Welcome back to a holiday edition of BCB After Dark: the swingin’ spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re still open and waiting for you to show up. We hope you’ve had a happy holiday. Please come on in and relax with us for a while. There’s no dress code tonight. The hostess will seat you now. The show will start any minute now.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
The Cubs lost to the Brewers today, 5-2. That one makes me angry. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
Last time I asked you if you thought the Cubs would trade Kyle Hendricks this summer. 54 percent of you said “No, the Cubs won’t trade Hendricks.”
Here’s the part where I write about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
To celebrate Independence Day, here’s the Oscar Peterson Trio with Milt Jackson doing “John Brown’s Body,” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” So here’s Peterson on piano, Jackson on vibes, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums.
I spent the holiday weekend with my family and not watching movies. We did watch Stranger Things together, but you don’t need to hear my thoughts on that.
So I’m just going to rerun what I wrote about 1776 last year. I watch that film every year on the Fourth of July and I saw it again this morning.
I do want to give you some new content, so I’ll just say that this film is the beginning of the re-appraisal of John Adams in American history. Adams was the forgotten Founding Father in US history and was mostly remembered as just the guy who was president for one term between Washington and Jefferson. There’s a Washington Monument in DC and there’s the Jefferson Memorial. But there’s no tribute to John Adams in our nation’s capital.
It’s odd the way a play or a film can cause a re-evaluation of a historical figure. Before Peter Schaffer decided to make Antonio Salieri the focus of his play Amadeus, Salieri was an obscure and mostly-forgotten composer, best-known for a conspiracy theory that he had Mozart murdered. That was the basis of the play, of course. Since then, musical historians and scholars have gone back and re-appraised Salieri as far from the mediocre composer he’s portrayed as in the film. While no one thinks he’s the equal of Mozart, they do think Salieri was a very good composer and I hear his music being played on classical music channels these days. They also have discovered that far from being a rival of Mozart, Salieri was actually an ally of Mozart. In the same way, people have been inspired by 1776 to re-evaluate the life of the second president.
Adams is the hero of 1776 and he’s been having a bit of a renaissance in popular opinion these days for a few reasons. One is that he’s one of the few Founding Fathers who was untouched by the evil of slavery. No one has to say “Yeah, but he owned slaves” about Adams, because he never did. The other reason that Adams is held in higher esteem these days is his relative feminism for the times. Yes, a lot of his feminist positions consisted of saying “Yes dear” to his outspoken wife Abigail, but he did treat her as an equal in their marriage in ways that most other 18th-century men did not.
The role of slavery and women were not something that the public or even most historians concerned themselves much about in connection to the American Revolution before 1972, but they certainly have since then.
So with that, I’ll now re-post what I wrote about 1776 last year.
I have some movie traditions that go around certain holidays. I have movies that I try to watch on Halloween, Christmas and Easter. (One guess which movie I watch on Groundhog’s Day.) I don’t watch them on the holiday every year, but if I’m in the mood and I have nothing else to do, I’ll watch them. Many of these films I’ve watched over a dozen times in the last 25 years.
I won’t reveal what movies I watch on other holidays, but my tradition for Independence Day is to watch the 1972 musical 1776 on Turner Classic Movies. They play it every year and before there was a TCM, it played every year on WTBS. I probably saw it for the first time on WTBS in the early-80’s and I’ve seen it many times since. (In full disclosure however, my first exposure to the film was probably in a Mad Magazine parody years before. Although maybe it was one of those Mad knockoff titles that were around in the 1970s.)
Last night I was in no mood to go sit on the grass in 100° heat to watch fireworks, so when 1776 came on TCM, I sat down and watched it again. The film is based on the Broadway play that preceded it and most of the Broadway cast repeated their role for the film. Although the leads, William Daniels (John Adams), Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson) and Howard Da Silva (Ben Franklin) were regulars before and afterwards on film and television, many of the supporting roles were played by Broadway actors and this was their only feature film performance.
When 1776 came out, it got mixed review and was generally considered a box-office disappointment. Since then, probably from its repeated showing on TV around the Fourth of July, it’s become a bit of a classic. Lin-Manuel Miranda has made no secret that he loves the play and the movie and that 1776 was a major inspiration for Hamilton.
Whenever anyone tells a historical story on the movie or television screen, they are going to make choices that are not going to accurately represent what actually happened. We had a saying in graduate school that “History is just one damn thing after another” and that’s absolutely true. There is no narrative to history other than what we give it. But the historian (or in this case, the filmmakers) have to give it a narrative or imbue it with some meaning or no one will understand it. And while the people behind 1776 certainly wanted to educate the public about the founding of America (Sherman Edwards, whose idea the play was and who wrote the music and lyrics, had taught history to support himself as a young struggling songwriter), their main purpose was to entertain and sell tickets. The story has to be told in a compact, understandable and entertaining way.
The problem with telling the story of the Declaration of Independence is that no one wrote down what was happening at the time. (The Wire’s Stringer Bell’s famous quote “is you taking notes on a criminal [censored] conspiracy?” comes to mind here.) So what we have are the memories of people who were there, writing ten, twenty or thirty years or more later. Any historian will tell you that while recollections can be valuable, they are not nearly as reliable as contemporaneous accounts. Memories fade and details can be forgotten. People often portray themselves in the past in a far more positive light than they may have deserved.
