Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.John Dickinson, 1776
Today I discovered to my horror that I have never written a proper review for my favorite Independence Day movie. Facebook reminded me that I sat down on July 4, 2013 and watched the Blu-ray version of:
But on that day eight years ago, I wrote a single line of text as a review for Facebook. I also quoted the movie twice, the quotes I include here, but all in all, not much of a review for a movie that I have seen no less than a score of times now. I searched the blog for a review; and while I have mentioned the movie many times here, I have never written an article just for the movie itself. I will rectify this lack of a proper review here and now.
1776 started life as a musical written by Peter Stone and the movie was written by Stone and directed by Peter H. Hunt. I have watched a variant of this film on the fourth of July every year since the Wife convinced me that musicals could be interesting by forcing me to sit down and watch A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum back at the beginning of our relationship. After that movie it was time to watch My Fair Lady and Victor/Victoria to name just two of my favorite musicals. On and on this introduction to the genre went, until I actually wanted to watch The Sound of Music for myself, and then I had to admit that there were some musicals that were okay. Somewhere in the middle of this educational series we sat down and watched a friend’s laserdisc copy of 1776.
The story of the existence of this version of the film is a tale all on its own. Peter Stone wrote his narrative on the creation of the Declaration of Independence back in 1969, and it was performed on Broadway 1,217 times. It was an unlikely success given its subject matter and the fact that the play went nearly thirty minutes between songs in the first act. It is a who-dun-it of a story about events that we know transpired successfully, and yet you wonder how it ever happened as you watch the actors on the screen. After the play left Broadway it was picked up to be made into a movie, the screenplay for which Peter Stone also wrote. He and the director struck up a good working relationship, and both were pleased with the resulting film when they put it to bed in preparation for its scheduled wide release.
Unbeknownst to them, the producer of the film, Jack Warner, had gotten a personal phone call from Tricky Dick Nixon, requesting that the musical not be released without at least being modified from the stage play. Specifically, he wanted this song removed from the film:
Jack Warner happily obliged, taking a handy pair of scissors to the film that he had told the director and the writer would not be altered from their approved cut. In the end he removed not only the offending song, but several other scenes and verses of songs so that the film flowed more to his personal liking.
After this radical revision it should have been no mystery why the movie went on to financial failure, being shoved into the historical waist bin along with the objectionable parts of the movie that Jack Warner removed. Except that the removed sections were not destroyed as Jack Warner directed. His secretary took the scenes out of the trash and preserved them so that they could be returned to the film’s director. This way he would know what had happened to the movie that he had so lovingly crafted over the preceding years, but had never been allowed to be seen by movie goers.
Decades went by, and interests came and went. There was talk of a revival of the Broadway musical, and along with it the question of what happened to the movie version that had tanked so horribly when it was released? Enough interest was generated that Pioneer contacted Warner Brothers and Peter Hunt about creating a laserdisc version of the movie for interested collectors.
Peter Hunt decided to reassemble the original film for Pioneer’s laserdisc version. The movie is complete with Jack Warner’s scribbles at the edit points, and the dust and scratch marks on several of the removed scenes. One removed scene was only available in black and white, a test-run, a connective shot that explains why some characters are outside the hall when the crucial independence declaration arrived from Virginia. There is a secondary audio on the laserdisc that goes into more depth about the story that I’ve related here as well. If you have a laserdisc player, you really should own a copy of this movie on laserdisc. It, like the making of The Abyss on its laserdisc release, is unique. There is no place else to find the exact content that is on that disc.
Watching that version of the film is to travel back in time to the years when it was made, an interesting juxtaposition between the times that were being celebrated with song, and the times when America was burning with internecine conflicts at the hands of the most ruthless man then living, the sitting President of the United states. It is nice to have that perspective as we nurse ourselves back from the brink of destruction, yet again. It’s hard to know how to feel this July fourth.
The United States has survived the presidency of the despot, Donald Trump, and the pandemic that he allowed to rage unchecked across the country and the world while he worried about what this meant for his re-election chances. The sun still rises and sets without him in the White House today, and it is quietly reassuring to not be told what it is that pisses Joe Biden off every single day that we wake up. What a nice change from the last four years of hell that we have all endured.
The Blu-ray version of 1776 is different from the raw attempt at destruction that is on display in the laserdisc copy of the film. Gone are the jarring ink-marks and color changes that announce Jack Warner’s and Tricky Dick’s violent raping of the movie before it was allowed to be seen by American audiences. The scenes flow smoothly in and out of song, just the way the director left it. Just the way he intended it to be seen. It was a nice contrast to experience the film the way it should have been seen back in 1972. A nice change from the conflict that has consumed us all for the last few decades.
I find this depth of hindsight inspiring. The hand of destruction escaped at the last moment, leaving the people to reflect on what it was that we almost allowed to happen. Again. And again. And again. Let us recommit ourselves to the experiment that started in 1776. It would be a shame to let all the sacrifice be for nothing if we don’t. Watch the reconstructed version of the movie, or see if you can find that secondary audio track that I mention on the laserdisc. Be inspired, yourself.
Commitment, Abby, commitment! There are only two creatures of value on the face of this earth: those with a commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.John Adams, 1776