Finding Josephine: ‘A’ for Effort, ‘D’ for History

A lovesick woman dons a Confederate uniform to find her husband in this indie Civil War drama.

Written and directed by country musician Rory Feek (cowritten by Aaron Carnahan), Finding Josephine (2019) purportedly follows the true story of Josephine Robison, who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Confederate Army to find her husband. In many ways it’s a typical love story, but the film tackles issues of gender and sexuality during the war, topics usually avoided in this genre.

Finding Josephine is framed by the director’s personal story about how love letters he allegedly found in a farmhouse in Tennessee led him to write a song that sparked the love between him and his future wife, who tragically died of cancer. The film was originally supposed to be released in 2016, but the death of his wife postponed it. Feek inter-spliced their personal story with the film, topping it out at 81 minutes.

The year is 1864. Josephine Robison (Alice Coulthard) works on her family farm, while her husband John (Mitch Eakins) is off fighting in the 3rd Tennessee Regiment. Unable to bear her loneliness, she disguises herself as a man and enlists in the Confederate Army, where she hopes to find him. Her journey takes her all the way from the back roads of Tennessee to the trenches around Richmond, Virginia.

Along the way, Josephine falls in with a small group of soldiers, including a gruff old man named Tally Simpson (Boris McGiver), a sadistic sergeant named Sturgill Marks (Jessejames Locorriere), and a boy named Whit (Matthew Alan Brady). Every moment threatens to expose her secret. Can she survive the war–and her fellow soldiers–to be reunited with her lost love?

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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Zac Efron steals the show as serial killer Ted Bundy, and that’s the problem.

Written by Michael Werwie and directed by Joe Berlinger, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) is based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall. While ostensibly about Ted Bundy’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend, whose call to the police eventually led to his capture, the film focuses too much on Bundy’s dark charisma and courtroom antics.

The film opens at a bar in Seattle in 1969, where single mother Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins) meets handsome Theodore “Ted” Bundy (Zac Efron) for the first time, and the audience is mercifully spared the usual nods to 1960s counter-culture. Ted gets along well with her daughter, Molly, and seems to embrace the fatherly role. Things turn dark, however, when Ted is arrested at a traffic stop in 1975 and charged with kidnapping Carol Daronch (Grace Victoria Cox).

Though conflicted, and despite the protestations of her best friend, Joanna (Angela Sarafyan), Elizabeth is in denial that Ted could have committed the horrible acts of which he’s suspected. She grows increasingly distant as Ted’s legal troubles multiply, and he is accused of multiple murders. In prison, Ted rekindles an old flame with Carol Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario), while trying desperately to keep Elizabeth’s affection. Can Elizabeth break this destructive emotional bond and move on with her life?

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Did ‘White Privilege’ Enable Ted Bundy?

Police, prosecutors, and a Florida jury had no problem strapping this heinous killer in the electric chair.

Actor Zac Efron, who plays serial killer Theodore “Ted” Bundy in Netflix’s new film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019), has claimed in multiple interviews that ‘white privilege’ allowed Ted Bundy to continue his killing spree that resulted in the murder of 30 young women in the 1970s.

Efron told an interviewer at the Tribeca Film Festival “The fact is that this movie really happened. The fact is that the whole world, literally, all the media, everybody, was capable of believing that this guy was innocent. Talk about white privilege, talk about white… whatever. Every major topic in this movie is bent on showing you how evil this person is.”

He also told Ellen DeGeneres, “Ted Bundy was a clean-cut white dude who just did not seem ‘white person.’ So, talk about white privilege,” Efron said. “What he got away with back then, nobody would be able to do today.”

It’s indisputable that Bundy cultivated the image of a clean-cut law student to mask his homicidal tendencies. He often posed as an injured person in need of help to lure women into a false sense of security. His conventionally handsome features continued to work in his favor as he proclaimed his innocence at trial and racked up a bevvy of female admirers.

“The first time I saw him, he didn’t look like a serial killer. He looked like a Philadelphia lawyer,” said Jury Foreman Patrick E. Wolski.

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Did Women Fight in the Civil War?

Yes! Hundreds of women donned blue or gray uniforms to fight alongside men.

The indie film Finding Josephine (2019) purportedly follows the true story of Josephine Robison, who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Confederate Army to find her husband. Although I couldn’t find any evidence the real Josephine Robison did this, hundreds of women during the American Civil War (1861-1865) actually did.

