2007-03-09 15:40:23 UTC
research answers to what I've seen in films. I never thought much
about American History until I was overwhelmed by the awful images
that I saw in the latter part of D. W. Griffith's "The Birth of a
Nation." His film has been widely condemned as a distorted tale
filled with untruths and inaccuracies. While I can agree about the
inaccuracies of the overall story, I've learned that this "Fictional"
account can find representation of fact for everything that is
contained within it's story. It is truly a distorted work, but then
again, most classroom history books should share the same fate as this
film has. For me, seeking the truth led to a more than ten year
personal study that continues today. The real story behind the Civil
War and Reconstruction is much more terrible that Griffith's film
could ever be.
Two years ago, I watched "Martyrs of the Alamo," another dusty
silent film from around the same time as "Birth" (I think it was
1916). In that old silent film, I saw for the first time that a Negro
slave was represented as a member of the men at the Alamo before the
final conflict. He wasn't there to be comical even though he was
obviously a man in blackface, but he was simply one of the group
fighting to the last, and in the film, he is the only male survivor
who was still at the Alamo during the attack. A hero in the film was
a man called "Silent Smith." This was the character who slipped away
to find General Houston to try and bring help. The man was shown to
be deaf in the film.
I could not understand the reason for including these characters?
All of this got me searching the internet since I didn't remember
these characters in the many Alamo Films that I've seen.
To my surprise, I first learned about Alamo Joe, the slave of Col.
Travis who was actually the only survivor. I was able to learn that
he fled while being returned to the Travis family and is believed to
have fled into Mexico to escape the slave hunters. Imagine; someone
from the Alamo running for his life into Mexico for protection? You
can still find a record of his accout of what happened at the Alamo.
Then I went looking to find out about 'Silent Smith' only to learn
that indeed, he was totally deaf because of a childhood disease. In
addition, he was a Captain in the military and a close friend of both
Travis and Houston. I couldn't believe it a totally deaf man really
was an Army scout and later a Captain! If you live in Texas, I
imagine you cannot help but know the details of this man, Erastus
(Deaf) Smith. His name is used for counties and other government
buildings in the state. Before his death, General Houston even had
his portrait painted.
So for me, I always expect films to be a distortion of the truth,
but through film study, I've been able to learn historical facts that
could easily fit in the pages of "Believe it or Not." The truth is
indeed much stranger that the wildest stories that you've ever heard.
In one of my favorite Lincoln Films, there's a scene where the
barge gets caught on a sand bar and the piglets are scrambling to
shore. This is when he first meets Ann Ruthledge in the film story
and it's a good bit of comic relief as everyone is chasing after
Still, I wish they would have used the story found in historical
books, because for me it seems even more exciting. According to what
I've read, the barge got stuck and also took on some water. Everyone
couldn't believe their eyes when Lincoln went and borrowed a 'Brace
and Bit' Drill. Getting back on the barge, he drilled a hole in the
bottom near the bow (it was sticking out of the water) to let the
water drain out. After doing this, they repaired the hole and were
able to push the barge off of the sand bar. Now there's ingenuity
that would have also made an interesting story in a film.
Well, that's enough from this Big Silent Fan.
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