GLORY (1989)

        Scene Analysis

A Legendary Parade, A Moving Cause, A Glorious Mission

             The only regiment I ever looked upon during the war was the 54th Massachusetts on its
           departure for the South.  I can never forget the scene as Colonel Shaw rode at the head of his
             men.  The very flower of grace and chivalry, he seemed to me beautiful and awful, as an
                      angel of God come down to lead the host of freedom to victory.
                                               -- poet John Greenleaf Whittier

           I know not, Sir, when in all human history, to any given thousands of men in arms, there has
           been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory, as the work
                     committed to you.  -- Governor Andrew to Col. Shaw, May 18, 1863

           I [was] on the balcony to see the regiment go by, and when Rob riding at its head, looked up
            and kissed his sword, his face was as the face of an angel and I felt perfectly sure he would
                                never come back.  -- Robert's sister, Ellen Shaw

The overall purpose of the film – that the 54th Massachusetts Regiment would redeem blacks from 250 years of slavery – was inspired by Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ greatest sculpture, a famous monument on Boston Common that led a curious Kevin Jarre to study it and write a screenplay.   Widely regarded as the finest bronze and marble monument commemorating the Civil War, it depicts Shaw and his one thousand black men marching through the streets of Boston and into glory on May 28, 1863.  This legendary parade saw the largest crowd in the city's history assembled on Essex and Beacon Streets, where a largely abolitionist people leaned from balconies, waved flags from windows, cheered, and gaped at their men from the State House and surrounding areas.  This scene in Glory depicts the historical event with an accuracy rarely seen in film, and, at the same time, induces a response from the audience that the filmmakers desired.
[2]    The purpose of the scene has as much to do with creating an emotion in the viewer as it does with communicating its meaning.  Intrinsically, this parade epitomizes the 54th Massachusetts Regiment because it was the inspiration for the sculptor's work that has in turn consecrated these men and their purpose forever in bronze: a color that transcends race.  In terms of the overall movement of the film, the scene works well because it follows an event in which Shaw reinforces his solidarity with the troops and leaps closer in gaining their respect: he refuses his pay alongside the black soldiers, all of whom will not accept an amount lower than their white counterparts.  This action enables him to ride honorably beside his men in the parade, and, similarly, the troops are able to march proudly under the command of a man who has achieved their admiration.

[3]    The scene is moving: literally, figuratively, emotionally, and cinematically.  In a literal sense, it appears chronologically mid-film yet, more symbolically, half-way through the regiment's journey under Col. Shaw.  Moreover, Zwick uses the scene to transition the story from the 54th’s training at Readville Camp in Massachusetts to its battle-front deployment in the South.  In the dramatic context, it bridges the unit's accomplishment for having completed its training, to joining the war effort and their mission beyond: proving themselves capable in battle as American soldiers.

[4]  The extraordinary cinematography of Freddie Francis effectively parallels this movement.  The first “shot” zooms out from the brand new shoes and Union blue suits of the men marching in unison.  It effectively represents the uniformity they have perfected in only a few remarkably short months of drill and training.  The camera then spans outward, to encompass the entire street and its enormous crowd forming a gauntlet of praise and cheer through which the regiment marches.

[5]  This high and wide shot of the parade is employed twice (see top image).  Initially, the “shot” is used to indicate to the audience the geographic setting of the 54th.  The second time it is used marks an entirely different purpose.  This latter version, concluding the scene, symbolizes the “higher” cause and “wider” purpose of the 54th, amidst the momentous and poignant trumpets of the score instead of the patriotic fife and drum heard during its first appearance.

[6]    In a more technical sense, the camera is constantly still.  Despite the “high and wide” scanning, these motionless shots contrast heavily to the continuous progress of the soldiers’ marching and the crowd's celebration.  It feels as though the scene is marching the viewers into the next phase of 54th’s existence.  All the while the soldiers’ advancement approaches the camera, and thus toward the audience – a forward motion.  Never during a total of exactly two minutes does the camera view any of the men from behind.

[7]    Perhaps best merging the scene's history with the deeper meaning of the regiment's send-off is its musical accompaniment.  James Horner utilizes the boyish voices of the Harlem Boys Choir to create an all-at-once haunting, tear-jerking, and memorable score.  In this particular scene, it gradually replaces a fading marching tune at a precisely allegorical moment: when Colonel Shaw raises his sword to his lips and briefly salutes his parents, as if to say, “I acknowledge your pride in me and my decision to lead this colored regiment, and I am honored to do so."  More swelling music compels the viewer's attention toward the intricate emotions of the actors' expressions.
[8]    Beyond symbolism, the acting is truly magnificent, for the sheer fact that no dialogue is present in the scene.  The actors are, each, able to capture a different kind of pride and complexity of feelings specific to their own characters.  They do this in only a matter of seconds as the picture moves back and forth between close-ups of joyful spectators and the film's five focal soldiers.  What brings forth the range of emotions we see is the contrasting position of each actor’s head in relation to that of his fellow soldiers’ beside him.  More simply, the units all face right as they march by the pavilion in which Frederick Douglass and Governor Andrew stand, and all but Trip, Sharts, and Rawlins return their heads to a forward position after passing these prominent figures.

[9]    These facial isolations not only serve to intensify and differentiate the characters; they also convey the men’s advancing to something larger than themselves.  We first see Pvt. Trip’s visage as a selfishly proud one, for he has not yet transformed into the man for whom others would die, but he somehow knows he is destined to become a great soldier.  Jupiter’s face is one of amazement and disbelief.  He is both proud and bewildered that all these people are there cheering for him and his regiment.  Rawlins wears a deeper pride: one that is confident but a wiser one that also knows his unit’s bigger purpose is yet to come.  Thomas exhibits a smirk, proud of the facts that he has made it through boot camp and that he marches representing his home city.
[10]    Again, Shaw is shown on horseback, but this second time as more a tribute to the monument that exists today that pays homage to this exact portrayal of him among his men.  In the end, comparison between fact and fiction is impossible because the scene, so true to its original event, is completely accurate and lacks any fabrication. The parade was the largest gathering of people in the city’s history.  Governor Andrew and Frederick Douglass were in attendance.  It was indeed the last time Shaw saw his family.  He did salute his parents as they overlooked their son from the balcony of their 44 Beacon Street home.  The men of the 54th did go on to inspire others, serving a cause larger than their glorious deaths – their testament to freedom.

Copyright (c) 2003, Todd Scurci and Denny Boyle, Undergraduates at Lehigh University.

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