Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fourth film recommendation

On the Fourth of July, my sister-in-law, nephew, and I watched the musical 1776.

I saw 1776 for the first time on TV years ago. It must have been in the 1970s, because I graduated from high school in1979, and it was before that. In fact, it was when my second brother was still home, so it must have been before 1977, and if it was when we still lived in Phoenix, Arizona, which it may well have been, it was 1976 or earlier. Maybe they showed it on TV close to the Bicentennial.

Anyway, I loved it, and I always cherished the memory of John Adams as portrayed in this musical. Since then, I have read three books about him, one a novel, Those Who Love, by Irving Stone, historical fiction, yes, but I learned a lot in my youth from historical fiction; another a book about John Adams' whole family, called Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family, by Paul C. Nagel; and most recently David McCullough's biography, John Adams.

I admire Adams so much more than Jefferson, though I supposed one need not place them in competition. The thing was that Adams was not only brilliant, he also had sterling personal integrity, while Jefferson thought and wrote great thoughts but was, as a history prof of mine at Calvin put it, "flabby" in terms of living the kind of life he should.

Adams was a devoted husband and a caring, if somewhat obsessive, father, and he worked hard and lived honestly. Jefferson took a slave concubine, had children with her, accumulated debt he couldn't pay, and talked about the evils of slavery, but never freed his slaves. After he died, his own children, born to his slave-mistress (who had no right of refusal of his relationship with her), were auctioned off to pay debts for things he had bought for himself. How anyone could allow his own children to live as slaves and permit a situation where they were sold to who know who to pay for his own selfish pleasures is just beyond my comprehension. I may be judgemental, but in my mind that despicable treatment of his own family members outweighs all the noble sentiments Thomas Jefferson penned.

But anyway, I admire John Adams, and I enjoy his portrayal in 1776. It's a long movie, especially the restored director's cut--166 minutes, which is a minute over two and three quarters of an hour--but it's well worth the time. Funny, clever, not idealizing the Founding Fathers but not debunking them or destroying their characters either. It's a good musical, and a good movie.

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