Anyone going to a parade today? You might see some costumes leftover from the Bicentenial I know my local historical society has a closet full and they still use them for the annual colonial dinner and other events. In George Washington Stepped Here, I had a character rant (on my behalf) about the historical inaccuracy of those old costumes. But I’m not ranting about that today. I wanted to talk about 1776.
Not the year 1776, the movie. It changed my life.
We went to see it on a school field trip in about 1974. I knew many of the characters by name, at least. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin. They had their heads on coins. They had funny hair. They wrote things with lots of long sentences that must have been important because I couldn’t understand them. And they were very dead. They lived a long time ago when people were different.
So it was a complete shock to see them onscreen in full color talking in normal voices, arguing, calling each other names, and acting, well, alive. Human. Like people in my own time.
I learned that people back then were just like us—even the important ones.
This was an amazing concept. I can’t remember how old I was. I know I saw the movie at least a couple of years before the Bicentennial because I was really hoping to see at again in 1976, but we missed it. (No one I knew had a VCR until many years later). I was probably about nine.
Newsflash–I started writing this blog in the car on the way to check my daughter into jump rope camp. When we got home, my husband turned on the TV and the movie was on, so I’m watching it again now.
I’m sure I didn’t understand many of the jokes when I was a kid and I know I was bored by the musical numbers. But I was blown away by the realization that while people may have looked different and even talked and written differently in the past, they still acted the same.
Suddenly history was tremendously interesting. Exciting things had happened and I could now imagine what they had been like because people were just the same then as they were in my time. I wanted to learn more.
So historical fiction has its place in education, even if it’s not 100% accurate. It can be inspirational.
Rather than quibbling about whether a period movie is accurate, I think we should make sure it is entertaining enough to engage interest. History should not come across as boring because it was not. It is not. Lives of people in the past had days with as much drama as our own. We can learn from that drama, as well as enjoy it.
Happy 4th of July! Celebrate the foundation of our nation!
I was a bit older–in college–when I saw it on stage.
As to costumes, we costume historians like to get together and comment on the good, the bad, and the ugly. But mostly, we recognize it is theater, and one takes liberties. It’s only when, as in the case of the Patriot, for example, the makers brag about their meticulous research and historical accuracy, that it gets to be a bit much.
Yes, the Patriot does seem to draw extreme ire from the reenacting crowd and I always wondered why. I didn’t know about the bragging! That explains a lot. I really enjoy movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean films where they get a few things right, a lot “wrong” (poetic license) but since they never made any pretense of being accurate to begin with (and have blatant fantasy elements) it’s okay. I feel like the accuracies are a bonus!