To the credit of the writers, they went back to those memoirs and recollections and incorporated the actual words of the men (and women, in the case of Abigail Adams) involved into the script. But for the most part, the film employs what I like to call “the truth through lies.” Much of this film is historically inaccurate, but the overall portrait the film leaves you with is not that far from the truth.
For example, while there is no evidence to the contrary, it is generally assumed that the Founding Fathers did not break out into song and dance at regular intervals during the Second Continental Congress because that would have been considered silly at the time. As well as today.
John Adams, for example, was the leading force behind independence, although the film sometimes leaves you with the impression he was the “only” voice and not just the leader of a faction. (His cousin Samuel Adams, for example, got written out of this story. At least he got the beer.) Adams is portrayed as “obnoxious and disliked,” which Adams really wasn’t until years later, after his presidency. And we really only have Adams describing himself that way—no one else seemed to say it. Adams was depressed in his old age.
The other two leads, Jefferson and Franklin, are portrayed fairly accurately. Franklin really was one of the most famous men in the world in 1776, known throughout America and Europe. Jefferson was smart, broody and quiet, although Martha Jefferson (Blythe Danner) never came to Philadelphia during the Congress.
The lesser Founding Fathers get treated worse, but always in the service of a greater truth. No one comes off worse than John Dickinson (Donald Madden), who is basically the villain of the piece. Dickinson was a true American patriot who argued for American nationalism long before anyone else. His opposition to independence wasn’t based on a loyalty to the king or a conservative nature, as the film implies, but rather out of his Quaker faith and his deeply-held beliefs about pacifism.
But Dickinson is a stand-in this film for the Tory faction of the United States and much of what he says in the film are mostly the arguments of American loyalists. So that real debate about American independence gets put into the mouth of Dickinson, whose opposition to independence was much more nuanced and unique. But Dickinson was resigned to being the villain in history anyway, so he probably would have expected that.
Similarly, Edward Rutledge (John Cullum) really was a delegate from South Carolina, a slave holder and no doubt a supporter of the “peculiar institution.” But there’s no evidence that he was a firebrand leader of the opposition to independence based on the protection of slavery. In fact, most of what we do know is that Rutledge’s opposition was based on a feeling that the time wasn’t right yet and came around when he was convinced the colonies were united in the cause. The arguments he makes about slavery in the film are more at home in the national debates of the 1840s and 1850s than of 1776.
This leads to the entire climax of the film, where independence is nearly derailed by a debate over slavery. In truth, there was no such debate. Jefferson did put a clause in the Declaration decrying slavery and the slave trade and unspecified “Southern” delegates objected to it. The clause was removed without much debate as the Northern delegates quickly agreed that it wasn’t necessary.
But that “fiction” which provides the climax of the film actually illustrates a larger truth about America’s original sin of slavery and the necessary compromise and hypocrisy necessary to win independence. “All men are created equal,” Jefferson wrote, but some men are born in chains. King George III is a tyrant, but the colonists themselves engaged in acts of tyranny against Africans and Native Americans. Besides, the invented debate gives us one of the best songs in the musical, “Molasses to Rum,” [VIDEO] which explains the Triangle Trade.
There’s another interesting story behind my viewing 1776 on TCM last night and that was that the song “Cool, Considerate Men” had been restored to the film. The song was in the Broadway production but when it came time to make the movie, President Richard Nixon objected. The song is a lampooning of the rich landowning “conservatives” who believe that independence or not, they’ll come out on top in the end. Nixon hated the song and thought it made conservatives look unpatriotic. So he called his old friend, studio head Jack Warner, whom he had known for decades from his days in California politics. He asked Warner to take the song out and Warner didn’t want to deny a favor to an old friend who was also the President of the United States. He ordered it cut out without even consulting the director. But recently, the scene has been restored to the film and so I present “Cool, Considerate Men” here. [VIDEO] Even if you’ve seen the movie in the past, there’s a good chance that you haven’t seen this musical number.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
Tonight I’m going to ask you about Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is expected to opt-out of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent. When the Red Sox were in town this past weekend, Gordon Wittenmyer spoke with him and Bogaerts admitted he was thrilled to be playing at Wrigley as he grew up watching the Cubs on WGN in Aruba.
As far as playing for the Cubs, Bogaerts was more non-committal. He made it clear he wants to play for a winner, which the Cubs are not at the moment. But he did praise some of the young Cubs players, such as Christopher Morel, and said that he went through some lean years in Boston as well. So while he wasn’t enthusiastic about coming to Chicago (except as a visitor), he wasn’t ruling it out. Money does have a way of making people more enthusiastic, however.
So tonight’s question is “Should the Cubs make a serious attempt to sign Bogaerts this winter?” Obviously he’s going to cost a lot of money and demand a lot of years. On the other hand, he’ll probably be cheaper than Carlos Correa or Trea Turner, if they’re on the market.
Should the Cubs make a serous attempt the sign Xander Bogaerts this winter?
This poll is closed
Thank you all for stopping by on this holiday evening. I hope you had a good time. If you need anything more from us, don’t hesitate to ask. Drive home safely. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.