Thursday, May 03, 2007

Jamestown's 400th Anniversary & The New World Review

As a Virginia, I'm actually very excited that Jamestown is celebrating its 400th Anniversary. Time Magazine did a big feature on it and I agree with Time Magazine's assertion in the opening paragraph that Jamestown doesn't get the attention that Plymouth had.

As Virginians, we studied Jamestown closely in our history books, and as Americans, Jamestown is studied to a lesser degree. In pop culture, Jamestown might be best known as the inspiration for two movies set ten years apart.

The first Pocohantas was a 1995 cartoon from Disney starring, among others, Mel Gibson (it now seems like poetic justice, considering his Euro-centric views, that he played a character who learned to be less ignorant) and Christian Bale (which is also ironic considering Bale starred in the New World). It was a typical Disney musical that didn't really distinguish itself from the ones that came before it ("Aladdin" "Beauty and the Beast") or after it ("Mulan"), but it might be the one I have the warmest memories of because of the material. It also did win an oscar for its song (as well as best score) "Colors of the Wind," which its predecessors "The Lion King", "Aladdin", and "Beauty and the Beast" all did, so it wasn't really anything special for Disney at the time.

Exactly 10 years later in 2005, The New World told the story in epic fashion. Those who are passionate about the Jamestown story were incredibly fortunate to have Terrence Malick chose this subject as his material for only his fourth film ever. It was my favorite film of that year.

Malick takes on the story with that sense of imagination while he grounds the visual look with ameticulous attention to historic detail. Thats one thing that really stands out and keeps things interesting during the picture's slower parts, especially for for people who are familiar with Eastern Virginia, seeing this movie is to see exactly what yourhometowns looked like 400 years ago.

A lot of the story, however, is very abstract. The score brilliantly alternates between baroque piano music, what one would imagine to be the music of the Native American tribe, and a serene silence in which nothing but the sounds of nature can be heard. Time seems abstract and sometimes journal entries from John Smith's journal are laid out as voice-over.

I later heard a lecture from a historical consultant for the film who told us that the film was supposed to be like a dream and it was meant to play to an audience who was already familiar with the story. The names John Rolfe, John Smith, and Pocohantas are never mentioned once he said. It would figure then that Terrence Malick saw himself as not a storyteller but a reinterpreter of a story that stands either as historical truth or myth. And by myth, I do mean myth. According to some history majors at the lecture I attended, there was a lack of literate people in the Jamestown colony and there is good evidence to suggest that John Smith's journals were embellished to the point where he might not have even ever met Pocohantas. I found that fascinating.

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