Saturday morning my cell phone rang. “Have you seen CNN?” said the somewhat frenzied voice on the other end of the line. “It’s a High Terror Orange Alert in the States.” I tried to explain that we had nothing to worry about, that this was just fear mongering and that more people die each year from being kicked by mules than in airplane related accidents, but my words felon deaf ears. It was a friend of mine who was also going to Washington DC the next day to interview Robert Duvall and the cast of Gods and Generals. Despite my comments to her I have to admit that I was feeling a little uneasy about the flight. I have traveled under all kinds of circumstances – bad weather, in tiny little planes that didn’t look like they could muster the speed to get off the ground, in the middle of the night, at rush hour – but never during a High Terror Orange Alert.
The next morning I headed for Pearson International expecting to be poked and prodded. I discovered that security for those traveling to Washington is even more intense than usual. “What is this?” said the stern security agent who had just emptied my bags. “I believe it’s a shoehorn sir,” I replied, trying my best not to let even a hint of sarcasm slip through. I’m all for tight security, but I found it hard to keep a straight face while being questioned about my shoehorn. Next was customs. In my last on-line diary I talked about the number 13, how it always pops up during my travel plans – whether it’s the date, my seat number or whatever. I’m not superstitious, and it’s a good thing, because while I’m about to enter a High Terror Alert my customs agent was number 13! From there I went to Gate U, the furthest gate in Terminal Two – I believe it’s actually located in Edmonton. More security. More questions.
The flight was uneventful, although we were reminded of the security alert in subtle ways. No one was allowed out of their seats for the last thirty minutes before landing, and the flight attendants were unusually chipper – almost too much so. We land on time and while I am waiting for my bags I checked out the Reagan airport. Airports are generally filled with tacky souvenir shops, but the one I found here has to top them all. Called America! it sold a multitude of overly patriotic items – everything from White House mugs to ties with the American flag on them. I bought a roll of toilet paper with Osama Bin Laden’s picture with the slogan Wipe Out Bin Laden. Wrong, really, really wrong, but it appealed to my sense of humor, and kind of set the tone for this trip to America!
Fifteen minutes by cab later we were at the Ritz Carlton. Located just outside the historic Georgetown section of Washington it is very elegant, and my room was big enough to do cartwheels in. In the hallway I saw CNN founder and multi-gazillionaire Ted Turner and Jeff Daniels, one of the stars of God and Generals. Turner is a remarkable guy. It’s rare to meet someone who has as much charisma as he has. His good-old-boy personality literally fills the room.
The movie is a prequel to the civil war drama Gettysburg. At three-and-a-half hours Gods and Generals feels almost as long as the Civil War itself. While there are some engaging scenes – in one effective sequence soldiers from opposite sides exchange tobacco and coffee on Christmas Day – the sheer length of the film weighs it down. I think Gods and Generals in an expanded form will one day make a great, sprawling DVD, or should have been cut by at least an hour for theatrical release.
Have you heard about the drinking games that college kids play? For instance they watch Star Trek, and every time Spock says “That’s illogical,” or some other predetermined catchphrase, everyone takes a drink. If you had a Mint Julep (this is the South after all) during Gods and Generals every time someone delivered a l-o-n-g speech on horseback you’d be reeling in the aisles by intermission. (Did I mention this movie has a twelve-minute intermission?)
The next day we shot some stand-ups (introductions and throws) at the Robert E. Lee Memorial, Arlington House in Virginia. It overlooks the Potomac River and Washington DC, and while I’m sure it’s lovely, when we were there fog and snow obscured the view and the footage looks like it could have been shot anywhere.
After that we went back to the Ritz Carlton for the interviews. Unlike a few junkets I have done, which were badly organized with long waits between interviews and actors dropping out at the last minute, this one ran like clockwork. Started by talking to director Ron Maxwell. He’s as long-winded as his movie. I think his passion for the Civil War and the film got the better of him, and he rambled though our entire time with one long, unusable answer that I though would never end.
Jeff Daniels was next, and he’s a pro. As I walked into the suite to interview him, the previous “interviewer” was sitting on his lap having a photo taken. Then she moved over to his knee and invited her assistant to sit and have her picture taken. When she left he was shell shocked, but pulled himself together when I assured him I didn’t want to sit on his lap.
Robert Duvall was the last interview of the day. Keep in mind we shot this the day before his comments about never wanting to work in Canada again hit the press. Had I known that the interview would have taken a slightly different path. As it was we discussed the film, and the various military roles he has taken over the years. See the complete interview on Reel to Real.
I think the most surprising thing about the whole trip was the lack of concern over the High Orange Terror Alert. Apart from extra scrutiny at the airport, there was no feeling of panic, and no one even mentioned the alert. No one was even wearing orange. That feeling of calm is probably going to evaporate in the next few weeks as the US seriously gears up for war, but for now it’s business as usual.