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Few films about the American Civil War reach the level of granular historical detail and formal playfulness as Jim Finn’s The Annotated Field Guide of Ulysses S. Grant, a musical fantasia that follows the path Grant took to liberate the southern United States from white supremacist occupation between 1861 and 1865. Shot in 16mm, in fields, swamps, and forests along this historical trail, the film treats these sites as wellsprings of visual and aural detail whose richness matches the abundance of information supplied in the accompanying voiceover. Finn’s facetious use of electronic synthesisers on the soundtrack, and plastic figurines taken from board games to recreate battles both major and minor, are shrewd techniques, giving shape to an unmistakable revulsion at the Confederate project – a project whose shadow, Finn seems to imply, American politics cannot step out from.
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