Confederate States of America
2004Director: Kevin Willmott
Cast: Evamarii Johnson, Rupert Pate, Larry J. Peterson
DITOR'S NOTE: Stylus writer Mike LeChevallier was fired on April 28, 2006, for plagiarizing a review of Wild Tigers I Have Known. While we cannot prove definitively that the rest of his film-related work for Stylus was plagiarized in part, or wholesale, we no longer stand by the contents of this article because of disturbing similarities between many of his reviews and similar work found on Slant Magazine.
To contend that the mockumentary is a dying film genre is not necessarily an erroneous statement. With its uncommonly inaccurate (yet designed-for-comedic-purposes) portrayals of specific people-types, or particular time periods, with tongue-in-cheek cracks at its own amateur style, the average film attendee might be drawn away relatively quickly. From the extremely lucky final assembly of This Is Spinal Tap (a film that almost shit-canned several times) to the heyday of now “veteran” Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman), the mockumentary has gone from all-out drollery to a society sharpshooter. Remember True Stories? Fear of a Black Hat? Man Bites Dog? Even The Blair Witch Project aimed to shake things up a bit, no matter how farfetched its premise. When a film goes so far as to overanalyze regular people, in all their overblown character faults and historical fumbles, they tend to take offense. Kevin Willmott’s C.S.A.: Confederate States of America feeds on this erratic, controversial approach to the mockumentary, crafting a sly critique of our nation’s unaccounted forgetfulness.
C.S.A. embodies the spirit of a censorious reprimand. In its increasingly comprehensive (as the film progresses, it seems to clarify itself) deportment on history, events such as the Civil War receive alternate-angled perspectives; Willmott unabashedly suggests that it was instigated not over the progress of African-American “worker” emancipation, but instead by the individual progression of the well-being of in-the-loop states. Uh-huh, right. Is the film itself being intensely tight-fisted, or is the slight “source” material? C.S.A. takes on the appearance of a blundering documentary not to blatantly mask its merits, but to suppose the thesis of a double national existence, in which the then-mysterious South was cleanly triumphant in something called the "War of Northern Aggression.”
Method-wise, Willmott opts to call back on the pattern trademarks of filmmakers like Griffith or Burns, with heavy voice-overs, narrations of ancient writings, and timely data on quintessential actions of the time. The use of leathery photographs, images from newsreels, and decently staged reenactments serve to aggrandize Willmott's lifelike possibility objectives. In this fashion, C.S.A. proposes a temporary dimension of past ideas circling through the present; a hole is dug deep into an America married to pre-war eminence, citing the Reconstruction as "the American Holocaust" and the betrayal of our country in siding with Germany during World War II (yes, that means Hitler).
Originally imagined as an eerie spin-off of a cumbersome British feature-documentary, Willmott's C.S.A. represents a well-devised gimmick, from its use of a DeMille segment, a storied summary of the unsuccessful Abe Lincoln's pursuit to flee forthcoming Southern punishment with the aid of a black-faced Harriet Tubman (trust me, it works) to its dexterous splicing of true and make-believe historical characters and horometrical input. Sometimes, though, this connivance makes plain the film’s rough edges; unfortunately and most considerably during a would-be profitable section with a ‘40’s RKO piece on President Davis's battle to make peace with the tired Northerners and disgruntled Southerners. The director's dependence upon a small number of paramount commentators soon leads the audience to recognize the film’s almost entirely professional Brit T.V. semblance struggling to break through its low-budget shortcomings.
Nonetheless, Willmott's feigned periodical lecture effectively implements its arsenal of storybook facts as a lorgnette for our modern culture's lack of response to the still-developing heritage of rigid racial prejudice. C.S.A. illustrates America’s “opposite” Cold War with Canada (the hideout of those who fight for abolition and suffrage) and its lawful undertakings in locations neglected throughout America’s history (Mexico and South America). It challenges our nation’s track record of racial and gender disputes with candor, insightful direction, and dark humor, halting matters before they get too boring or schoolmasterish. This is welcome evidence that the mockumentary can be, at once, enjoyable and morally propulsive.
By: Mike LeChevallier
Published on: 2006-03-22