The July Fourth weekend isn’t what it used to be when it comes to movies. It used to be a time when everyone could rally around someone (usually Will Smith) fighting something (usually aliens). Shia LaBeouf, starring in “Transformers 3″ — which attempts to be Independence Day’s heir to “Independence Day” — is a poor substitute, like a tofu dog at a barbecue.
Which actually works out pretty well, because it means I can adhere to my Fourth of July tradition. I watch “1776,” a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Seriously, it’s better than it sounds.
What I love about the 1972 film is how wretchedly human the Founding Fathers are (aside from the bursting-into-song part.) Everyone hates John Adams. Benjamin Franklin tells dirty jokes. Thomas Jefferson (played by Ken Howard, pictured) gets writer’s block that’s cured only by a conjugal visit. Watching the Continental Congress wrangle and compromise and sweat — literally, because waistcoats are hot — while forming a new country is compelling, even if you know how it turns out (we win!).
But when the bells start to clang over the final tableau, I always choke up. Because it’s easy to forget that the men who appear in our museums, within our memorials and on our money were very much human. And “1776” reminds me of that every year.
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