Our popcorn was popping, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea graced both the marquee and the screen, and an usher stood hopefully at the ticket box; but hardly a soul paused to consider the coolness of our marble/red and gold lobby. Who wanted to see a bad interpretation of a Japanese novel, when the big show just down the hill was live? Leading the parade was the U.S. Coast Guard training vessel, Eagle, a sailing ship (alias Horst Wessel) surrendered to the U.S. by Germany as war reparations following WWII.
The war that brought us that ship had been a "good guys' war" (if there is such a thing), but the war in Vietnam, which had just ended, had been a travesty that cost thousands of lives and pitted generations and social groups of Americans against each other. Two days prior to the Bicentennial celebration, Vietnam had become one nation, its capital in Hanoi. Still, Americans love a party; we also love to forget, so, from coast-to-coast, we did just that, celebrating our two-centuries-old War of Independence, ironically, the war Ho Chi Minh himself had studied, in hopes of modeling Vietnam’s battle on our own.
There is some kind of party going on in D.C. this year, and for a lot of reasons, I won’t be there. I’m not even planning a picnic at home. Already weary of firecrackers — and the practice sessions in our neighborhood that lead up to everything seeming to explode at once – we’re off to the movies.
What better time to be in a darkened hall with popcorn than the night when gunpowder reigns? Pass it on: the movies are as American as a buttered ear of corn. So if you crave quiet, you know where to go. I’d even settle for Sailor Who Fell...that old doggie we showed to practically nobody forty-three years ago. I’m happy to say, however, that Yesterday,a fantasy about the Beatles, is on-screen in a theater I have two free passes to, and the dark beckons. Okay, it isn’t a movie palace; you have to hunt around here to find one that’s showing a movie these days. But the Loew’s Lincoln Square has pretty big screens, good enough for the likes of me on the 4th.
I fished around to see who else might think of the 4th as a damn fine time to go to the movies, and happened on an article in Esquire.Justin Kirkland’s idea of “The Six Best Movies to See in Theaters on the 4th of July”isn’t mine, except for one movie, Yesterday.But I agree, more or less, with his opening statement:
While some good ol' Americans might celebrate the big day with cheeseburgers and fireworks, the best of us know that the real ticket to a laid back Fourth is inside a cold movie theater with a bag of popcorn bigger than your head.
Amen! He lists as the other five movies he’d consider seeinG on the 4th: Spider Man: Far From Home, Midsommer (which does sound interesting, just not on the 4th), Pixar’s Toy Story 4, Child’s Play, and The Dead Don’t Die.
Other than Yesterday, possible movies I’d like to counteract the explosiveness of the 4th with: Amazing Grace, Halston, Late Night, and a Les Blank double-feature, Chulas Fronteras and Del Mero Corazon, (two docs from the late seventies on Mexican American culture that are playing in Manhattan at the Metrograph).
There are, however, movies that either feature July 4th or are simply saying something about what it is to be American, and someday it might be interesting to put together a personal film festival of them: Jaws (which we should have shown at the St. George on the 4th, but had already blown away in late May, a month too early), Glory, about a black regiment in the Civil War — the movie that introduced me to Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Of course, there’s good old Yankee Doodle Dandy — worth it just to see James Cagney dance his way up the proscenium walls of a theater on both sides of the stage, Hidden Figures — about black women mathematicians who put NASA into space, Independence Day (even though it is an Oliver Stone flick), and Saving Private Ryan.There are so many possibilities; add your own. Of the above, I wish I could have shown Glory on the big grape-soda-stained screen at the St. George, but it came out in 1989, more than a decade after our time as theater operators. So it goes.
Have a good (noisy or quiet) 4th, you guys, whatever your preference is...
I’m giving the last word to our second president, John Adams, one of the signatories of the document that severed our ties with King George III, across the pond. Adams was writing his wife, Abigail:
I am apt to believe that it [independence] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
1. Adams, in his letter to Abigail, was actually referring to the 2nd of July, since it took about two weeks for all the signers to sign, and the first ones had done so on the 2nd. Still, we can blame and praise him, for our noisy carryings on. The violence implicit in his statement might have something to do with the risk each signer was taking in a perilous time; as Benjamin Franklin remarked back then, “...gentlemen, we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” And so they did hang together in the collegial sense, giving us the opportunity to do that, as well as to pursue happiness, and to expand our numerous tribe.
2. In a spooky coincidence, John Adams died on the 4th of July, fifty years after he and his colleagues signed the Declaration, in 1826. He and Thomas Jefferson had had a life-long rivalry, though they respected each other immensely. As Adams was dying, he is reputed to have whispered, “...Thomas Jefferson still survives...” Alas, Jefferson (who hoped Adams was still alive) had died a few hours before, on that same July 4th. Odd and wonderful: they went out together, two remarkable firecrackers.
3. For a sense of how desperate NYC was in the mid-seventies, and what it was like to view the tall ship parade on July 4, 1976, check out these narratives.
4. Here’s the Esquire article on going to the movies on the 4th of July:
5. And finally, a clip of James Cagney as George M. Cohan, dancing his way up the proscenium walls. Apologies for an ad you’ll have to skip...Cagney was an old hoofer from Vaudeville, before he played tough guys in gangster flicks.