South may not always be right, but they’re never wrong

Executive Producer Spike Lee assisted with the making of the 2004 comedy/drama. (www.csathemovie.com)

Executive Producer Spike Lee assisted with the making of the 2004 comedy/drama. (www.csathemovie.com)

“CSA: The Confederate States of America” is a satirical mock documentary that rides the line between facetious and farcical. It takes the idea that the South win Gettysburg and from there the civil war; or War Between the States as it is called in this history.

Written and directed by Kevin Willmott, the film takes place in modern times as if you were watching television in San Francisco, but the name of the television station carrying this racy unexpunged “documentary” is ConfederateTV.

That is the setup. You begin as a member of this alternate reality settling in to watch the “British Broadcasting Service” documentary. To keep with this idea that it is television, there are advertising breaks throughout the film.

The breaks are there to show how latent racism is still in our society through means such as advertising. Also the advertisements are usually the most offensive but humorous parts of the film.

There are stretches of the film where you will find yourself waiting for an advertising break. That is a bad sign for the film, but a fact that must be noted. It is not the fault of the film, but simply speaks of the way it is written.

To describe the film, the definition of satire needs to be explained. According to Merriam-Webster, satire is, “A literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn. A trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly”.

A more colloquial view of the word is what would most apply to this film. The more cynical idea that satire has to have a deep message within that, while meaningful, is just not terribly funny.

That is how this film is. In the short history of film there have been some really good pieces of satire like “Dr. Strangelove,” “Wag the Dog” or “Bulworth”. Comedy troupes like Monty Python and nearly everything Mel Brooks has done was a deft blend of social commentary with humor.

The humor is the main distinction between those films and CSA. Those were funny, completely independent of the message. This film asks you to laugh because of its own self-importance.

When it is trying its hardest to communicate how horrible this alternate reality is, the “jokes” feel the most belabored and forced. In trying to make light of the heavy handed nature of its subject and its message, it actually ends up muddling it into a much more mediocre film than it had to be.

The main problem is that Willmott tries here to make a film funnier than he is. He takes the idea and runs with it for as long as he can. It does produce some rather imaginative ideas of what would happen if American history went this way, but by the end of the film it feels as though this one trick pony has been flogged long after it has died.

Not that this film is completely without merit. It should be seen at least once as it does raise eyebrows and questions which is one of the points of this kind of satire.

Willmott does accomplish what he sets out to do but only just barely. After watching it, no matter how much you enjoyed it or not, you will not be able to resist feeling that in more capable hands it could have been done better.