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Why Does Hollywood Hate the American Revolution?

That’s a bit of a rhetorical question, but it’s not an exaggeration. Hollywood obviously doesn’t like the American Revolution, and has signaled its disdain for the whole affair by studiously avoiding the topic for 110 years or so.

Let’s examine the statistics. In the 1910s, there were six movies made about the American Revolution. They had to interrupt the revolution to hold up cards explaining what everyone was saying, of course. But those six movies are the most for any decade since then, with the exception of the 1950s, who tied the score.

After the teens:

1920s: 4

1930s: 4, including Daniel Boone, which is about Indian fighting, not killing Britishers

1940s: 1. No, really; one. With Cary Grant, of all people, in a sort of Peyton Revolutionary Place

1950s: 6 again, none notable really. Daniel Boone is back, with Lon Chaney of all people busting Daniel’s balls with feathers in his hair. Leon Trotsky’s Bessarabian nephew (I’m not making this up, I swear) Samuel Bronston filmed John Paul Jones in Spain of all places, starring Robert Stack of all people, and lost his shirt. Andrew Loog Oldham liked the movie poster, though, and told the bass player in Led Zeppelin, John Baldwin, he’d be hipper if he changed his name to John Paul Jones for some reason.

1960s: Basically none. For a decade where about twenty-zillion movies were made. There was one French-Italian production called La Fayette. I don’t think George Washington was that fond of spaghetti and meatballs, however, or snails for that matter, so I don’t get the connection

1970s: 3, I guess, but only technically. The first, Paths of War, is an Italian comedy of all things. The plot summary shows just how confused Italians can be about any topic you could name:

In 1858 in Italy, in Sicily, Franco and Ciccio defend the Bourbon army to prevent the unification of Italy built by Giuseppe Garibaldi. However, when the troops of Garibaldi defeated the Bourbons, Franco and Ciccio escape, taking refuge in a box, which is delivered in America. In the Far West, Franco and Ciccio find themselves involved in the American War of Independence against the Apache Indians. They, camouflage, disguise themselves first by warlike Americans, and then by Indian holy men, being able to save their skin.

Franco and Ciccio sound like they went to American public schools, with a timeline like that. Anyway, the decade wasn’t done with messin’ with us. There was 1776, a musical comedy about the Revolution, if you can wrap your head around that. In his review, Vincent Canby of the New York Times, said that “the lyrics sound as if they’d been written by someone high on root beer…” I don’t quite know how to approach that observation, so we’ll move on. The only other Revolution movies listed is a videotaped adaptation of a Broadway play shown as a Hallmark Hall of Fame special, so not really a movie. But Christopher Walken is listed as a Hessian in it, which must have been a trip.

1980s: 2. Revolution, starring Al Pacino, is chockablock full of unintentional comedy. Not since Tony Curtis was saying things like Yonder is duh cassel ov my faddah had we been treated to Bronx accents in such unBronxy settings. The only other movie about the Revolution was made by the Brigham Young University School of Fine Arts. Not exactly a David O. Selznick production, there.

1990s: Zero, unless you call The Little Patriot one. I’m not sure if I do, because I can’t find anything about it online, except notes about the director in Danish, which I’m allergic to.

2000s: 3. Mel Gibson starred in a slasher film about the Revolution, The Patriot, and proved there was at least a quarter of a billion dollars in the topic, as long as you brained enough Britishers with a hatchet during the festivities.  The other two are so obscure that they might well be slides of someone’s vacation in Maryland.

2010s: 4, I guess. The only one with a link on the Wikiup is listed as an “American Christian historical action-adventure film.” I don’t know how to break it to the Wikiup editors, but everything to do with the United States up until a few years ago was American Christian history.  Maybe that’s why Hollywood isn’t interested. The other three movies don’t merit links on the Wiki, but I found a screen cap from one. Enjoy:

These stalwart ’76ers appear to be trying to figure out which end the shooty bits come out of, and what time lunch is served. We’ll leave it at that.

2020s: 1. I think. There’s one listed, called The Battle of Camden, but I can’t find it much about it. Its IMDB file says the Top Cast includes Jezibell Anat, who seems to be a belly dancer. I’m not sure how that would tie in with the Battle of Camden, but it’s no stranger than casting Tony Curtis in The Vikings, is it?

OK, maybe it is.

So let’s compare that with movies about the Civil War. Back to the Wikiup. Hmm. I count 355.  That’s a lot. Hell, they list 16 currently being produced.

