Confederate States of America, The (UK - DVD R2)
Reviewer Scott McKenzie doesn't pledge allegiance to the Confederate States...
Imagine a world where the South won the American Civil War and slavery was never abolished. Abraham Lincoln was arrested and exiled to Canada, where a large number of black Americans attempted to flee to freedom and equal treatment. As a result, Hitler shared a positive relationship with the CSA, who remained neutral during the Second World War and instead launched a war against Japan.
Then imagine a world where products like Darky toothpaste ( It’s Jiggaboo bright!) and Cotton Coon Inn restaurant are advertised on television. As a matter of fact, that last statement reflects the reality of the USA, not the fictional CSA. The fact that these products have been sold in the recent history of the USA is hammered home and the film attempts to draw parallels between the alternative reality and our own.
Produced by Spike Lee, CSA takes the form of a documentary that has been produced by a British production company and is preceded with a warning that it may not be appropriate for children or servants. It charts the history of the CSA from the civil war, the rise of an American family that rules the confederacy like a monarchy and their eventual downfall, through to the contemporary ‘reality’ where families of slaves are sold on QVC-style shopping networks.
The documentary style used is mostly effective, combining genuine archive footage, original paintings and footage with fake interviews with important members of this fictional society. However, the low budget of the production is occasionally apparent when rather cheap-looking CG and illustrations are used during the ‘commercial breaks’. This can serve the film well though, because the production values on the adverts are very similar to the genuinely low quality commercials for local companies you can find on American television.
I would have liked the filmmakers to focus on more than just the slavery aspect of the CSA. Of course slavery is a major factor, but racism is just about the only theme that is addressed in the whole eighty-nine minutes of the production. According to the DVD cover CSA will appeal to fans of Chris Morris’ Brass Eye, but in my opinion this is nowhere near as accomplished. Whereas Brass Eye was, first and foremost, a comedy show and focused on political commentary as a secondary priority, CSA doesn’t quite seem to know whether it wants to entertain or inform and suffers as a result of this Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.
Brass Eye was also an efficient show, making its point and leaving the viewer to think within thirty minutes. CSA lays on its anti-racism stance far too thick and would have benefited from significant cuts. Made up of interviews and TV footage, there is nothing cinematic to see here so the ideal environment to watch it is on the television at home but for me, it’s about thirty minutes too long to watch on DVD and if it were to be shown on television it would be pushing two hours in length with commercials. Even then, I imagine the chances of this being shown on commercial television are slim because no advertisers would want their commercials to be mistaken as part of the film!
The video quality of CSA reflects the general quality you would expect from network television. The filmmakers attempt to give the original archive footage the same look and feel as the authentic footage, something they achieve fairly well but some clips of fake classic movies look considerably cleaner than they should. The cinematography is uninspiring, as is the overall video quality: it does the job but there is nothing here to shout about.
The dialogue and music in the fake movie clips is more convincing than the video quality and more accurately reflects the filmmakers’ intentions. The film itself features a lot of different types of music, which are presented well in a clean track. However, the DVD cover stated that there were three audio tracks available—Dolby 2.0 Stereo, Dolby 5.1 and DTS—but the DVD menu did not provide the option for choosing between the tracks. I can only assume this will be addressed on the official release and was just a problem with the screener I received. The audio track I listened to was probably the 2.0 Stereo feed as I could not detect any use of directional sound to bring out the most of the viewing experience.
There are two commentary tracks: the first with the producer and director discussing the making of the film; the second with the director on his own discussing the choices made in the production from a historical perspective. Depending on your mood, either track will be of interest although they are significantly different in tone. The first track is more laid back, with the director and producer sharing light-hearted banter and anecdotes. Director Kevin Willmott has a powerful voice and he is obviously passionate about the subject of slavery so the second track feels more like a lecture from a film or history scholar. He comments on the impact and significance of putting slavery in a contemporary setting and imparts a lot of valuable information, although the track is more intense and right-on.
Eleven deleted and/or extended scenes are included, mostly more racist commercials that didn’t make the final cut. I would have preferred the main feature to have been cut down more, and then the DVD could have provided more supplementary footage for fans rather than cramming pretty much everything into a film that feels too long. The notes provided with the DVD stated that in addition to the extras above, a ‘Making of’ featurette, a trailer and notes by the author of the Spike Lee biography would be included but they were not included on the version I received.
I’m a fan of ‘fake’ documentaries and I was hoping CSA would be a decent companion piece to Death of a President, which I recently reviewed. Unfortunately, I found it harder going than it should have been due to the uneasy tone and over-use of the N-word. The CSA is a racist place. I get the point. The DVD itself is adequately presented and, if the additional features promised by Tartan are included in the final product, will provide a decent set for those who want to find out more.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 13th November 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital DTS
Extras: Producer and Director Commentary, Director Commentary, Deleted And Extended Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kevin Willmott
Cast: Greg Kirsch, Renee Patrick, Molly Graham, William Willmott, Rupert Pate
Length: 89 minutes
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