Monday, July 4, 2016

1776


Premiered November 17, 1972

"A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion."  It is only in the third person - "their rebellion" - that it becomes illegal." - Benjamin Franklin

We're going to depart from our normal format here on the presumption that most people have some understanding of the basic events of the American Revolution.

John Adams exhorts members of the Second Congress to "Vote For Independency!"
1776 is a musical film (based upon the 1969 stage musical of the same title) which dramatizes the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


The story is framed around the Second Continental Congress with a focus on John Adams (as portrayed by William Daniels), Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), and Benjamin Franklin (Howard DaSilva).

Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams contemplating the prospect of a new nation
RigbyMel says:

At first glance, it might seem incongruous to have chosen to treat the subject of the Declaration of Independence in a musical format,  but it works surprisingly well.

The stage version is definitely evident in the way 1776 was filmed.
Portions of the dialogue and some of the song lyrics are taken directly from things said or written by various participants in the Second Continental Congress.  The songs and the way the plot is structured serve to highlight the drama and debate involved in the decision to declare independence from the British crown.


That being said, 1776 should not be read as any sort of documentary film.  There is a lot of artistic license taken.   For instance, since the action takes place entirely in Philadelphia and mostly indoors, we need an antagonist, and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (portrayed in the film by Donald Madden) becomes the primary villain for dramatic purposes.

John Dickinson vs. John Adams in the film
Dickinson did take a much more cautious approach to independence and abstained from voting to ratify the Declaration, but his objections were much more nuanced than his film portrayal would suggest.

The film incarnation of Dickinson leads the conservatives in singing "Cool, Considerate Men."
What 1776 does exceptionally well is to humanize the Founding Fathers and to unpack some of the major issues of the time.


For example,  we get this exchange between John Adams and Ben Franklin:


Adams:  "Mark me, Franklin ... if we give in on this issue [the question of slavery], posterity will never forgive us."
Franklin: "That's probably true, but we won't hear a thing, we'll be long gone.  Besides, what would posterity think we were?  Demi-gods?  We're men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started .., First things first, John.  Independence,  America.  If we don't secure that, what difference will the rest make?"

"Virginia abstains." - Jefferson is less than pleased that he hasn't seen his wife in over 6 months. 
We also are shown that the Founders ... gasp! ... missed their wives and families and were separated from them for extended periods of time in service of the new nation.


There are only 2 roles for women in the film --  Adam's wife Abigail (Virginia Vestoff) appears via dramatized versions of the letters the two exchanged,  and Jefferson's wife Martha (Blythe Danner) serves as muse to her husband making a(n entirely fictional) journey to Philadelphia to (*ahem*) encourage him to write.


One of my favorite scenes in the movie involves the Declaration Committee's song "But, Mr. Adams" which involves Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Roger Sherman (Rex Robbins) and Robert Livingston (John Myhers) bickering over who will actually do the writing of the declaration whilst dancing up and down on the staircase of what is now known as "Independence Hall" -- a hilariously preposterous take on a serious subject.

"Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, refuse to use the pen!" 
Don't they look happy to not be the primary authors?
Another scene that is anything but funny but no less powerful is the "Molasses to Rum" song performed by Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (as played by John Cullum), which indicts the hypocrisy inherent in the northerners' opposition to the slave trade at the time since they, too, profited from the Triangle Trade.


If you only know John Cullum's work from Northern Exposure, ER or Mad Men,  it's well worth seeing his performance to hear what an amazing baritone voice he has and why he has been nominated for and won several Tony Awards over the years!

Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) and friend.
From a pop culture history perspective, it is also interesting to note that the fountain that makes an appearance in "The Lees of Old Virginia" (a comedic showcase featuring Richard Henry Lee as played by Ron Holgate) can still be found on the Warner Studios back lot.   You may also recognize this fountain from the opening credits of 1990s TV sitcom favorite Friends!

Does this fountain look familiar? 
The same fountain as it appeared in the opening credits of Friends!
I was introduced to 1776 thanks to showings on cable TV in the mid to late 1980s.  I've geekily re-enacted bits of it on the staircase of Independence Hall and even did a song from it (Martha Jefferson's "He Plays The Violin") for my senior vocal recital in the mid-1990s.

RigbyMel (right) and her little brother doing our own version of a number from 1776 on a visit to the real Independence Hall!
The musical holds a special place in my heart and it continues to be required 4th of July viewing in our house.

Lobby card for the film
RigbyMel's rating:





4 American Flags!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Funny Little Bunnies


Premiered March 24, 1934.

"The storybooks say that far, far away,
  There's a green enchanted dell.
  Where the rainbow ends and everything is gay,
   And the Easter Bunnies dwell."



Beyond the rainbows, a veritable army of bunnies decorates Easter Eggs and Easter candy in an assembly line fashion so they're ready to be delivered by the Easter Bunny.  Like Santa's elves, the bunnies decorate all year round.  They're assisted by a flock of hens who lay eggs that rabbits decorate with every color of dye imaginable.

Chickens -- who sound kind of like Clara Cluck -- laying eggs.
Some bunnies serve as models for chocolate bunny sculptures.  

Chocolate bunny sculptors hard at work.
And, of course,  the bunnies make and fill Easter baskets.


J.A. Morris says:
The summary is short because, that's basically what happens.  Like a lot of early animated shorts, Funny Little Bunnies exists so that animators can show the audience "look what we can do!"


