US, 2003, 130 minutes, Colour.
Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric , Patrick Wilson, Emilio Echevarria, Jordi Molla.
Directed by John Lee Hancock.
The Alamo has an extraordinary status in American history, the last stand battle of a small group of men and women in the church near San Antonio, a stand against the overwhelming forces of the Mexican General Santa Anna to the death. Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie (of the knife fame) died during the siege. John Wayne starred as Crockett in a big-budget re-creation of the events in 1960. The film had the same title as the present version, The Alamo.
This Alamo did rather poorly at the American box-office. Is it the film itself? Is it the American spirit in 2003-2004 with the events of the war in Iraq and the aftermath? What image of American heroism was needed at this time?
First of all, the film is rather dark and not quite so heroic as forty years earlier. It also tries to look for the truth behind the legends and finds some feet of clay (or, rather, ordinary fallible human beings) and that did not sit well with the public who were caught up in the war against terrorism.
Since most people know the outcome, the film opens with the defeat and General Sam Houston on his knees. Back we go to the big dreams that Houston and other pioneers had for the opening up of Texas and for its being part of the Union (we are in the mid 1830s). Davy Crockett, from the Tennessee wild frontier and more latterly from Congress in Washington, responds to the call and arrives in San Antonio. General Santa Anna and his men make a surprise march through the winter and the siege of the Alamo begins.
There are tensions within the fort. The commander leaves, placing young and by the book Travis in charge. Jim Bowie and his roughneck followers are not impressed. Mistakes are made and the battle begins. Houston, who has a drinking problem, does not have the confidence of community leaders and is not there. He persuades them that he should raise a force.
There is a great deal of heroism in the fighting but the Americans are no match for the Mexicans, the small roughly clad fighters against the quite magnificently uniformed soldiers. Bowie dies of consumption. Crockett is executed. Houston eventually lures Santa Anna away and defeats him in an 18 minute fight with the Mexican signing away Texas in exchange for his life.
Billy Bob Thornton is the standout in the acting, really brining Crockett alive as a credible hunter, leader and genial gentleman. Jason Patric is Bowie and Dennis Quaid is Sam Houston.
1. The status of the Alamo and the battle in the United States, in its consciousness? The reality of what happened, the legend? The monument in San Antonio? Audience knowledge, the combatants as heroes, the nature of heroism and their being outnumbered? The response of the overseas, non-American audience?
2. The response to the film, its lack of box-office success? Was it too downbeat? Released in 2003, the Iraq war, the need for a more optimistic presentation of heroes?
3. The structure of the film and the downbeat tone, opening with the scenes of the dead, the dog licking the face, the carrying of the wounded and the dead? The aftermath of the battle of the Alamo, audience knowledge of what happened? Sam Houston in his kneeling in prayer? The flashback to the year before the Alamo, the introduction to the characters, especially Davy Crockett, the American situation with Mexico, General Santa Ana, the battles, Houston’s success? His drinking, his personal problems, his being sacked? The presentation of the siege of the Alamo, the fight? The final fight at Santa Jacinta and the defeat of Santa Ana and his signing away Mexico?
4. American attitudes, to the Texan territory, to Mexico, their being in rebellion, their being present in Mexican territory? The history of the battles, the independent movement? The effect on Mexico (and Santa Ana’s comment that Mexicans would be subservient to the Americans and this being fulfilled)? The United States in the 19th century, its supreme sense of Manifest Destiny?
5. Texas, the opening up of the territory, the settlers, the wealth, hopes? The celebration in Washington and Sam Houston trying to sell Texas to people? The promise of land, easy money? Washington and Davy Crockett, Houston interesting him? The background of his being in Congress and his election defeat? Travis and his hopes for Texas, the separation from his wife, her arrival with the children, the signing of the papers, his wanting a new life? The Mexicans living in the territory and their allegiance to Mexico or to the United States? Santa Ana and his hopes for more territory?
6. The history of the Alamo itself, the church, the settlement, the subsequent history, the preparation for Santa Ana, not expecting him in the winter? The officer and his departure, leaving Travis in charge? Travis and Bowie and their clashes? The arrival of Davy Crockett and his men? The clashes between the militias and the regulars? Their loyalties, defiance? Behaviour, drinking, attitudes?
7. The contrast with Santa Ana, his pomp, military might, the march through the snow, the band playing before onslaughts? The elaborate uniforms? His subordinate officers, their agreeing with him, their interior questioning? The arrival, the hill, the settlement, the cannon? The band playing? Santa Ana and his attitude towards the men as cannon fodder? His strategies? Crockett and his violin, the interest in Crockett? The skirmishes, the deaths, the Americans coming out, the cannon fire? The final attack?
8. Life within the Alamo, the men, the few remaining women, families? Santa Ana allowing the Mexicans to leave? The black slaves and their digging, the slave leaving, the other slaves staying and fighting? The factions, the refusals to obey Travis, their ordinary clothes but their top hats? Crockett and his company, the bravery, going out of the fort, burning the huts? Travis and his picking up the unexploded cannon ball? Bowie and his change of attitude, wanting his men to obey Travis?
9. Travis as a character, his background, educated, new life in Texas, separation from his wife, the bitter divorce, her weeping, taking the daughter, the son staying and being in foster care? His being put in charge, his courage? The continued clashes with Bowie? Finally making concessions, helping Bowie before he died? The bravery with the cannon ball, his own death?
10. Bowie and his reputation, the legends, especially about his knife? A tormented man, his wanting to be ordinary, continually taunting Travis? The attempt at the truce and Travis firing the cannon? His fighting, illness, being looked after, the flashbacks, his love, the woman looking after him? The nature of his illness, dreams, shooting as he died?
11. Davy Crockett, the legends, Tennessee, the wild frontier, the bear? Washington, his not feeling at home there? Going to Texas, preferring to be David Crockett, going to see the play and congratulating the actor? Genial, his playing the violin, the fighting, the burning of the huts, his bravery in action, his men dying around him? His being executed? His asking Santa Ana to surrender to him?
12. The Mexicans, in the fort, those against Santa Ana, being used as couriers?
13. The deaths on both sides, the young, unnecessary?
14. Santa Ana and his hubris, his finally dividing his troops, against the advice of the subordinates, his pursuing Sam Houston?
15. Houston and his tactics, long term, his being rejected by the authorities, his drinking, anger? People pleading for him to send troops to the Alamo? His wanting to gather a big force? The arrival of the mere thirty-two and their deaths?
16. Houston and his leadership, his plan, his discussions about Napoleon, the story of Waterloo, finding the field, the decision to fight the Mexicans, the nature of the battle, Santa Ana being overwhelmed, over in eighteen minutes? Santa Ana and his surrender, his life and signing away Mexico?
17. The film as a war film, as anti-war? Issues of politics, American ambitions, double-dealings, invasions, resistance, independence movements? The relation of this 19th century history to the 21st century with individualism, enterprise, democracy?
Created by: malonelast modification: Tuesday 28 of April, 2009 [10:20:26 UTC] by