Happy Independence Day, everyone! Get out there and water ski and eat hot dogs and light sparklers and watch the fireworks! But only after taking in these two patriotic movies that get to the heart of the American character.
A MORE PERFECT UNION (1988) ***stars
Commissioned by the U.S. government to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the U.S. constitution, Perfect Union works as an unofficial sequel to 1776. Many of the same historical players from the first movie are back again (Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, John Dickinson, James Wilson). John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are relegated to the edges – they were the USA’s ambassadors to England and France at the time – but in their place we get James Madison (Craig Wasson) and George Washington (Michael McGuire). Both are statesmen who see the United States falling apart and know that only a new form of government can save the country.
The movie accurately depicts what a tough job it was to pull all the states together and create this working constitution which has somehow managed to survive into the 21st century. And how the issues debated at the constitutional convention are still getting debated and reinterpreted today. Yes, it is a bit talky but it is a civics lesson all us citizens should watch at least once to better understand who we are as a nation and as a people.
The film is a bit hard to find these days but you can watch it on YouTube HERE.
TRIVIA: Because it is a government production, the film was shot in the actual Independence Hall where it all originally went down.
NASHVILLE (1975) ****stars
Robert Altman’s American kaleidoscope follows 24 characters over the 4th of July holiday in the country music capital of the world. All of them have something to do with the country music industry. They are either stars or they want to be stars or they want to be connected to the stars. Over the course of 3 days, stars rise, stars fall. People meet, people say goodbye. Friendships are formed, relationships fall apart.
It all comes to a head at a big political rally at the Nashville Parthenon for never seen third party presidential candidate Hal Phillip Walker. We never see Walker but we do here him on the radio spouting the same meaningless populist phrases that politicians still use today.
Though it is almost 40 years old, the movie perfectly captures the wide-ranging American character: our fascination with family and music and celebrity and making money and guns. It is all on display here: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And yet it ends up making you appreciate and love being an American even more despite all our flaws. And it is all set to a collection of original Oscar-winning country songs written by the stars themselves including Keith Carradine's classic "I'm Easy".
See it if you love country music. See it if you want to better understand the wide-ranging beauty of what it means to be an American. How the melting pot comes together, doesn’t always work out, but somehow we manage to keep on keeping on.
Have a happy and safe 4th of July, everyone! I’ll chat with you on Monday.