It has lots of beautiful animation and cute animals and entertaining ways to show us how Easter candy is made and how Easter Eggs are colored.


There is one not-very-pleasant aspect of this short we should point out.  At the 1:37 mark, a bunny falls into a vat of chocolate and emerges looking like an ugly racial stereotype.  It's a product of its time and I won't hold it to today's standards.  That doesn't make it okay.  It's probably over the heads of younger views today, but if you watch it with a kid, be prepared to answer questions.


This cartoon can be found on a DVD called Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies.  It's currently out of print, but it can be purchased online and is also available at many libraries.


Funny Little Bunnies is a generally nice short cartoon and a decent addition to the somewhat limited Easter TV and film offerings.  But the racially insensitive bit and the lack of a real story prevent me from giving it a higher rating.


J.A. Morris' rating:






3 Easter Eggs.


RigbyMel says:

This is a slight, but generally enjoyable Easter short cartoon.   As J.A. Morris says above,  the animation is beautiful,  but there is some unfortunate racial and disability stereotyping that, while common in the time period,  doesn't sit well today.

Plaid paint! Och!
Disney's Silly Symphonies series was a chance for the studio's animators to flex their artistic muscles and develop the art of animation.   The series in general was notable for its use of the Technicolor process, the inclusion of primarily musical soundtracks and experimentation that was a lead up to the eventual production of animated feature films like Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.

Egg decoration by firing squad?!?! 
I appreciated the creativity of some of the bunnies' candy production processes - getting dye colors from a rainbow was a nice touch.

So, THAT'S where Easter egg dye comes from!
Overall, Funny Little Bunnies is a cute short.  It is a solid entry in the Silly Symphonies series and is worth a look seeing as there are not very many animated Easter options out there.

RigbyMel's rating:






2 and a half Easter eggs.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Simpsons: "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment"


Premiered March 16, 1997.

"Oooh, it's been St. Patrick's Day for hours and I'm still not drunk yet!"
-Homer Simpson

It's St. Patrick's Day in Springfield.


Marge Simpson takes her kids Bart, Lisa and Maggie to the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.  Bart sees a man selling plastic horns and asks for one.  Marge is reluctant, reminding that Bart that he's gotten similar horns in the past and thrown them away before he got home.  She buys him a horn anyway.


At the same time, parade devolves into a drunken brawl.  The Duff Beer float shoots beer into the crowd with cannons.  Bart just happens to to be blowing his new horn near the Duff float so beer goes directly into the horn (turning it into a beer bong!) and Bart swallows enough to get quite intoxicated.


Bart's drunkenness is captured on camera and airs on the local evening newscast.  The citizens of Springfield are enraged and some even call for banning alcohol.  At City Hall, a clerk discovers that Springfield passed a prohibition law a century earlier and the law is still on the books!  Alcohol becomes contraband in Springfield!


In order to enforce this law, the city brings in a lawman named Rex Banner.  He arrives and takes over, dismissing the ineffective police Chief Wiggum.  The chief is crushed.


The prohibition law gives Homer Simpson an idea.  He visits the dump and collects Duff's discarded barrels of beer, which still contain alcohol.  He takes the beer and conceals it in bowling balls as part of an elaborate alcohol distribution scheme.


Homer sells beers to Moe and others and makes lots of money in the process.  The press learns of this, but Homer's identity remains a mystery.  He is branded "The Beer Baron."  Rex Banner is aware of his existence and is determined to bring the Beer Baron to justice.

J.A. Morris says:
As we've said here before, there aren't many St. Patrick's Day specials, episodes or movies, so this Simpsons episode is an nice addition.


Like most episodes of The Simpsons, "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" begins with a story that is dropped by the end of the first act.  The St. Patrick's Day portion of the episode ends at the 6-minute mark.  But the holiday serves as the fulcrum that sets the prohibition storyline in motion.


"Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" is an homage to classic gangster movies and the TV show The Untouchables.  I've long been a fan of Dave Thomas, best remembered as Bob McKenzie on SCTV.  He does a great job voicing Rex Banner.


Dan Castellaneta is great as usual voicing Homer, who gets most of the good lines of the episode.  In fact, the end of "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" features one of Homer's best quotes of all time.  Sorry, but you'll have to watch to find out what it is.

In addition to the St. Paddy's parade and the prohibition plot, "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" opens with Lisa and Bart going to school on St. Patrick's Day, with Bart failing to wear green.


Bart suffers the way kids did in my elementary school when they didn't participate in "the wearin' o' the green."


"Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" is a great episodes of one of the best series of all time and is highly recommended for St. Patrick's Day viewing.



J.A. Morris' rating:







4 shamrocks!


The Simpsons meets Edward Hopper!

RigbyMel says:

I am a big fan of The Simpsons and this is a great episode.   As J.A. Morris mentions,  the homages to gangster movies are pretty brilliant.   I particularly liked that Moe's Tavern masquerades as a pet shop to shake off the cops and various Springfieldians reaction to the return of Prohibition (collapse seems  to be a popular response).


The St. Patrick's Day portion of the episode is also pretty darned funny and really plays with the notion that this is really a holiday for amateur drunkeness with a veneer of Irish heritage.   It's well worth pausing during bits of the parade to see what is going on with each float and in the crowd.  


That being said,  I am going to deduct a bit from my rating since the St. Patrick's Day portion really only lasts for the first couple of minutes of the episode!

RigbyMel's rating:








3 shamrocks