[This post is participating in The Cooler’s Politics and Movies blog-a-thon.]
I don’t know how my mom ever got me to watch the film 1776 in the first place. Probably it was by turning it on to watch it herself and relying on the hypnotic spell of the TV to pull me in. Ever since she did, I have spent a large part of my life trying — and failing, mostly — to persuade others to see it too. You see, the movie is almost impossible to describe without making it sound like “eat your vegetables” or “floss your teeth” or “do your homework” — something boring but essential because it’s good for you (shudder), even though it’s actually as entertaining a two hours as you’re ever likely to spend. Its educational value is just a nice little plus.
Here, I’ll show you what I mean:
1776 is the true story of how the Second Continental Congress, which at first opposed the idea of separating from Great Britain, eventually came to adopt the Declaration of Independence. And it’s a musical!
See? You couldn’t possibly want less to watch it now, could you? The fact that it’s a musical only seems to confirm that it’s a subject so dreary that it needs some added flavor, like oatmeal. Let me try again:
In 1776, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin persuade a reluctant Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, and a reluctant Congress to adopt it.
Ugh, that’s worse. Try this on for size:
They’re not just names in history books. They’re not just stodgy portraits, marble statues, or dry-as-dust lists of accomplishments. They were ordinary people like you and me. 1776 makes them accessible and shows how they achieved the impossible.
Oy. Clearly I’m trying too hard. Maybe if I concoct a modern high-impact movie trailer using scenes from the film and some dramatic narration…
NARRATOR You know how it ends. Close up on the new Declaration of Independence as John Hancock adds his distinctive signature. HOPKINS That's a pretty large signature, Johnny. HANCOCK So Fat George in London can read it without his glasses! NARRATOR But it almost didn't happen. Congress in session. RUTLEDGE South Carolina will bury now and forever your dream of independence! Congress in session. ADAMS They stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our blood! NARRATOR In a world that doesn't know freedom... Congress in session. DICKINSON I have no objections at all to being part of the greatest empire on earth! Congress in session. RUTLEDGE Black slavery is our peculiar institution and a cherished way of life. NARRATOR ...a secret cabal... Franklin indicates Jefferson, Adams, and himself. FRANKLIN (singing) A farmer, a lawyer, and a sage! NARRATOR ...defies the mightiest army on earth... Congress in session. THOMSON (reading a dispatch) "There can be no doubt that their destination is New York for to take and hold this city and the Hudson Valley beyond would serve to separate New England from the other colonies permitting both sections to be crushed in turn." NARRATOR ...and an even greater enemy: apathy... Congress in session. HANCOCK (distractedly) General Washington will continue wording his dispatches as he sees fit, and I'm sure we all pray that he finds happier thoughts to convey in the near -- (swats a fly) -- future. Outside Congress. ADAMS (singing to the heavens) A second Flood, a simple famine, Plagues of locusts everywhere Or a cataclysmic earthquake I'd accept with some despair But no, you've sent us Congress! Good God, sir, was that fair? NARRATOR ...to attempt the impossible. Franklin and Adams scheming outdoors. FRANKLIN No colony has ever broken from the parent stem in the history of the world! NARRATOR One man with a vision... Congressional chamber, empty. ADAMS (singing) I see fireworks! I see the pageant and pomp and parade! I hear the bells ringing out! I hear the cannons roar! I see Americans, all Americans Free forevermore! NARRATOR ...one man with a quill... Jefferson appears at his window and lets a paper flutter down to Adams and Franklin in the street below. ADAMS Franklin, look! He's written something -- he's done it! (reads) "Dear Mr. Adams: I am taking my wife back to bed. Kindly go away. Your obedient, T. Jefferson." FRANKLIN (admiringly) What, again?! NARRATOR ...and one man with the savvy to see it through... Congress in session. FRANKLIN We've spawned a new race here -- rougher, simpler, more violent, more enterprising, and less refined. We're a new nationality, Mr. Dickinson. We require a new nation. NARRATOR ...must overcome incredible odds... Congress in session. ADAMS But it'll never be unanimous, dammit! DICKINSON (pleased) If you say so, Mr. Adams. NARRATOR ...their personal prejudices... Franklin and Adams scheming outdoors. FRANKLIN Nobody listens to you. You're obnoxious and disliked. Hopkins and Franklin milling about in the Congressional chamber. HOPKINS You are without a doubt a rogue, a rascal, a villain, a thief, a scoundrel, and a mean, dirty, stinking, sniveling, sneaking, pimping, pocket-picking, thrice double-damned, no good son of a bitch. Outside Congress. JEFFERSON (singing) Oh, Mr. Adams, you are driving me to homicide! NARRATOR ...and their own weaknesses... Adams and Jefferson in Jefferson's apartment. ADAMS Do you mean to say it's not finished?! JEFFERSON No, sir. I mean to say it's not begun. Adams and his wife. ADAMS I've always been dissatisfied, I know that. But lately I find that I reek of discontentment. It fills my throat and floods my brain. Franklin and Adams in Congress. FRANKLIN What will posterity think we were -- demigods? NARRATOR ...to prove to the world... Congress in session. ADAMS Certainly we require the aid of a powerful nation like France or Spain. Congress in session. DICKINSON Mr. Jefferson, are you seriously suggesting that we publish a paper declaring to all the world that an illegal rebellion is, in reality, a legal one? NARRATOR ...that all men... Adams and Franklin in the Congressional chamber. FRANKLIN Whether you like it or not, they and the people they represent will be a part of the new country you'd hope to create! Either start learning how to live with them or pack up and go home! NARRATOR ...are created equal. Congress in session. FRANKLIN There's no backing out now. If we don't hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately! Laughter. HANCOCK Gentlemen, forgive me if I don't join in the merriment, but if we're arrested now, my name is still the only one on the damn thing!