Available at the following locations: Bookstop 1400 N. 1-35 Austin Old World Bakery 814 W. 12th Street Austin Garner & Smith Books 2116 Guadalupe AuStin Guild Books 2456 N. Lincoln Avenue Chicago, Illinois Crossroads Market 3930 Cedar Springs Dallas The Stoneleigh P 2926 Maple Avenue Dallas FW Books and Video 400 Main, at Sundance Square Fort Worth Brazos Bookstore 2314 Bissonett Houston Guy’s News Stand 3700 Main Street Houston College News 1101 University Lubbock Daily News & Tobacco 309-A Andrews Highway Midland Paperbacks y Mas 1819 Blanco Road San Antonio Books and News 301 State Line Ave. Texarkana HE TEXAS b T server forget visceral scenes Kovic wallowing in his own excrement in a rat-infested VA hospital, seeking solace in a Mexican brothel or being knocked off his wheelchair by Republican thugs. Tom Cruise, who skyrocketed to fame on the strength of Top Gun, an animated poster for Navy pilots, does penance in a bravura performance that ranges from youthful belligerence through impotence and nihilism to constructive rage. While Kovic is off in southeast Asia offering himself to what he believed was a just cause, boyhood friend Steve Boyer stays home, as he puts it, “looking out for number one.” Steve becomes a wealthy entrepreneur, the developer of Boyer Burgers. Each path, suggests Born on the Fourth of July, self-sacrifice and self-interest, has resulted in a squandered life. But what troubles Kovic even more than his own irreparable loss is the memory of a fellow soldier, a Georgia greenhorn named Wilson, whom he had accidentally killed. His death, like all the other deaths and disabilities in Vietnam, strikes Kovic, who goes on to lead Vietnam Veterans Against the War, as gratuitous and bootless. Stone’s film offers no alternative other than awareness, in dubious faith that consciousness can make heroes of us all. LIKE RON KOVIC, Robert Gould Shaw was a youthful soldier with a strong attachment to his mother. “Dear Mother,” he writes home, shortly after enlisting, at age 23, on the Union side in the Civil War, “you mustn’t think that any of us are going to be killed.” In telling the neglected story of how Shaw and most of his Negro regiment were killed, Glory is another tale of lost illusions. Yet, while it mocks Shaw’s fantasy of immortality, it proclaims enduring faith in martial glory. Shaw was a Boston Brahmin whose father’s connections with the Governor obtained him a field commission, in fall of 1862, as commanding colonel of the first black fighting unit, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Glory is the story of how young Shaw assembled, trained, and led his collection of 600 freedmen and runaways, proving to the world that blacks are as capable of discipline and valor as anyone else. Their adversaries are not only the Confederate troops for whom black soldiers are traitors to be executed, not opponents to be defeated but also the Union leaders who deem blacks unworthy of combat. “They’re little monkey children,” says Colonel Montgomery, a Kentucky fop who considers black recruits good for nothing more than pillage. On behalf of his unusual regiment, Shaw fights for the right to fight. So desperate is he to demonstrate their mettle that he volunteers them for a suicidal attack on Fort Wagner, an impregnable position on the South Carolina coast. Just as William Travis’s infatuation with the romances of Sir Walter Scott led to his death at the Alamo, Matthew Broderick’s Shaw is an idealist whose rade mecum is a volume of Emerson. At first, his commit ment to Negro emancipation is sentimental and superficial, the product of abolitionist noblesse oblige. Overly impressed by his exalted rank, he seems in love with his own largesse. But he is genuinely pained by the flogging he orders for a sullen soldier, Priwandered from camp in search of shoes. Soon, Shaw is storming into the quartermaster and forcing the bigoted bureaucrat to supply his men with shoes, socks and uniforms. When the Army refuses to pay black soldiers the same wages as whites, Shaw renounces his own salary. Shaw achieves ultimate solidarity with his black recruits when tossed into a common grave. Though the film makes no reference to the 1863 New York City draft riot, in which a mob of poor whites perpetrated a pogrom against blacks as scapegoats for an unpopular conscription. Glory offers abundant evidence that the Civil War was not fought to end slavery, that the North was as racist as the South. Yet a track of choir music reinforces the feeling that the 54th Regiment was engaged in a sacred crusade when it marched against the Confederacy. The film concludes by freezing on a bronze frieze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the monumental sculpture of Shaw and his infantrymen that stands on Boston Common and that inspired Robert Lowell’s poem “For the Union Dead.” The soldiers are frozen in heroic pose, and movie titles tell us that, though more than half of the 54th was killed in an unsuccessful bid to storm Fort Wagner, Lincoln credited them with saving the Union and with encouraging 180,000 other black volunteers. Glory, whose title never hints at irony, does not demystify the piety of carnage. Though more than half the regiment is lost, its illusions about the sanctity of the sacrifice persist. We are asked to regard it as a victory for civil rights when, to advance his egalitarian notions, a young Romantic leads hundreds of black men to the kind of martial slaughter hitherto reserved only for whites. A more satisfying affirmation of black dignity is the spectacle of Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher and Jihmi Kennedy, in a variety of complex roles, carrying a major studio production. “If I should fall,” says Shaw to a Harper’ s Weekly reporter before the final battle, “remember what you see here.” I suppose that African-American history needs the memory of the 54th Regiment the way Jewish history needs the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. But, while the latter was an act of valiant desperation, the former expired in a gesture of bravado. Shaw and his fighting blacks lost their battle but not their illusions. While the military infirmary a veritable abatoir in which surgery is by saw and sans anesthesia that Glory shows us is every bit as appalling as the VA hospital in Born on the Fourth of July, director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Kevin Jarre deny Oliver Stone’s cosmology; for them, war is not hell but purgatory. 22 JANUARY 26, 1990
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