Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Obnoxious and disliked?!

Ok, I know it sounds hokey that on the Fourth of July that I would pop in a little dvd review of the musical of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but... DEAL WITH IT!

"1776" (dir Peter H. Hunt, US, 1972, 168 mins - director's cut/dvd) I just love this thing! A friend told me once that "Sweeney Todd" was the first 'butch musical' he'd ever heard. "1776" was mine. The music and orchestrations are nearly operatic, and William Daniels' performance as 'John Adams' blasts through on the original cast recording, and to see him on film is stunning. The man would nearly make a career out of being a stuffy Bostonian ("The Adams Chronicles" "St. Elsewhere"). The film of "1776" brings him as well as nearly the entire original cast to screen. And in fact, it was the producer's (Jack L. Warner) wish to present the stage version on screen as faithfully as possible. (Well, that's what he initially intended to do. During post-production and beyond, Warner would eventually cut the film to shreds in an attempt to make more money off of it. The DVD is the fully restored director's cut.) Director Peter H. Hunt directed the play, Patricia Zipprodt (costumes) and John Jay Moore (art direction) also designed it for the stage. Onna White choreographed the play and the film.

Anyway, the transfer to screen can seem a bit stagey, except for Harry Stradling Jr.'s brilliant (and Oscar nominated) cinematography. Using devices that were 20 years ahead of their time, the camera floats and flies around 'Independence Hall' as if it were a fly on the wall, which was probably exactly his intent. The takes are incredibly long at times, which benefitted from the cast's stage experience in maintaining the length of the scenes. The few outdoor sequences and the 'letter sequences' in particular are beautifully and glossily shot.

The performances are quite BIG in most cases, as Hunt did not seem to want to pull them back. Nor did he need to. Though the characters are larger than life, the human foibles that the play exposes only magnifies the humanity of these historical ghosts. So, playing it as large as some of the performers do, only reinforces the humanity of what might be 'oil painting portraits'. By having such large performances (John Cullum's is freakin' OPERATIC!), the urgency of everyone's intentions are only reinforced. If there were one weak link in the ensemble, it would be Blythe Danner who was cast instead of Betty Buckley as Jefferson's wife. She is quite young and appears somewhat inexperienced in syncing to the track. However, one can see the physical presence that they were looking for in casting her. (Also, she has only one scene, so it isn't that big of a disruption.) The film also catches Ken Howard ('Thomas Jefferson') at his youngest and prettiest!

The print itself is in pretty good condition and the restoration elements are seemlessly integrated. The sound is a bit wonky, but that is due to the period (1972), so even though the disc is in Dolby 5.1, the actual soundtrack is actually just rechannelled mono.

The Extras:
There is a commentary with Peter Hunt (director) and Peter Stone (screenplay and original book of the musical). The first half hour has some nifty trivia, but then Stone takes over and just babbles on and on and on about character motivations, etc. It is not a particularly good commentary, however there are nuggets to be found, if you are patient.
Screen tests, which aren't all that interesting as they are done against a blank wall and the performers, who had been playing these characters for about 2 years at this point, are all quite well rehearsed.

So, go out and be a campy little citizen and buy or rent this one!

Happy 4th of July!

1 comment:

Maxxxxx said...

"Doobie doobie dooo-oooo!"