Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 72-74
- Additional Information
Film Reviews | Regular Feature tary.5 Ronald Spector found the lack ofbattle footage a bit problematic and wondered if Smith could somehow explain to viewers that in this documentary color footage more than chronological history informed the narrative.6 Michael Sherry did not, though, receive much satisfaction regarding one ofhis chiefconcerns. He advocated for a segment on the experience of gays in the war.7 While Smith's team tried vigorously to find material from the period, their searches turned up footage and documents of little real use. Because Smith and his team adhered to certain conditions under which to produce the documentary, a part ofthe larger story of the Second World War simply could not be told through film and first-hand accounts. If historians are part professional, part advocate, documentary filmmakers are professional advocates who pay attention to historical accuracy with varying degrees of interest. The Perilous Fight team distinguished itselfby giving credence to professional historians when it counted, during the drafting and cutting of the film. Moreover, the footage we see was verified and coordinated with the text. The team under the direction of Martin Smith had decided before any historian began to consult on the project to produce a film using only color film from the Second World War. That decision did nothing to undermine the ability to tell a story with power and argument, but it determined that it would be a story with limits. Therefore, we do not see any battle footage from Pearl Harbor or the Battle of the Bulge; nothing from Port Chicago or gays in the war. Did the lack of such images undermine the film? No, because historians understand that limits are part of every work of history. No, because Perilous Fight is a film that adhered to standards of authenticity in an industry notknown for its devotion to historical accuracy. No, once more, because while the arguments advanced by the filmmakers might incite debate, this kind of debate is healthy. It demands engaging ideas and interpretation at a high level, rather than working damage control. Perilous Fight delivers its message by thoroughly engaging viewers and at least broadens the popular perception ofwar to include both the battlefield and the homefront; the women as well as the men; the minority as well as the majority . Even with the best ofintensions, making this film remained a perilous fight, but one worth the fight to make. Raymond J. Haberski, Jr. Marian College haberski @marian.edu Notes 1 According to MercedesYeager, the assistant producer who did a great deal of locating and negotiating for film footage, film came from all over the world and at awiderange ofprices. Fees ranged fromfree forfilmfromthe NationalArchivesoftheUnitedStates, to$100/secondfromprivateindividuals andarchives. Theteamusedclipsfromtheslightlyhilarious series ''Unusual Occupations" and the private collection ofFrancis Lyne, anAmerican who took beautiful color film ofhis travels around the United States andAsia in the 1930 and 1940s. In all, therewere 1207 films usedinthePerilousFight. 2 Email, Judy Barrett Litoff to Martin Smith and David Boardman, 10 December 2001. 3 Email, Litoffto Smith, 23 February 2002. 4 Scott Pearson and Blair Foster relied heavily on David Kennedy's Pulitzer PrizewinningbookFreedomfromFear: TheAmericanPeople inDepression andWar, 1929-1945 (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1999). 5 Email,LitofftoScottPearsonandBlairFoster,undated. Litoffalsoreminded Pearson that the WASP had "the highest death rate of any of the military branches. 38 ofthe 1074 WASP died inthe line ofduty." 6 Email ofphoneconversation, Ronald Spectorto DavidBoardman, 30April 2002 7 Email, Michael Sherry to Martin Smith, 12 June 2002. Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor There has been a great deal of interest recently in the first generation of Americans. Books and films concerning John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Hamilton and Buncrowd the book shelves and the air waves. Joseph Ellis turned his attention to the entire generation of Founding Brothers. It is not surprising thatA&Ejumped on the bandwagon with a film about the traitor in their midst. Benedict Arnold: A Question ofHonor premiered January 13, 2003, and starred Aidan Quinn as Arnold and Kelsey Grammer as George Washington. To a large extent, this film validated what my seventh grade teacher had taught me: Poor Benedict Arnold, weak man that he was, had been led astray by, who else...