History, Research, and Current Themes

"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Paul Giamatti, FX, will make "Midnight Rising" into a TV Mini-Series

According to Deadline Hollywood blogger, Dominic Patten, "Paul Giamatti and FX are in the early stages of a limited series on the spark that started the fire of the Civil War."  According to Patten, the yet untitled project on John Brown is based on Tony Horwitz’s 2011 book, Midnight Rising, which is centered upon the Harper's Ferry raid.  Patten says that Horwitz will serve as a consultant on the project, which is expected to be from six to eight hours total--which I guess is about three or four episodes.  Patten says that Gabriel Range, who helmed the faux documentary "Death Of A President" in 2006, is adapting Midnight Rising into a screenplay. Range will also serves as co-executive producer on the project.
Paul Giamatti

The John Brown community, particularly those scholars who have invested ourselves deeply into the study of the man and his legacy, are naturally excited as well as concerned by this news.  Over the past decade there have been rumors of John Brown films, from the never produced film version of Russell Banks' fiction, Cloudsplitter, to the apparently back-burnered American Film Company's proposed movie on the Harper's Ferry raid, as well as talk from Quentin Tarantino that he wanted to do a John Brown film.  There are currently other screenplay efforts underway, and it seems that sooner or later, some feature film will bring the Old Man to the screen.  Perhaps this time, it is far more likely that some interpretation of the John Brown story will finally reach the screen, albeit the television screen.  This is obvious good news for Tony Horwitz, although even he probably cannot predict how his work will be spun by Gabriel Range as a screenplay.  While I have considerable differences with Tony Horwitz on aspects of the John Brown story, the larger point of concern, however, is what "Hollywood" will do with the John Brown story vis-a-vis Midnight Rising.
Tony Horwitz
Time will tell, although we certainly hope that we do not have the image of a violent religious fanatic John Brown, or a mentally disturbed terrorist John Brown brought to the screen.  Since too many people in this nation are too lazy to actually read history in a serious manner, they will take their history from film, just as they did in 1940, when "Santa Fe Trail" was released.  While there will be no more spinning of the Brown story to suit the whims of Southern romancers and "Lost Cause" types, it is possible that the themes of terrorism and religious fanaticism will be overdone by Hollywood.  It is hard enough for a post-Christian, secular writer to appreciate Brown's religious ideas, non-non-violence, and antislavery zeal.  It will be almost impossible for entertainment types to see Brown in a balanced light.

This is a story worthy of following and we'll do so.  At best, we hope that a television mini-series will get more attention for the John Brown story in schools and forums of real historical discussion and education.  We have good reason to believe that Mr. Giamatti, having shown respectable interest in early U.S. history, will likewise approach this theme with respect and consideration.  On the other hand, should our worst fears be raised, and this film lends itself to the lower appetites of popular culture, then most assuredly there will be, as Brown once put it, "all hell stirred from beneath" from our part.  We have come too far to see our 21st century understanding of Brown reduced to some misanthropic figure, whether on TV or in the movies.

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