Let’s try World War I movies to cleanse our palates. Believe me, I’m not going to try to count World War II movies. I don’t have that kind of stamina and an abacus with that many beads. But The Great War? Nobody born after Nixon got de-selected can even tell you what that one was about. I doubt most of the combatants could. But still, I count 202 entries on the Wikiup for WWI.

So Hollywood is very, very interested in wars. It’s interested in every sort of war involving Americans, and plenty that didn’t. But ipso facto they don’t care about the revolutionary war. My opinion might not be science, but it sure is at least some sort of arithmetic.

Perhaps I know why. I was in a used bookstore last year. We buy old hardcover versions of classics, mostly. Not much after the 1930s. Anyway, we were standing at the checkout and the heavy-set woman behind the counter with the owlish glasses and the tats was looking askance at our selections, and picked up one of our Graham Greene books about the Caribbean.

“My daughter just came back from vacation down near there. She said to me, ‘Mom, the money is so much more colorful down there, and has more interesting people on it’.” Then the clerk said to us, “Our money just has boring old dead white guys on it, amirite?”

I looked in my wallet. There was Alexander Hamilton. Ah yes. A bastard orphan born on the island of Nevis, taken in by a merchant who paid his way to New York for an education. He served as an artillery officer in the Revolutionary War, was the aide to General Washington, and was a delegate to the Continental Congress. On his days off from practicing law and writing 51 of the 85 installments of The Federalist Papers, he founded the Bank of New York, which currently has $45.7 trillion in assets somewhere around the place, I imagine it’s hard to remember where you put all that stuff. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury, which is only fair as it was his idea to have one. He helped abolish the international slave trade, and President Adams made him a major general in the army to keep him busy. Then he was shot to death in a duel with the third vice-president of the United States.

Yep. Boring.

The Middle Ages Version of Tank Battles

Suits of armor can seem kind of silly to the modern eye. We’ve been weaned on entertainment about the Middle Ages, not a lot of it very flattering, or based in historical fact. Every once in a while you see a fairly accurate depiction of a heavy cavalry charge with knights in armor, and you get a sense of how terrifying it must have been for the average soldier standing facing one, who couldn’t afford much, if any of that stuff.

If you weren’t heavily armed and armored and met up with one of these fellows, I wouldn’t like your chances. Watch the next video, and see what a direct blow from a broadsword does to an armored combatant. And if you’re planning on Jackie Channing them without armor and using light weapons, while they lumber around blind in their iron skinsuit, you might want to rethink it after they demonstrate their mobility in the stuff :

More interesting stuff at the Royal Armouries.

Who says there’s nothing good on YouTube? Oh right, I do. Oops.

Well, even Ivory Soap is only 99 44/100% pure. That ratio sounds about right for the internet as a whole, only reversed. I guess the Royal Armouries are part of the 0.56% remainder of the good parts of the internet.

[Update: Many thanks to Bob for his generous hit on the tip jar. Thanks for supporting Sippican Cottage!]

The Video Expects Every Viewer To Do His Duty

What a fascinating video.

There’s an enormous amount of information gathered and displayed. I’ve been to a lot of museums, and I’ve never seen this level of information presented in such an accessible way.

The HMS Victory was (is) a hell of a thing. It was Admiral Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar. Napoleon was planning on invading England and forcing the Anglos to eat frogs or something. That held no terrors for men who’d tasted haggis, so the British Navy went straight at the French and Spanish navies and sunk 20 ships, while losing none. Some people would call that running up the score. Of course all Nelson got out of it was a fatal wound and a square named after the battle instead of him.

The Victory is still above water. It’s docked in Portsmouth, and you can take a tour of it. Well, maybe you can. That’s Portsmouth England, not Portsmouth New Hampshire or Portsmouth Rhode Island, and I don’t swim so good, so I’ll never darken its poopdeck. Too bad. If you watch the video, you’ll understand it was the Starship Enterprise of its day, entirely whittled out of wood. No wonder there are only three trees left in England.

A Maine Barbecue

Back in the day, it would have been spelled barbeque, I think. Pretty soon the word will entirely pass through the alimentary canal of internet spelling and always be referred to as BBQ.

We’ll forgive the soprano for the caterwauling at the opening of the video. She’s performing in Monmouth, Maine, and in Maine, we’re all doing the best we can, and make allowances. She gets right back on track when she starts narrating the extravaganza of fun and frolic and painfully square activities. She’s got a great, subtle Katharine Hepburn twang. When she says “haff” at 3:18, I get a little thrill. It’s becoming rare in Maine, as the place gets increasingly populated with people “from away.” Southern Maine is increasingly northern Massachusetts.

