Just when you thought you may have seen enough of the Statue of Liberty to last you for another 100 years, along comes a three-hour TV movie tribute to make sure.
The movie constructs a scaffolding of fictionalized characters that may do more to obstruct than to enhance a view of the true story of the conception and construction of the statue itself.
The show is called "Liberty" and airs at 8 p.m. Monday on NBC. Frank Langella stars as Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the Frenchman who created the statue, with Corinne Touzet as his mistress who inspired part of the figure. Carrie Fisher plays Emma Lazarus, the poet who composed the passage on the statue's base.
Then there are the fictional characters, with an obvious eye to ethnic diversity. They include George Kennedy as an Irish foreman on the Liberty construction job; Chris Sarandon as a Jewish coppersmith from France, and LeVar Burton as an ex-slave who's one of Kennedy's crewmen.
This mix of the real and unreal is stitched together by columnist Pete Hamill, with direction from Richard Sarafian in locations that include Paris and Baltimore. Another of the unreal characters is a 60-foot, chest-to-torch model of the statue.
Hamill, son of immigrants, was asked at a press conference about his rationale for including fictional characters in the story. "It's because it was what interested me the most," he said. "I know that sounds like a very sort of self-centered way of looking at history, but I thought that there was a double story . . . any historical event to me always has a double story . . . History's generally about generals and politicians and not about ordinary citizens. And I wanted to get a sense of that ordinary American immigrant who built the country."
So to Langella's and Fisher's characters he applied research and to Kennedy's, Burton's and Sarandon's he applied imagination.
"Liberty" thus brings us to that television crossroads -- the junction where docu meets drama and where reality inevitably becomes a TV movie. Television movies have become television's way of getting serious and getting ratings at the same time. Documentaries are an endangered species, but TV movies and docudramas are thriving. So, the July 4 rebuilt Statue of Liberty coming-out party has its own TV movie.
Being a part of that ongoing commemoration had an appeal to Langella. "The reason I said yes to Auguste was, aside from the obvious part of wanting . . . to have something to do with this particular piece of our history, obsessive men interest me a lot. I've played a lot of them," said the man who made Dracula attractive on both stage and film, "and Auguste is an obsessive man . . . I like the idea of trying to find out what propels a man to spend a good deal of his life trying to get this kind of event the creation of the statue to happen, and the personal relationship he had with the woman who was -- the two women who are half the statue. You know, the body of the statue was the woman he eventually married, and the face is his mother's played by Claire Bloom , and I found that interesting."
Langella also feels this movie will rise above the general exploitation the statue has endured in recent months. Isn't this just another way to make a dollar of old Liberty? he was asked.
"No, that's very cynical of you," he said. "I don't think so at all." It's a quality piece, he said. "Nobody sticks a knife in anybody. It isn't typical of most of the product that's coming out today, which I wouldn't be involved in . . . It is a noble production about an extraordinarily important event in our history."