Monday, April 14, 2008

Time Warped To 1955 At Shiloh

Last April I visited Shiloh National Military Park for the first time. I'd spent the previous two weeks studying up on the battle by reading Larry J. Daniel's book, "Shiloh, The Battle that Changed the Civil War." Since it was my first visit I decided that the park's Visitor Center would be my first stop so I could watch their orientation film.

After a 2 hour & 40 minute drive I arrived at the Shiloh Visitor Center at 10 a.m. right as the film was about to start and was quickly ushered back to the auditorium. Well, auditorium is a bit of a stretch... it was a large room with several rows of folding chairs and a large projection type television sitting on a raised platform. Okay, Shiloh is one of the oldest battlefield parks, I thought, I can deal with this. However, when the film started I was stunned. The orientation film on the Battle of Shiloh, had been produced in 1955 and is the oldest running film in the National Park System. To the park rangers & staff of Shiloh: this shouldn't be something you are proud of.

The film is an abomination. The film quality is poor, every frame of it looks as though it were a 52 year old film... it was discolored, it was dark, it was grainy, and there was always a yellow tint in the lower right portion of the film. The acting (using the term very loosely) was poor, but the costuming and make-ip was ghastly. It litterally looked like the hair and make-up team (if there even was one) had taken swatches of carpet and glued them to the actor's faces. It reminded me of a badly colorized D. W. Griffith silent movie with 1950's narration and score. It was laughable. When the movie came on it was all I could do not to burst out loud with laughter.

Now, I know the National Park Service budget is tight, but I beg of you. Please, in the name of all that is holy.... Please... Please... Please... produce a new orientation film that doesn't make the audience feel as if they have just been sent back to their 1955 American History high school class room.

After the 25 minute film was over, I went back out to the main hall of the Visitor Center to see that a group of Boy Scouts were there and waiting their turn to watch the film. What a pity, I thought to myself, that they should be condemed to watch such a sad introduction to the first cataclysmic battle of the Civil War. The veterans and the men who died on the field do not deserve to be remembered in such a way. And then I thought to myself, this park must get a lot of foreign tourists as well. What must be running through their minds while watching the film? Would they understand what happened on the fields just outside the front door? Would they care? What a disgrace that the current park visitors can't see a short, accurate, and modern film that treats the events of April 6th & 7th, 1862 with the dignity they deserve.

I want those 25 minutes of my life back... they would have been better spent on the battlefield itself.

Saturday, I visited the park again. I stopped at the Visitor Center and the ranger took my $3, handed me the park brochure and advised me the next viewing of the orientation film would be at noon. “Been there done that,” I said. “It’s the same one,” he said smiling.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I can't believe I'm commenting on a 2 year old post but your depiction of the movie is dead on. And the crazy thing is the park loves it. They held a symposium about it. There is a Shiloh movie at the Corinth VC that is good, they should play that one at Shiloh. If they love the old film so much then maybe they could show it once a day. I'm not sure why they haven't upgraded but for some reason they seem really set on that old film.