The theater is still there in Monmouth, and banging away. They’re currently putting on a production of Richard II. It’s possible they wanted to put on Richard III, but didn’t have enough I’s for the marquee, and went with it. It’s Maine; we make do.

Bulletin, 2012: People Stockpiling Anxiety Medicine And Preparing To Call To Complain If Their Cable TV Is Out

As the philosopher Jagger once wrote: Things are different today. I hear every mother say. The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore…

You may think I’m joking in the headline, but if you read The Meteor, you’ll learn that there isn’t any joke you can dream up that doesn’t turn up true eventually. Sooner rather than later, usually.

Read The Rumford Meteor, or you won’t know what it says.

What Do You Know How To Do?

I mean, actually do? Not lord over. Not feast on. Not interpolate. Not pontificate about. Not sit astraddle until you’re given a piece. What can you do, and do productively enough to make it worth your while to do it, with at least something left over for others when you’re done?

My brethren the Celts were the first in Europe to figure out iron. Bronze folks couldn’t compete with iron when push came to shove (and stab). But societies can quickly become more sophisticated than a bellows, some mud, and a hammer — and what one man can do, another can learn. To achieve true sophistication is to swim forward, like a shark. If you stand still, you can’t breathe, never mind go backwards. Backwards is death.

Well, you can lard rather a lot of supervision on top of the iron age. The division of labor yields economies of scale that produce much greater wealth with less effort. The iron age version of fellows with green eyeshades can add value. Management and innovation increase yields. You can mass-produce pointy things to poke your neighbors if they invade and still have enough to eat. Pretty soon Bessemer is converting while Carnegie counts the beans.

But there’s a limit to it. Eventually people who aren’t adding anything to the finished products insinuate themselves between the goodies and the people that produce the goodies. They are parasitical. The parasitical are generally good at only one thing: Blame. It’s someone else’s fault that there are fewer pointy metal things than before they cashed their first paycheck, and why there’s less to eat, too, though they look like a dirigible while everyone else looks like broomsticks.

Sophisticated economies have a lot of places to hide in and around them. Not contributing, but not missing any meals because of it. The process from the genesis to the dissemination of wealth is obscured by the complexity that is required to avoid having everyone approximately as skilled at everything as everyone else — no more, no less.

Lots of people desire economies to be returned at least partway to a state of nature, so that they can understand them again. Gold bugs and communists have more in common than you might think. But I ask them, and you, once again, what exactly do you know how to do? That man in the video can make a pointy iron thing out of mud and sticks. If civilization goes pear-shaped, as so many seem to be fervently praying for, what use are you to him? Gisele Bundchen will be camped outside this guy’s door instead of Tom Brady’s if we go neolithic again. His only question to her might be, “How are you going to stomp straw into my mud with those stilettos on?” The rest is conversation.

The dogs have died, or run away. The fleas are abroad in the land. What do you know how to do?

100 Years In 10 Minutes

Some interesting orthography and grammar in there. Must be someone that speaks English as a second language, or was an honor student at an American public school.

Electric, And Electrifying, Edwardians

Jamaica Street, Glasgow, 1901.

I can’t stop looking at these movies. They’re from a collection called Electric Edwardians. Two fellows, Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, were hired by the equivalent of a circus to take movies of mundane activities in Great Britain. The promoters would then show the movies to the locals, who were mostly there just to see themselves, or people like themselves, for the sheer wonder of life captured on film. Getting amusement from the mundane to make a few quid. The ICANHASCHEEZBURGER of their day.

The films were ignored and lost for nearly a century, mouldering in a basement. They were only rediscovered because the building was going to be demolished. The British Film Institute restored them as best they could, and they’ve been shown as a television show, and now are available as a DVD.

I rarely watch television, read newspapers, or listen to the radio. I read books by dead persons, pretty much. I have little use for 99.9 percent of the Internet, because it’s just people telling me that they can watch TV and read the newspaper harder than me. The average intellectual’s head is full of tapioca. On the Intertunnel, it’s rancid tapioca.

You cannot tell what’s going on by what people say. You’re past daft if you think you can tell what’s going on by listening to a third party tell you what people say. You can only tell what’s going on by looking at what people are doing.

People say they want a time machine. But then again: Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do on a rainy afternoon. They sit in mom’s basement watching reruns of remakes of a crummy space opera and fantasize about what they’d do with their holodeck, if only they could live with the wonders of the future and access to the past. Unaware that this is the future, and by the way, here is the actual, unvarnished past, they’d turn the channel if this video came on — a real life time machine.

I wouldn’t. Look, there, on the screen. It’s not Tutankhamun’s tomb. It’s Tutankhamun.

Tag: history

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