Happy Independence Day! Well…to our American readers, anyway. To the rest of you guys – Happy Wednesday, I suppose? At any rate, for a quick little history lesson, today’s the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the Founding Fathers signed our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Fun Facts: Our Actual-Factual Independence day is July 2nd, as that’s when the original 13 colonies were legally separated from Britain, but that’s neither here nor there. Also, a lot of historians seem to think that the Declaration wasn’t actually signed until the beginning of August, but we’ll let them sort that out.
SO – now that we’re all caught up, there are some pretty traditional celebrations associated with today, but since we are who we are and we do what we do, watching movies is at least included on the list, if not the only thing on it. And to that end, there are also a list of traditional movies people associate with today, but, rather than go with the obvious, I figured I’d offer a few films that are worth your time no matter the day of the year. These aren’t necessarily “The Best” or “The Most…” in any particular category, but they have – at the very least – a loose connection to the festivities at hand. In no particular order…
1. The Sandlot (Evans, 1993)
More of a quintessential summer movie than a strict 4th of July Movie, The Sandlot is one of those films that stands the test of time as one of the best representations of what summer means to a kid. It’s centered around baseball on the narrative, but thematically there’s not a kid who grew up in America who can’t relate to what this group of littles went through. It’s great.
Why It’s Here: As it so happens, Independence Day happens in the summer (who knew?), and there’s a scene where the boys take advantage of the neighborhood’s amazing fireworks display to light up the field for their only night game of the year. It’s a great scene on the surface – what with Benny’s homerun spotlighted by the colors and flickers of the explosions in the sky, soundtracked by Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful”, but what’s even more remarkable about it is that, to the majority of kids that age, THAT’S what the 4th of July is. Sure they learned the history of it in class, but they don’t have a real use for it. The 4th is just the day when everyone gets together and grills and shoots off fireworks. But when you see the looks on those kids’ faces as they’re watching both the baseball and the fireworks, you see exactly what they see – magic. It’s a day when anything is possible. And even though it’s not overt reference in the movie it’s a perfect emotional encapsulation of what July 4th, 1776 was all about.
Also – Benny’s full name? Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez. Represent, son.
2 – Blowout (DePalma, 1981)
DePalma’s thrilling ode to filmmaking concerns a sound engineer (John Travolta) who’s convinced he’s accidentally recorded a political assassination. Thematically it deals with voyeurism, guilt, redemption and, in a sort of metatextual way, the role of filmmaking in helping to uncover certain truths about all manner of things. In other words, it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Independence Day. But it’s amazing and probably as sincere a love letter to the craft as you’re going to find.
Why It’s Here: This is definitely the loosest of the bunch, but what the hey – late in the film, Travolta’s Jack Terry has set Travis’ Sally up as bait to catch the bad guy they’re after (It’s been long enough since I’ve seen it that I honestly can’t remember if his identity is a spoiler or not, so I won’t mention it, just in case) during Philadelphia’s Liberty Day Festivities – a March 16th holiday to celebrate the birth of James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution” (more history!). The Bad Guy, knowing that Jack has Sally wired for sound, waits until the big fireworks show before he attacks her. Jack rushes to save her and it all culminates on a rooftop in front of an amazingly huge American flag. That shot of Sally reaching out for Jack amidst that masterfully lit field of red & white stripes is among some of DePalma’s best, most iconic visual moments, and serves as a bleak contrast to the similar scene in the Sandlot, if not a bleak allegorical contrast to the American Dream itself, but that’s a much longer discussion for a different day.
Basically I just take any opportunity I can to tell people to watch Blowout.
3 – 1776 (Hunt, 1972)
So if you need there to be at least one (somewhat) traditional movie on deck then this should be it. Adapted from the Broadway play of the same name, 1776 is a musical about the development, drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence with William Daniels, Howard Da Silva and Ken Howard starring as Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, respectively. It’s immensely watchable, warm, funny, genuine and moving. The songs are clever and stirring and the performances are exactly what you would expect from a cast of this caliber. It’s no replacement for a serious text or lecture on the subject, but it’s as solid a companion piece to either of those things as you could want.
Why It’s Here: Well, other than the obvious, one of my favorite things about this movie is that it teaches us – in a roundabout way – that we should also thank Ms. Abigail Jefferson today, as it was her good lovin’ that gave Thomas the extra bit of motivation he needed to put that quill to work.
And there ya go! If nothing else that should get you started on a rad little Independence Day Movie Marathon. Or, as a little bonus addition, if you don’t have time to sit down and actually watch a movie, then put on Pawn Stars in the background as you go about your day. At least once an episode someone comes in with some reeeally awesome pieces of American History and the experts they call in are full of all sorts of interesting and wonderful information, so that’s fun. And now it’s your turn – what are your favorite movies to watch today? Let us know in the comments and on the boards and in the meantime, don’t eat too much barbecue and be safe with those fireworks you guys.
Happy Birthday, America!