Wednesday, July 04, 2012

5 Patriotic Videos for Independence Day

For the past several years, my Fourth of July tradition has been to watch the 1972 musical 1776 (Amazon, BN), which recounts the events surrounding the writing and passage of the Declaration of Independence. This isn't the only film appropriate for this day, of course - GeekDad has a nice list (linked below). In that vein, I consider a handful of other films and videos that I've begun working into my Independence Day traditions.

1776 (AmazonBN)

This is a film adaptation of a stage musical which, were it not about America's independence, probably would not have gotten any traction beyond its initial limited release. As a musical it contains a few decent songs, but the real enjoyment comes from the vivid and charming portrayal of the founding fathers (particularly Howard Da Silva's Benjamin Franklin) and the trials they faced in uniting together to stand against the British. There are a number of historical inaccuracies, but the overall mood portrayed is spot on and helps to illustrate conflicts which are still taking place in American politics over two centuries later ... and over quarter century after 1776 was produced!

Liberty Kids (Amazon, BN)

This 2002 animated series outlines the events from the Boston Tea Party through to the writing of the Constitution, as seen from the point of view of a handful of teenagers in the service of Benjamin Franklin. What's nice about the show is that it focuses on a very diverse perspective of the revolution, rather than just presenting the straight historical account that most of us grew up with. Here are the main characters of the series:
  • James - An orphan who works as a reporter for Franklin's newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
  • Moses - A free black man who is Franklin's apprentice at the print shop and newspaper.
  • Sarah - A British citizen who is living in the colonies and becomes a journalist out of a desire to see that the British viewpoint is represented to the colonists.
  • Henri - A French boy who was transported to the colonies as an indentured servant.
  • Benjamin Franklin - Voiced by veteran newsman Walter Cronkite, Franklin is the perfect founding father to be at the center of a series which includes such a broad perspective on the revolutionary activities.
While being firmly rooted in the patriotic ideals that founded the nation, it doesn't gloss over the failings of those same colonists to recognize liberty for everyone, nor does it shy away from the reality that the British troops could at times be heroic and noble, even while being on the wrong side of the conflict.

The 6-disc series contains 40 episodes, plus a host of extra features that are great for teaching your kids history, including:
  • A full-sized poster of the main characters with a map of the colonies and major events on the back
  • A booklet containing descriptions of all episodes, plus a timeline of revolutionary events running from the Boston Massacre (1770) through to Washington assuming the Presidency (1789)
  • Benjamin Franklin's Newsbytes
  • Continental Cartoons
  • Now and Then feature
  • Mystery Guest Game
  • A Look Back at Liberty's Kids with the Creators

The Patriot (Amazon, BN)

Once upon a time, Mel Gibson was a good actor. The Patriot represents a period that was probably the apex of his career, before he became known as a man who goes off on drunken rants about the Jews (but does, afterward, give decent apologies).

This is one of the most ambitious feature films to depict the American revolution and certainly received the broadest popular reception. Gibson plays a military veteran of the French and Indian Wars (called "the wilderness campaigns" in the film) who is initially hesitant to take up arms against the British, though he himself does agree with the cause of liberty.

It also features a great performance by Heath Ledger as Gibson's son, a young idealist who enthusiastically joins the cause of liberty, not understanding why his father resists. The film vividly depicts the battles, making it clear that the American Revolution was not won through a sanitized process of debates (though the first two shows on this list make it clear that even the debate process wasn't particularly sanitized).

My Fellow Americans (Amazon, BN)

The only film on this list that isn't directly related to the founding fathers and their activities, this James Garner and Jack Lemmon comedy film nonetheless represents one of the most fun patriotic films out there. Two ex-presidents and intense political rivals discover a conspiracy that goes to the very highest levels of government. After escaping assassination, they travel America on the run in attempt to get proof and uncover the truth. In the process, they discover - in between sniping at each other - that their political differences are a lot less important than the things that unite them as Americans.

National Treasure (Amazon, BN)

Finally comes the most fantastic of the explorations of America's history, in which Nicolas Cage goes on a quest to discover a mysterious lost treasure of the ancients that the founding fathers hid, leaving clues throughout documents and locations that were central to the founding of America, including the very Constitution of the United States. With much more emphasis on action and adventure than historical accuracy, it's still a fun movie to watch that can help give some historical facts along the way.

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