September 21st, 2010

krazy koati

And forever in peace may you wave

From the Turner Classic Movies shorts file: The Flag, starring Francis X Bushman, which the cable box credited to 1927 but seems more probably 1917; the title card gives it as 1922, but that might just be for one cut of the short. It's a dramatization of George Washington --- played by Bushman who looks so right for the part I felt belatedly sad for him having to play the leader of the Wussonians in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment The Mole People --- asking Betsy Ross to design a flag for the colonial rebels.

Betsy Ross's story is one I never looked too closely into because I'd never really heard one other than ``she was somebody's niece, got asked by some committee to design a flag, and she did'', and there's not much of a story there. Even hearing how much of it is legend rather than fact ... well, I never kept straight how much was legend and how much was fact. The short goes into how Ross has inspiration from a particularly cinematic sunset, and cutting up her dress for the flag prototype, and since that's not a lot of a story there's something put in about a British officer (Charles Brandon) sneaking into colonial lines to see his dying wife and hiding behind the flag as Washington comes to see Ross. Brandon escapes arrest as a spy --- though he was in uniform, which seems to me to disqualify him from spy charges --- when Ross argues that Washington himself said anyone seeking protection under the American flag should have it. Washington buys this, ultimately, at least when the circumstances of Brandon's visit are told him. (Well, he puts Brandon under arrest, in Ross's custody, until he can be exchanged.)

Is this part of the Ross legend? I'd have to actually do any research to learn that, but I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere about how she didn't have anything to do with anything except she had a grandson with a lot of family pride. Is the story credible? Eh, maybe. The sudden leap from Brandon telling Washington ``We are on opposite sides today sir, but as God is over all, some day we will be united in a common cause'' and leaping to ``And in 1917 - `united in a common cause'.'', with footage of American, British, and French flag-bearers marching into some replica of the trenches, is what makes me think this has to have been made in 1917.

Novel and interesting to me is that it's a color short, with the images not as lifelike as the three-strip Technicolor of the 1930s would be, but still vivid enough to make it startling. The colors are tolerably realistic and stable, and give a weird feeling of the agedness of the film. I mean, black-and-white, silent film tends to look historically old, not just because public domain-dwelling silent shorts get used so often as stock footage of ancient days for history programs. Seeing Washington --- and Bushman looks really like Washington --- actually moving in reasonably lifelike color, intercut with silent titles, is strange and otherworldly.

Trivia: Following a decree of 20 September 1792, only civil marriage was legal in France, and could be had merely by mutual pledge signed before a civil authority. Divorce was also legalized, obtainable through mutual agreement before a municipal author. The Age Of Napoleon, Will and Ariel Durant.

Currently Reading: The Golden Helix, Theodore Sturgeon.