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Reviews starting to come in for Bill Kauffman's 'Copperhead'

By Howard B. Owens

"Copperhead," the movie with the screenplay by local author Bill Kauffman, opens in theaters around the United States today and the film has received mostly positive reviews so far.

A screening in Gettysburg, billed as the world premiere, earned director Ron Maxwell a standing ovation.

Writer James Simpson, in a piece of PJ Media, takes a detailed look at the historical and political context of the movie and concludes,

This is a movie well worth seeing; both for its accurate depiction of the times, its rich narrative, and the unique, rarely discussed subject matter, which was in fact a major component of the days’ controversies. It is also completely family friendly – a rarity in Hollywood these days.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the L.A. Times critic comes off as a bit of a snob and calls the film "lugubrious."

Another Hollywood-based critic says the film is purely for history buffs (while too narrowly constricting the scope of the audience, may be a bit of a left-handed compliment -- this isn't "Fast & Furious 6").

That writer, John DeFore, seems to believe only "Tea Party" types care about the Constitution, writing, "Beech is a dairy farmer who's opposed to slavery but, in language that will resonate with Tea Party-affiliated viewers, argues that Lincoln's war is unconstitutional."

Apparently, one must not color outside of the lines in Mr. DeFore's world.

Though, one of the more favorable reviews has come from Katie Kieffer, writing for the conservative Web site Town Hall.

Copperhead is worth seeing because it re-tells American history with an intimate, engaging and non-textbook approach.

It will be interesting to watch the different reactions to the film from America's various political factions -- especially the simple-minded red state/blue state divide -- to a film that challenges pat answers to questions about the Civil War.

Kauffman has said the movie isn't intended to be preachy or a message movie, except maybe to reinvigorate the lost notion in America of the value of dissent.

In his own lengthy piece about the film for Front Porch Republic, Kauffman writes about the constricting nature of political debate in the country these days.

We live in a time and in a country which finds principled dissent of the sort exercised by Eugene V. Debs and Abner Beech almost incomprehensible. In one sense, freedom of expression knows no bounds: Internet pornography, snuff-game videos, libelous tweets – laissez faire, man. But with respect to politics, art, culture…seldom in American history have the limits of permissible speech been so narrow, so constricting. True, our Eugene Debses aren’t usually thrown into gaols, but nor do they become cause célèbres, like Debs. Their prison is the red state-blue state idiocy under which the limits of acceptable opinion are demarcated by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and writers live in the fear (which, I can tell you as one who has long worked with members of the DC punditocracy, absolutely paralyzes careerists) of saying the wrong thing and running afoul of the hall monitors and tattletales who police American discourse.

In media coverage closer to home, Jay Moran interviews Kauffman for WBFO.

"Copperhead" is playing in Pittsford and Williamsville.


C. M. Barons

I agree with Bill Kauffman's views on dissent (don't recognize the 'principled' qualifier) as far as he went. He clearly failed to mention the transformation of journalism into entertainment, corporate skewing of news, the ponderous increase in editorial opinion (posing as news) and government-mandated mediocrity in education.

Jun 28, 2013, 1:55pm Permalink
Daniel Jones

Sorry, local writer or not, I'm opposed to revisionism and excuses for those who opposed a war that was very much about abolitionism, and paints the Confederacy as somehow reasonable, benevolent slave owners (as if there's such a thing). I'll be watching Lincoln on Netflix instead.

Jun 28, 2013, 5:24pm Permalink
Brian Schollard

Its a mix of emotions, Thanks to the Hollywood movie critics , I am elated to have added a new word to my vocabulary but outraged that I have missed the previous 5 Fast and Furious movies. I look forward to seeing this. The director has made 2 of the 4 best Civil War movies. The other is Glory then of course the epic by Ken Burns.I just hope there are lasers and robots or I will fall asleep! Since we are talking movies please check out BURN on iTunes a great Indie/Documentary movie about the Detroit Fire Department 100% on the Tomatoemeter

Jun 28, 2013, 5:44pm Permalink
Brian Schollard

The civil war did not start as a war of the Abolitionists . John Brown may have intended for it to be that but thats not why it started Lincoln himself had no intention if the first place to free the slaves. He was for preserving the Union and only for preserving the Union. " If I could free them all I would, If I could free a few I would, If I could leave them all in bondage to preserve the Union I would do just that" The most violent anti war riots in our history happened in New York and not during Viet Nam

Jun 28, 2013, 6:04pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Dan, the only revisionist history is the propaganda you've gotten in schools all your life.

Also there isn't a single character in the film who is a slave owner (in is set in Upstate New York, remember?).

Jun 28, 2013, 6:39pm Permalink

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