On the 14rh of February, the movie The Revenant was honored with a number of awards, both at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, in London – including Best Cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Leading Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Sound (Lon Bender, Chris Duesterdiek, Martin Hernandez, Frank A. Montaño, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom), and Best Film of 2016 (Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon) – and on this side of the Atlantic at the 30th American Society of Cinematographers Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography, also presented to Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC for his extraordinary work under brutal conditions. Shooting with the sun so close to the horizon, so that the days were extremely short, and often only amenable to shooting for a fraction of the day which would otherwise have been possible; and the Canadian winter so very dangerously cold, day after day life and limb were at riskl making enormous demands on the actors, the crew, and even the equipment, in such an extraordinarily hostile environment.
In an interview with Matthew Grobar, for Deadline, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki explains:
“A normal day of working in Burbank is 14 hours, sometimes more. On The Revenant sometimes it was eight hours, but we were shooting only five. So they were short days but they were very strenuous because of the weather. And it was very dark. That was one of the reasons to shoot with this digital camera that allows you to shoot in those lighting conditions.
The other thing is, we’re seeing expanses of land that are so big it would have been ridiculous to try to light them or light the faces of the actor but not light the background. It would have looked terrible. …”
When asked about the dreadful Canadian winter temps, DiCaprio also acknowledged that it was very rough going, but that each of those who were involved in the project did their best:
“It was a team effort. We all knew what we were getting into. We knew we weren’t going on a tropical vacation in Hawaii or the Maldives; we knew we were going to be submerged in the wilderness like this, but at the end of the day, we have a great piece of art to show for it.”
In the same red-carpet interview, Director Iñárritu agrees:
“Every day, we struggled with different conditions. We had to adapt, and in a way surrender to the circumstances. Something that was beneficial for all of us was to learn about Nature – and the way Leo and all the actors were reacting and acting is ‘reacting’ – and when you have those elements around you to enhance the performance, it was a benefit to the film.
Obviously, it was difficult physically for all of us, but we knew what we went through – and in the end we knew what we accomplished – we felt that we were doing what we had to do, you know?”
All three of the visionaries for the film – including cinematographer Emmanuel Lubitzki, award-winning Art Director Jack Fisk, and Director Alejandro Iñárritu – had collaborated on this extraordinary film as an adaptation of New York Times #1 Best Seller “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge,” by Michael Punke; and although there were painstaking rehearsals for weeks on-end, in order to fine-tune things for timing like clockwork for certain elements for a confluence of reasons — especially since they had reaced a consensus that the film would be captured using natural light – but there were also sequences in which they had enough of an understanding among themselves, and with this group of very talented actors, it was also possible to take risks and improvise, from time to time, and this lent a kind of magical quality that was also captured, for all time.
The notion that the main character in the novel and the movie is actually called Hugh Glass is a bit of a stretch, though, even for Hollywood; since there seems to be ample evidence in a few of the truest versions of this story, recorded contemporaneously – as well as the one which appears here as a graphic to accompany this article – is a newspaper account on Sunday, July 2, 1922, (which one can read fairly easily by double-clicking on the graphic).
The event on which the novel and film are said to have been based, took place in August of 1823, according to official entries in the record at the time, by individuals who witnessed it first-hand, and is a far cry from the story that’s told here, in The Revenant.
A website devoted to historical accuracy of this legendary exploit of Hugh Glass with William Ashley, and Andrew Henry’s expedition up the Missouri River, and his having gotten in between a sow grizzly and her cubs and been mauled almost unto death, in a timeline at HughGlass.org clarifies further:
“The slow pace created double jeopardy since both the men with Henry and the men on the Yellowstone were in greater danger until united. Realizing this, Henry asked for two volunteers to remain with Glass for the few days he had left, give him a proper burial and then travel to the fort. For taking on this dangerous task the volunteers would receive an $80 bonus. This plan allowed Henry’s group to move rapidly across country yet fulfill his Christian-invoked obligation to a member of his company.
The men who agreed to accept Henry’s offer to stay with Glass were experienced woodsman John Fitzgerald and a young man who was on his first venture into uncharted wilderness. The original account of this incident, written by James Hall and published in 1825, does not name either of the two volunteers. However the other three early accounts of the Glass story gave the name of the older man as John Fitzgerald. Only the 1838 article authored by Edmund Flagg provided the name of the younger man as “Bridges.” In his comprehensive history of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, historian Hiram M. Chittenden named James Bridger, then nineteen years of age, as the younger man based primarily on information received from upper Missouri River boat captain Joseph La Barge. Because Chittenden was the first to author a scholarly researched and documented history of this era, many contemporary historians quote Chittenden in naming James Bridger as the second man.”
There was no wife, and no son that was half-Pawnee that is referred to in any record. The primary sources reveal a feat that is impressive enough, as-is; and rather than his having “crawled” hundreds of miles south to Fort Kiowa, it’s fairly obvious to anyone casting an eye on a detailed map of the area where the struggle took place, that it is far more likely that it was a downstream voyage on the Grand River (The Missouri), rather than a trek overland, that allowed the real Hugh Glass to reach Fort Kiowa.
Hugh Glass, himself, would then reach at least one of the men who jad believed they were ultimately forced by circumstance to leave him after several days by his side; and what is even more significant then – for the purposes of an American frontier classic tale of the struggle for survival in the wilderness – is that the real Hugh Glass actually reconciled with at least one of the two members of the brigade who had reported his death simply because they could not believe he could possible survive and simple left him for dead, as it was. Glass then managed to recover his shotgun that had been toted away by the other member of the brigade, who by that had enlisted in the U.S. Army, and no fight-to-the-death with a vengeance with anyone by the name of Fitzgerald, ever took place.
It is understandable that Glass would have borne resentment for each of the two men who had lied about his death, because that had then foreclosed any further attempt for his rescue or recovery.
The production of an earlier film, “Man in the Wilderness,” featuring Richard Harris, released in 1972, had the good grace, one would have to say, to name the main character ‘Zachary Bass,’ (since it, too, was said to have been “inspired by” the iconic stature of Glass, himself) which seems right and proper, as a way to honor the true exploits and adventurous spirit of the real Hugh Glass whose achievements. such as they were, are heroic and adventuresome indeed; and are based in far better-documented facts, rather than a fictional tale that has the effect of portraying an iconic American frontiersman in a way that is almost entirely untrue in important ways, and is unbecoming of Hugh Glass, as a ,man and as a legendary character of the nation,