Review: ‘CSA: Confederate States of America’ (five of five stars)
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The ‘mockumentary’ or ‘fictional documentary’ is not a new form. Its most famous example has been the infamous ‘The Spinal Tap’ (1982), detailing the travels and travails of goofball British heavy metal act Spinal Tap. The fictional rock band existed in the flesh, yet, releasing two albums and going out on tour like a real band. The suspension of disbelief despite the obvious comic delivery is legendary.
The attempt by the same participants to reuse the formula for a ‘folkie’ band, ‘A Mighty Wind’, was not so successful.
Nonetheless, when an effective director and creative team puts imagination and a wealth of knowledge and talent into a project, especially with a sense of mission, the result is serious suspension of disbelief, and at a time when alternate ‘what if?’ histories of a Confederate victory in the US Civil War (1881-1865) are flourishing, this movie is a phenomenon whose time has come.
Made with the help of the British Broadcasting Corporation and African-American film director Spike Lee, ‘CSA’ has received widespread attention as a re-examination of American History in an increasingly popular focus: what would’ve happened if the South had won the Civil War? What would America be like right now?
Using vignettes, television commercials, interviews, narrated footage, ‘Hollywood’ movies, silent pictures and even reality show trailers, ‘CSA’ possesses the full flavor of an historical documentary while expecting the audience to accept what they see as a document on an existing entity: a Confederate States of America circa 2006. While filmed low-budget, the film’s dark sense of humor and frightening contrasts are believable, based on real historical research of actual historical facts and events as well as known plans and attitudes of the Confederacy’s leaders.
As an individual fascinated by alternate histories and with US Civil War history, this writer found ‘CSA’ to be a thoroughly worthwhile comparison and contrast between that other world and this one,, intellectually forcing the question “Is America truly significantly different in important ways from what it might have been if the South had won?”
Whether the viewer sits at Left or Right from Center, or dead in the middle, ‘CSA’ is a fascinating and enlightening look at the possibilities that were left mysteries by the currents and eddies of Time. Watching the black-and-white interview of Abe Lincoln, an exile in Canada in 1912 confessing that “Now I, too, am a Negro” helps enflesh this otherworld with conviction and creative detail that the viewer will appreciate throughout the film.
This writer is an educator who will use the film with his eleventh-grade students in conjunction with material relating to 19th-century US literature,, and he expects it to be highly successful in demonstrating the importance of the events and figures of that time to their own lives and surroundings.
It should be equally educational to adults who want to understand the truth of the soul of the American Nation: it is dark, but potentially could be yet darker.
The DVD copy at hand came from Spain, the only place at this writing where home copies of the film are being (legally) produced. It was purchased from a New Jersey import vendor via eBay after thorough searching. The film is presently being shown in selected independent theaters and other venues across the United States. The Spanish DVD edition does have an English-language track (the native track, although the Spanish-language track is the default) and the DVD is Region 2.