C.S.A: The Confederate States of America (Kevin Willmott). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (June 16). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
What if the South had triumphed in the Civil War, not merely separating into its own country, but conquering the North and turning the whole country into the last great slave-holding state on earth?
More to the point, what if Ken Burns then made a documentary about it?
That is the joke behind the satirical "documentary" C.S.A.: The Confederate States Of America . And once you get the joke and admire Kevin Willmott 's precise evocation of Burns's lunatic austerity, you've still got, oh, 85 minutes of picture to sit through.
C.S.A. is exquisitely made, but it doesn't have the cuckoo logic and sense of play it really needs to pull off a feature-length prank. Some jokes have local interest: the flight of freedom-minded blacks to Canada meant that rock 'n' roll was invented here, not in Memphis and Chicago, for example.
The clever framing device posits the film as a controversial English documentary being shown on American commercial television, complete with ads for astonishingly racist products like Niggerhair Cigarettes - the joke being, as we discover in the end credits, that all the products advertised at some point actually existed.
Spike Lee is credited as "presenter," but after seeing his name all I can think is that Bamboozled was a much cannier take on the American racial imagination. And more outrageous as well.