PG-13 for sustained intense battle sequences
Teenagers and adults
Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason
Patric, Patrick Wilson, and Emilio Echevarra Cardellini,
Seth Green, and Alicia Silverstone
John Lee Hancock
Leslie Bohem, Stephen Gaghan, and John Lee
Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista/Walt
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The Alamo: History Lite
By Ted Baehr
Alamo is an entertaining movie with a good heart that tries to accurately
present the history of this famous American event. That said, there is
a lot to critique in the movie. The movie tries to investigate the characters
of Davy Crockett, William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Sam Houston. It succeeds
with all of them except Crockett. Historically, Davy Crockett was not
only a big man, but he was a man of great Christian virtue. Billy Bob
Thornton's portrayal is smiley and reversed, and it does not give the
great scope and depth necessary to the charismatic Crockett.
Compared to previous versions, there is a lot of good history in The
Alamo. Bowie and Houston have more depth, while Travis comes off as
a real hero. There are slight inaccuracies in the battle, and some of
the dialogue is static rather than dramatic. Furthermore, there are some
unnecessary obscenities in the movie, language which would not have been
used at that time. In truth, the movie is greater than the sum of its
parts. It tells the story and lifts up cardinal virtues such as heroism,
self sacrifice, patriotism, trust, loyalty, forgiveness, and faith.
In Depth: Myths, Heroes, and History
by By Jared R. Stallones, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Education
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
No event in American history is more laden with myth than the 1836 seige and defense of the Alamo. Visitors to San Antonio, Texas, are sometimes surprised to find that the Alamo is not a designated monument managed by the National Parks Service, but a shrine superintended by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). The DRT has sometimes been criticized as more interested in perpetuating myth than in strict historical accuracy. One author accused the caretakers of maintaining names on a plaque listing those who had died defending the Alamo long after it was evident that some named on the plaque had lived long past the event. Alternate versions of the Alamo story arose. Hints circulated that Davy Crockett's name appears on land titles dated as late as the 1850s, and that the Alamo heroes were not given a proper burial by Juan Seguin, but were unceremoniously burned by the Mexican forces and dumped in a mass grave over which a department store was later erected. Likely, both versions of the Alamo story contain large portions of myth, that tendency to not let the facts interfere with a good story. So, how does myth make its way into history, and how should we deal with it in the story of the Alamo?
Myth arises in history because of the way history is done, and the way it is used, and the story of the Alamo has been especially susceptible to the forces of historical mythmaking. First, because historians are not omniscient, it is impossible to reconstruct an event with utter accuracy. We marshal our facts to tell a story and fill in the gaps in our knowledge with speculations. These speculations have the potential to grow into myths.
In the case of the Alamo, only a few eyewitnesses to events inside the mission survived. Susanna Dickinson had accompanied her husband, Captain Almeron Dickinson, to the mission and stayed there once the Mexican forces initiated their siege. She lived until 1883 and told her version of the Alamo siege many times. However, her perspective was limited. She could be in only one place at a time. Once the battle began, that place for her and her daughter, Angelina, was hidden out of harm's way. She had no firsthand knowledge of the actions or demise of any of the defenders in the final stages of the battle. Additionally, in subsequent years, she frequently applied to the Texas government for a pension due to her husband's military service. We would be naive not to assume that her version of events was tailored for her audience. So, even an eyewitness account may be skewed by perspective and the purpose for which the story is told.
Myth arises in history because history is used for political purposes. In the days after the fall of the Alamo, the story of the noble few bravely facing overwhelming odds was used to galvanize popular opinion against the ruling Mexican government and to enlist volunteers to fight the invading Mexican army. In this cause, whatever atrocities were committed by Mexican soldiers were likely embellished. The preening General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was made more villainous then he likely was in reality. The Texians also had a wider audience for their story. President David G. Burnet and the other political leaders of the fledgling Republic of Texas hoped that the United States government would join their cause. The United States was rapidly adding stars to its flag as western territories became states, and it was logical that Texas would be next. Portraying the Texians as Davids against an imperial Goliath using the Alamo as the centerpiece served Texas' political purpose. It is no surprise, then, that General Sam Houston's rallying cry at the Battle of San Jacinto, "Remember the Alamo," has become a universal call to action far beyond the borders of Texas.
Myth also arises in history as we use our national story to tell us about ourselves. In countless retellings, we emphasize the events and characters in American history that portray us as we would like to be. The siege of the Alamo occurred at a time when the story of the United States was beginning to adopt mythological elements. The founders had passed from the scene and their lives began to function as character models for the young people in the nation's newly formed public schools. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other Virginians became models of civic virtue. Why not the Texians?
So, in the Alamo myth Davy Crockett becomes the symbol of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds as he bravely swings his spent rifle as a club against his attackers. Jim Bowie symbolizes courage and irony as he rises from his deathbed, pistols blazing, before he is bayoneted by Mexican soldiers as he reaches for his famed Bowie knife. William B. Travis embodies servant leadership as he is unceremoniously felled by a musket ball while defending the walls shoulder to shoulder with the common soldiers. These are heroes' deaths as we would like them to have been, and in lieu of evidence to the contrary, why not?
Promotional materials for The Alamo, the new movie starring Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, state that, as a native Texan, Director John Lee Hancock felt he had to "get it right" in every respect. Did he? Probably not. Did he need to? No, because history is a story. Even if it was possible to ferret out every historical factoid with complete accuracy, that is not the point. While we should not ignore the nobility of our ancestors as some revisionists do, in order to create anti-heroes in American history, neither should we ignore their character defects to make marble caricatures that we could never imitate. The story of the siege and defense of the Alamo provides an opportunity for us to appreciate the strength of ordinary men made extraordinary by their display of character under pressure. They provide a model of courage and nobility that we can emulate when we are called to cross the line in the sand.
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Buena Vista Distribution Co.
(Walt Disney Pictures, Caravan, Hollywood, Miramax, and Touchstone Pictures)
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Phone: (818) 560-1000
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