Eat your vegetables

[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:

Franklin.
Jefferson.
Adams.
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!

One thought on “Eat your vegetables

  1. fattyz

    Happy to find your post as i also am a big fan and am doing some research on the historical accuracy of the movie. (so far it seems it’s not very accurate as many liberties were taken to make the events a cogent movie) however, as you stated, it “brings the events to life” in a way i had never before experienced. Since we don’t have actual cable tv and haven’t for over 15 years, we watch lots of dvd’s. This year we got 1776 on dvd (so good to get rid of those old vcr tapes) and in light of the recent election (which did not go my way) I have been watching it over and over. It is truly a great movie, story, and musical.

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