June 23, 2009 by D Stack
Life’s been somewhat serious of late, probably leading to a diminshment of posting frequency. I’ve thought about some postings on what’s going on in the aftermath of the recent Iranian elections, but I keep thinking the guns and tanks are due to come out any day now.
With the 4th of July approaching, I thought I’d go for something a little bit lighter. Being a history geek (among other types of geekiness) I thought I’d go through some of my favorite Independence Day videos – the movies and videos I’m most likely to watch on the Fourth of July.
Probably my all-time favorite Independence Day movie. This 1972 musical film is based on the Broadway musical of the same name. It shows the process of trying to get unanimous consent in the Continental Congress for a resolution on independence. Done to music of course. The concept sounded so dumb to me it was years before I watched it, though I recall catching pieces of it when I was home for summer break in college – WPIX-11 would air it if I recall correctly. Finally, back in 2002 my startup had just folded leaving me out of work. (Note – this is something I would prefer to avoid this summer.) Even with a newborn baby in the house I had plenty of free time and I happened to catch an airing of this. It manages to be very entertaining while being reasonably faithful to the events leading up to independence – many characters are melded together and there is considerable simplification of many events. And having been a New Englander since 1977 and a Massachusetts resident since 1996, it was nice to see John Adams portrayed as the hero. His final solo, “Is Anybody There”, shows an Adams facing despair as he faces the choice of no independence or accepting a slave-holding nation.
The croakers all say we’ll rue the day
There’ll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I see the rays of ravishing light and glory!
Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?
I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans – all Americans
Free forever more
Liberty! The American Revolution
This 1997 PBS miniseries was a nice break from the early to mid-1990s depictions of the Founding Fathers. While I can accept that they were exalted beyond what any human could consider believable, in the early 1990s their statues seemed to be anthropomorphically knocked off their pedestals and smashed into tiny bits for the sin of being “Dead White Males”.
While certainly covering the war and its battles, I felt this series did an excellent job of portraying what these now-dead white males were hoping to achieve, why it was revolutionary, and what they were risking. It also took its title of “Liberty” very seriously, analyzing just what the word meant – both to the Founders and those who followed them. Historians interviewed in this series acknowledged that while the Founders would not view the statement of “all men are created equal” as applying to women or black men, their concept of liberty was at heart a permissive concept and quite difficult to contain. While obviously having men like Washington, Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson in the foreground, this series also gave focus to common soldiers, former slaves, women, and others often overlooked in history. Much of the narration in this series came from actors portraying historical figures reading actual letters and diary entries. This series made me strongly suspect that Abigail Adams would fit in just fine in the modern world, though she would probably be viewed much like Hillary Clinton was back around 1992-93.
This series does not conclude with the victory at Yorktown but rather devotes a significant amount of time to the problems facing the newly independent United States. The debate around the US Constitution is given a full treatment and the series closes with the inauguration of George Washington.
The History Channel Presents the Revolution
While I’m partial to Liberty! the History Channel covered similar ground in its coverage of the Revolution. I give it major points for featuring perhaps the most hysterical scene I’ve ever seen in a documentary – the British capture of Washington’s main rival in the Continental Army, General Charles Lee, who was writing letters in his dressing gown from a New Jersey tavern instead of reinforcing General Washington…
I’ve just begun this HBO miniseries, so I can’t really give it a fair review. But so far I’ve found it quite enjoyable. The first episode features Adams defending the British soldiers from the Boston Massacre in court, showcasing the man’s sense of fairness. I’ll probably update this posting as I see more of it. In any case, the book by Dave McCullough is very well written and rescued Adams from being just the “Alien and Sedition Acts” president.