On October 13, 800 Civil War buffs packed into Gettysburg’s Majestic Theater for the 25th anniversary film screening of Gettysburg. Special guests—some of the film’s cast, the writer and director, and the composer—also attended the event. I was five when the film was released and fifteen when I first watched it. I have been enthralled by it ever since. So when I heard that there would be an event held to honor the film’s anniversary, I knew I had to be there. Thankfully, my wife Asha surprised me by buying two tickets before it sold out.
We left Berea the Friday before the screening and stayed the night about halfway in Somerset. We arrived in Gettysburg on Saturday afternoon.
I had a nice surprise when I ran into Brian Mallon at my hotel before the screening. Mallon portrayed Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock in the film. No one could have done a better job portraying Hancock than Mallon. One of my favorite scenes is when Maj. Gen. George G. Meade (Richard Anderson) arrived on the night of July 1 to the Leister Farmhouse and said to Hancock (Mallon), “I hope to God that this is good ground. Is this good ground, General? Is this a place to have an army?” Hancock looked at Meade declared, “Very good ground, sir.” I wish we could have seen more of Meade (Anderson) in the film.
Brian was conveniently located in a room down the hall from me. He had traveled all the way from Ireland to attend the event. I did an interview with him for the November 2018 edition of America’s Civil War and regularly corresponded with him by email, but I hadn’t met him in person. I finally got my chance.
I shook his hand and introduced myself. Ironically, there was a framed print hanging in the hotel’s lobby depicting the real Hancock during the Battle of Gettysburg. I didn’t think to mention it to him at the time but I wish I would have.
My wife, Asha, and I ate dinner at a nice Italian restaurant and then walked to the theater. We took a few pictures of the entrance before making our way inside to find two seats. We entered just as the film’s writer and director, Ron Maxwell, was on stage giving his 25th anniversary address.
The legendary James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr. took the stage after Maxwell. I was overjoyed to hear him speak for the first time.
Even though I had seen the film more times than I could count, it was an unforgettable experience. This was the first time I had seen the film on the big screen. Even better, this was the remastered director’s cut, and there were several scenes that I had never seen before and really enjoyed.
Asha left her seat at one point during the film to get food and bumped into Maxwell at the concession stand. She recognized him from being on stage and introduced herself. She admitted that she had never seen the film before and he told her that he hoped she liked it. (She isn’t a Civil War buff like me but enjoys going along for the ride.) When she told me she ran into him, I told her how jealous I was of her!
An intermission allowed the audience to get refreshments, take a bathroom break, stretch their legs, and mingle with the actors in the lobby.
I had the opportunity to shake hands with another great actor, Patrick Gorman. He memorably portrayed Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood in the film. (I did an interview with Patrick for the blog.) Dozens of people swarmed Gorman to get his autograph or to take a photo with him. I’m lucky I had a chance to say hello. Maxwell said Gorman’s lines had a way of sticking with the audience. I will never forget his notable line to Lt. Gen. James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) before assaulting the Union left flank on the second day of the battle: “They don’t even need guns to defend that. All they need to do is roll rocks down on you!”
Before returning to my seat, I bumped into Stephen Lang (Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett) and James Patrick Stuart (Col. Edward Porter Alexander) in the restroom. While washing my hands it dawned on me: I’m standing next to Alexander and Pickett! It caught me off guard, and I will be the first to admit that I was too starstruck to say anything to either of them. It seemed surreal that I was in the presence of two people I grew up admiring.
The film ended at around 11:00 p.m. and the special guests were invited on stage for a curtain call. They lined up on the stage in this order (from left to right): James Patrick Stuart (Col. Edward Porter Alexander), Andrew Prine (Brig. Gen. Richard B. Garnett), Patrick Gorman (Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood), Bo Brinkman (Major Walter H. Taylor), Brian Mallon (Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock), Patrick Falci (Maj. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill), Olivia Maxwell (Taneytown Girl), Stephen Lang (Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett), Randy Edelman (the film’s composer), and Ron Maxwell (the writer and director). After a brief introduction from each, they locked hands and bowed to a hearty round of applause from the audience.
They spent another hour or two at a large table in the theater’s lobby signing photos or Gettysburg memorabilia. The one thing that impressed me most was their willingness to sign memorabilia, take photos, or converse with every single individual that approached them. They left many people with great memories that night. It was an experience that I will never forget.
I do regret that I didn’t make a point to find Randy Edelman and thank him for the film’s wonderful soundtrack. I have it saved on my YouTube workout playlist and can’t express how many times I have listened to it.
The next morning, I bumped into Brian Mallon for the second time as we were leaving the hotel. It was great to see him one more time before I left. It made my day.
I left Gettysburg that Sunday feeling thrilled to see that there are so many people still passionate about the film twenty-five years later. Hopefully, the enthusiasm for it will carry on for many more decades.