When the Civil War broke out between the North and South in 1861, women didn’t just sit on the sidelines. It’s estimated between 2.75 and 3 million men served in combat in Union and Confederate armies and navies during the war, which meant women were needed to tend farms, work in textile industries, sew flags and uniforms, and fill roles traditionally filled by men in that era. Thousands worked as nurses, and many others as spies. Some, like Rose O’Neal Greenhow, gave their lives for their cause. Still others served a more unsavory role as camp followers and prostitutes.

While impossible to know for certain, it’s estimated somewhere between 400 and 750 women disguised themselves to enlist in Union and Confederate armies. Some were quickly discovered and discharged for “sexual incompatibility.” Others were discovered when they became pregnant. But still others served their entire enlistment, fought in battles, and even died in the line of duty.

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Is ‘Finding Josephine’ Bullshit?

This interesting Civil War tale is purportedly based on a true story, but there’s reason to be skeptical.

As both a Civil War and film enthusiast, I try to watch every movie set during the American Civil War. I recently purchased Finding Josephine (2019) on Amazon Prime, and thought this indie film was well constructed and had an interesting story. It revolves around issues of gender and sexuality during the war, topics usually avoided in this genre.

Its creator, country musician Rory Feek, claims the story is based on Civil War-era letters he discovered in a Tennessee farmhouse he purchased in 1999. The letters were written by a man named John Robison to his wife Josephine while he was away fighting in the Confederate Army. In the film, his unit is identified as the “3rd Tennessee.”

He wrote a pretty catchy song about the letters, and according to his Kickstarter page, a Virginia man contacted him with letters supposedly written by Josephine to John while John was fighting in Virginia. That inspired him to make a movie about their experience. In the movie, Josephine misses him so much, she dresses like a man and joins the Confederate Army and goes all the way to Virginia to find him.

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Field of Lost Shoes

An emotional tribute to young cadets who fought and died in the American Civil War.

Written by Thomas Farrell and David M. Kennedy and directed by Sean McNamara, Field of Lost Shoes (2014) tells the story of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market during the American Civil War. Despite an obviously low budget and inexperienced cast, the film is charming and emotionally engaging; one of the better Civil War films to be released in recent years.

Robert (Nolan Gould) is a freshman cadet, or “Rat”, who falls in with a tight group of upperclassmen, including John Wise (Luke Benward), an ex-governor’s son, and Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman), an aspiring sculptor and the first Jewish cadet at VMI. The war forms a backdrop to schoolboy antics like hazing, stealing food from the Institute’s enslaved cook, Old Judge (Keith David), and pursuing a romantic interest with the local girls, including Libby Clinedinst (Mary Mouser).

War comes knocking on their doorstep, however, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt) sends Franz Sigel (Werner Daehn) and Captain Henry A. DuPont (David Arquette) with an army to subdue the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing him with a much smaller force is Confederate general and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs).

Breckinridge badly needs reinforcements, and he reluctantly sends for the VMI cadets, who his battle-hardened veterans regard as nothing more than children playing soldier. Will the cadets get there in time, and more importantly, will they prove their worth on the battlefield?

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Iceman: A Harrowing Glimpse at Human Prehistory

A Neolithic revenge story seeks to explain the mysterious man found frozen in the Alps.

Written and directed by Felix Randau, and originally release in Germany in 2017 as Der Mann aus dem Eis, Iceman purports to tell the story of a Copper Age man preserved in the frozen Alps for 5,000 years. Beautiful landscapes and harrowing authenticity help balance what might otherwise be a one-dimensional revenge plot.

Kelab (Jürgen Vogel), Kisis (Susanne Wuest), and their clan are living in the Ötztal Alps around 3000 BC, where Kelab protects a fetish called Tineka. The clan is blessed with the birth of a child, but grieved by the loss of its mother. When Kelab is off hunting in the woods, a trio of raiders attack his village, slaughter its inhabitants, and steal their idol. Filled with a desire for revenge, Kelab rescues the newborn and pursues the raiders.

Along the way, Kelab interacts with other Neolithic people, including an old man, Ditob (Franco Nero), and his daughter Mitar (Violetta Schurawlow), in their sparsely populated valley. Can Kelab survive the harsh elements to exact revenge and take back his sacred Tineka?

Iceman was inspired by Ötzi the Iceman. In 1991, Alpine hikers discovered a mummified body partially frozen in ice. Shockingly, scientists dated its age to somewhere between 3400 and 3100 BC. The adult male was so well preserved that scientists were able to determine precisely what he ate in the days before he died. Most intriguingly, they discovered his cause of death was an arrow impaled in his back, compounded by other injuries.

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