Glory ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I don't even know how many times I've seen this film. I can vividly recall the first time seeing it, at my dad's. He rented it on VHS. It wasn't surprising that he watched it in front of my brother and me since it was rated R; he didn't give a damn whether my brother and I were in the room or not. What was surprising is that my dad has some very antiquated views on race. I can't even begin to describe the sense of pride and triumph I felt watching Glory. Or, more to the point, the pride and triumph I felt watching him watch it.

Later, it was shown in my U.S. History class in high school. I bought it on widescreen VHS in the late 90s, then subsequently got it on DVD. A friend gave me his Special Edition DVD. I recently finally got around to getting Glory on Blu-ray Disc, making this the fifth home video edition I've watched of the film.

Like every other first-time Blu-ray viewing of old favorites, I was distracted by scads of little details I never noticed in previous viewings. I'm sure I was ever conscious that there's a "54" in the center of the symbol on Matthew Broderick's cap, but I am entirely certain I never saw the stitching of it until this viewing. It isn't the best looking HD transfer I've ever seen, but I attribute that to the heavy location shooting more than anything deficient with the processing of the movie.

Sure, I know about its inaccuracies and I do feel a bit irked about the end inscription informing us that Fort Wagner was never taken. That's technically true, but the South did abandon it in part because of the damage that the 54th Massachusetts inflicted during its suicidal siege.

Ultimately, though, Glory is a masterwork in deconstruction. Until this film, many had no idea there had ever even been a regiment of African-American soldiers to serve during the Civil War. For that matter, in my pre-adolescent world, no one even really admitted that racism was rampant in the North as well as in the South. Glory was an epiphany, and one of the first films to truly stoke my personal fascination with history. Even today, it reminds me how many popular perceptions need to be challenged.

I watched the film this time as part of the 2013 DVD Talk Academy Awards Challenge. It was nominated in five categories, winning three of them. Denzel Washington won for his portrayal of Trip, a composite character culled from various real soldiers. It's a heartrending performance, but also he's the heart of the film. Everyone else is orderly and reserved, but not Trip. Washington's performance humanizes the movie in crucial ways, reminding us that soldiers are first and foremost people. It's impossible to imagine Glory without him.

Also recognized with awards were Freddie Francis for his cinematography, and Donald O. Mitchell, Gregg C. Rudloff, Elliot Tyson, Russell Williams II for Sound. One thing that's striking about watching Glory is that it's shot almost like a documentary more than a Hollywood feature. That really helps establish its verisimilitude, allowing us to trust the movie. The sound is also pretty impressive, given that about 90% of the film was shot outside.

The other two nominations were for Art Direction and Film Editing. The former lost to Anton Furst's design for Batman and there's no shame in that. I haven't seen Born on the Fourth of July to comment on whether that film ought to have won over Glory.

What I can say is that the Academy completely screwed up by not even nominating James Horner's beautiful score. He's done some great work over the years, but never finer than this. It's one of my top five favorite movie scores of all time and to think it wasn't even nominated only undermines the whole awards system in my mind. Stupid Academy.

Glory Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#38/1480)

Glory > Star Trek Nemesis --> #38
The caption atop the ranking panel reads, "Oh, this one's easy." Yes, it is. I admit, it's thrilling to watch Picard crash the Enterprise out of desperation but other than that, Nemesis is a disappointing example of imitation trying to pass as homage. Glory is compelling and nearly perfect.

Glory > Waiting... --> #38
There ought to have been a scene in Glory of Denzel Washington pranking his tent mates with "the brain".

Glory > Fat Girl --> #38
I respect the storytelling frankness of Fat Girl, but not enough to pick it over Glory. It rattles me each and every time I see it.

Glory > Slumdog Millionaire --> #38
Slumdog Millionaire was one of the first movies I'd seen in quite some time where I was so invested emotionally that I *needed* there to be a satisfying ending. Even that level of investment isn't as much as I put into Glory, though.

Glory > Pinocchio --> #38
I can just stare in amazement at the animation of Pinocchio, and get caught up in its story...but against Glory? Not happening. Glory is on a whole 'nother tier.

Glory > E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial --> #23
OUCH. I last saw E.T. during its 20th anniversary theatrical run in 2002, but it still looms large for me. This time, I'm picking Glory but when I finally re-watch E.T. that could change.

Glory > The Bridge on the River Kwai --> #12
I last drew this match almost three years ago, 19 February 2010. At that time, I wrote:

Wow. I don't know that there's a right or wrong selection here. Being American, I'm partial to "Glory," but for sheer spectacle it's hard to compete with "Bridge." James Horner's score for "Glory" should have won an Academy Award.

I still agree with myself from three years ago. Glory feels like a documentary, whereas The Bridge on the River Kwai feels like an epic movie. Both scratch itches I have strongly. Going with Glory for its grit.

Glory < Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid --> #12
I need to finally see Glory in a theater. Until I do, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid will always have that advantage in my memory. Both are masterpieces, though, and I love them dearly.

Glory < Lawrence of Arabia --> #12
I love Glory dearly and perhaps if I didn't, I may never have had any interest in seeing an epic like Lawrence of Arabia...but seen it, I have and it is The Greatest Motion Picture of All-Time. It wins. No shame in that, Glory.

Glory < Casablanca --> #12
This one hurts. Glory speaks to me in big-picture idealism, whereas I fell in love with Casablanca. Picking Casablanca this time, but maybe not in five minutes!

Glory was re-ranked to #12/1480 on my Flickchart

62nd Academy Awards (1989)
(W) ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- Denzel Washington {"Trip"}
(N) ART DIRECTION -- Art Direction: Norman Garwood; Set Decoration: Garrett Lewis
(W) CINEMATOGRAPHY -- Freddie Francis
(N) FILM EDITING -- Steven Rosenblum
(W) SOUND -- Donald O. Mitchell, Gregg C. Rudloff, Elliot Tyson, Russell Williams II