RONALD F. MAXWELL
His epic films of the Civil War Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003) have established Maxwell as cinema’s leading interpreter of that complex, lethal, heroic period in American history. Copperhead extends that study into the realm of small town American life, where the conflicts hundreds of miles from the battlefields are no less vigorous or violent.
Raised in Clifton, New Jersey – son of a World War II veteran and his French war bride – Maxwell studied filmmaking at NYU and made his first mark directing Sissy Spacek and William Hurt in Verna: USO Girl, a television feature for which Maxwell was nominated for an Emmy. His first theatrical film Little Darlings (1980) was a box-office smash that starred Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol. Over the course of the next decade, while gathering the support to realize his ambitions for Gettysburg, Maxwell directed other features (The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Parent Trap II, Kidco) and a documentary study of the Nicaraguan Civil War: In the Land of the Poets (1987). Maxwell looks upon Copperhead as a natural extension of his interest in the American Civil War – an intimate story that holds up a distant mirror to divisions still afflicting the United States today. He is by no means finished with this preoccupation. In 2007, Maxwell optioned Speer Morgan’s 1979 book Belle Starr, about the woman who rode with Quantrill’s Raiders – the Confederate guerilla group that included Jesse James – and who headed west after the war, where she was known as Queen of the Outlaws. Maxwell is currently in preproduction on an epic trilogy of movies: Joan of Arc: The Virgin Warrior.
Novelist, biographer, memoirist, and self-confessed delirious localist who years ago left Washington, D.C., to return to his small hometown, Bill Kauffman’s politics are difficult to categorize. Is he left-wing, right-wing, libertarian? Kauffman resists all labels and has made a prolific career of debunking any accounts that mythologize the past rather than explore its complexity. His many books – most notably Ain’t My America and Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet – have been praised for their rigor and honesty by such diverse figures of the American spectrum as Christopher Hitchens, Ron Paul, and Gore Vidal. The late liberal Senator George McGovern called Kauffman: “A conservative of the highest order, unlike the false brand now conducting our national affairs.” This is Kauffman’s first screenplay. As a born and bred native of the Upstate New York region, he has long been aware of the novels of his fellow landsman Harold Frederic, upon whose 1893 novel Copperhead is based.
(Novelist, 1856 – 1898)
Born and raised in Utica, New York, his father killed in a train wreck when he was less than two years old, Frederic was raised primarily by his mother and witnessed as a small child the events he would transpose into his 1893 novel The Copperhead. A rebellious and adventurous character as an adult, this New York Times London correspondent maintained two families in England. His best-known book was The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), about a Methodist minister’s crisis of faith. Frederic died of a stroke not long after it was published.
Had he lived another ten years, he might have become celebrated on a level with his contemporaries Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane, but his reputation in death was badly obscured by the scandals of his personal life. Even so, his admirers have included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson. Most recently, Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post called The Damnation of Theron Ware a minor classic of realism.