Date: Thu, 25 Dec 1997 22:14:58 EST


Subject: AMISTAD anachronisms

"Hello! I'm your attorney, Roger Baldwin."

Hello? Hel-LO! Mr. Speilberg? Yeah, I'm glad I got you on the line. I

have this book in front of me called AMERICA IN SO MANY WORDS. "Hello" is the

word-of-the-year for 1885! It came into use with the telephone. Your film

AMISTAD takes place in 1839, over two generations before--

Hello? Hello? Hell-o?

That was perhaps the worst offense. Conspicuous by their absence were

"nigger" and "Negro." Aw c'mon, NOBODY said that??

A banner read "Re-elect President Martin Van Buren." The words "re-

elect" would not have been used at this time. Also, the election was in 1840,

not in 1839--when we first see this.

Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job with his John Quincy Adams; Matthew

McConnaughey first struck me as someone from the south, then as someone from

the 1990s, then I don't know what. His motivation for trying the case was

never fleshed out in the script.

On the "context" side, Anthony Hopkins's speech before the U. S. Supreme

Court was pure 1990s and contained little or nothing of the legal argument he

actually used that won the case. On the "technology" side, a bicycle is shown

a little too early for my taste.

I object to the cause-and-effect ending. It's stated that Martin Van

Buren lost the Presidential election to William Henry Harrison. This is true.

The Amistad case is true also. But one truism had little to do with the

other. Van Buren would have lost, Amistad or no Amistad. The Civil War is

briefly shown. Amistad was certainly a special case and the Civil War--about

twenty years later--did not result from the Amistad verdict. Curiously, the

Dred Scott decision is not mention. What about THAT, Mr. Spielberg? Didn't

THAT result in the Civil War?

And while we're on that, how come people in 1839-1841 keep saying "Civil

War," anyway? How'd they know what to call it? About three speakers all

called it by that name!

Regardless of all this, it's a pretty good movie, and you can read the ADS

interview with the credited "dialect coach" in AMERICAN SPEECH--no, that

publication doesn't think movies exist--you can read the ADS interview with

the credited "dialect coach" in AMERICAN POPULAR SPEECH ONLINE--no, we don't

have that...