Foreign Policy Blogs

1776 and Other Ways to Enjoy the 4th of July

1776: The Musical (1969; movie 1972)

continental congress

Lithograph from the Library of Congress.

“Waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp.  Of an eaglet being born.  Waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp.  On this humid Monday Morning in this Congressional incubator.”

The Guardian, probably rightfully, declared that 1776 was “[f]ar too long and mostly terrible, but hilarious.”

Now, the real question–why would anyone ever decide to make the Second Continental Congress into a movie?  Sure, with the Fourth of July sneaking up on us, it’s insane to ignore the historical importance of this event.  However, a musical about men stuck in a room arguing about policy for ages sounds like the equivalent of Twelve Angry Men on slow-mo with a sexually-frustrated Thomas Jefferson.

Unlike such “non-fiction” works as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” 1776 lacks monsters, violence, guns, and gore.  The closest it gets is the sheer horror of the entire New Jersey delegation being absent.

1776 and Other Ways to Enjoy the 4th of July

Janet Leigh fears for the sake of U.S independence. Photo Credit: Allstar/Cinetext

But, hell, while you’re glued to the couch in front of five fans for the Fourth, why don’t you try watching the movie version of 1776?  You know, to catch up on some history or some nonsense.

Evita (1996)

Ah, Evita Peron: the woman whose pervasive presence in Argentina is second only the Virgin of Guadalupe.   It’s not terribly suprising, then, that she was dubbed the “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” by the Argentine Congress in 1952.  In essence, she’s a curious character, to be sure, and an even odder choice for a musical.

Evita began as a concept album and, later, as a musical stage production.  Even though a movie had been in consideration since 1978, it took almost 20 years to take off.  Madonna was cast as Evita Peron, and she pulled of this part with ease, due in part to her ability to refrain from going back to her old habits of throwing dirty underwear at David Letterman or dating Vanilla Ice.  While the rest of the soundtrack can be hit or miss (mostly miss), it’s hard to say Madonna doesn’t pull off Evita will ease–and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is, in my opinion, strangely addictive.

“This,” she said, “is the role I was born to play….And I am prouder of Evita than anything else I have done.” All jokes aside, given Madonna’s massive sphere of influence and cultural impact, it’s logical that she’d be perfect for the part.

Hope! Das Obama Musical (2010)

Thanks to the Germans, Barack Obama is now the first president to be the subject of a musical while he’s in office.

1776 and Other Ways to Enjoy the 4th of July

“Sorry it took me so long to give you my birth certificate. I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden and starring in a German musical.”

In fact, he’s practically become a saint…years before his first term was over.  Oh wait, no, that’s not what they meant:

In no way does HOPE show Obama as a saint, but it grants us a view behind the scenes of his cometlike rise and also tells from the personal ups and downs of a man who has worked his way up from a social worker in Chicago to the most powerful man in the world, simply by using his power of persuasion.

We should probably mention he wasn’t just a community organizer who rose to the top for no reason–he was a Columbia University transfer, a Harvard Law School graduate, editor and, later president, of the Harvard Law Review, lawyer, and former senator.  We’d imagine there was something going on there besides the power of the persuasion.

There are other oddities around HOPE!  For instance, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton are played by the same actor, McCain’s character singing something other than Beach Boys parodies, and Sarah Palin with scantily clad gothic dancers.  They all pile on the “chaos” that plagues a world waiting to be rescued from Barry Obama in ’08.

Unlike the Wall Street Journal’s review, I’m not here to bury HOPE!  The writers can have their production if they want to, for all I care.  But given that the idea sprung up before Obama was even elected, can we at least admit this is a little weird?

 Nixon in China (1987)

1776 and Other Ways to Enjoy the 4th of July

Nixon at an official State dinner in China in 1972 inspecting his food. Photo Credit: Ollie Atkins/White House/Time Life Pictures/Getty

John Adams was approached by Peter Sellars with a brilliant idea–to write an opera about Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.  Adams was understandably reluctant, but after reflection, opted to dive into the research head first.  Nixon, he noted, was an “interesting character;” the man who shocked the world by travelling to the “dark evil empire” of China to shake hands with the man, Mao, who “represented the social welfare state in extremis, the idea that no one should go hungry and that no one should become filthy rich, but that if you don’t go along with the plan you’re disposable.”

Like Evita, Nixon doesn’t seem like a president who would receive the operatic treatment–he’s either far too maligned or easily aligned with tragedy.  To throw out a 24 reference: in popular culture, his legacy seems much closer to that of President Charles Logan–tragic, yes, but it’s a grave he dug himself.

1776 and Other Ways to Enjoy the 4th of July

Well, someone had to do it. Photo Credit: Fox

But I’m not complaining; it’s nice to see artistic representations of what was such a controversial trip conducted by such a divisive figure.  It’s no surprise, then, that Nixon in China ended up at the Metropolitan Opera.



Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais