Family, friends, backyard barbecue. You’re going to load up on burgers, hot dogs and french fries. Naturally, you will be exhausted from celebrating Independence Day.
Time to heave your starch-laden body into a club chair and enjoy some rousing entertainment.
Here are Seraphic Secret’s suggestions: four spectacular movies that are uniquely appropriate for this great American holiday.
1. The Patriot, 2000. I know, Mel is a bit off the rails when it comes to Jews. But look, this is a fantastic film. Set in 1776, South Carolina, gritty battle scenes alternate with high-romance serving up a consistent mixture of action, adventure and unabashed patriotic fervor.
The scene where Benjamin Martin (Gibson) ambushes a British column, aided by his pint-sized younger sons, is breathtaking. Watch for the reaction shots of the children as they fix their gazes on Gibson’s blood splattered face and realize in a stunning rush of clarity that daddy is a totally murderous warrior.
2. The Crossing, 2000. You’ve seen Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s famous 1851 painting of Washington Crossing the Deleware. This fine cable movie puts that episode in its proper context. Cold and dispirited, Jeff Daniels as George Washington does not stand heroically in the boat but huddles in his cloak, chilled to the bone.
Daniels might be one of our most underrated actors. His performance as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Gettysburg, 1993, is profoundly understated and convincing. His Washington is deeply human: dignified, stubborn, increasingly desperate, but determined to win freedom from British tyranny.
The battle of Trenton is beautifully choreographed. Pay close attention to Washington’s tight-lipped scene with the mortally wounded Hessian general. Washington’s clear moral compass is in direct contrast to the moral equivalence which is today’s fashion. A gem of a movie with an excellent script by Howard Fast from his own novel.
3. Patton, 1970. Three hours of the most original and riveting bio-pic ever produced. Francis Ford Coppola’s script captures all the contradictions of General George S. Patton’s character. Patton has the most brilliant opening scene ever filmed. Patton’s speech is a rousing, jaw-dropping ode to the necessity of violence in order to secure freedom. Some might be horrified by Patton’s mixture of pride, ruthlessness, spiritualism and piety, but like it or not, this is the kind of man who wins wars.
George C. Scott’s towering performance is so convincing that when I see footage of the real Patton I’m like: “Hey, that’s not Patton.” A testament to the mythic power of the movies.
As I said, the opening scene is the greatest, but the “slapping” scene might be my favorite. It has enough moral contradictions—i.e. great drama—to give most anyone a few sleepless nights.
4. The Seven Samurai, 1954. Yes, this is a Japanese movie. But director Akira Kurosawa’s epic, the greatest movie ever made, speaks directly to the American soul about the moral imperative of a just war.
The Seven Samurai takes place in medieval Japan, a time when bandits—the terrorists of their time—roamed the land looting, raping and killing defenseless farmers.
Down at the heels Samurai warriors are hired to defend one poor village. The Samurai do not negotiate with the bandits. They do not try and appease them. Nor do they wonder about, ahem, the root causes of banditry. The Samurai set strategy and kill the bandits one by one.
Every true warrior understands there is not deterrence and no freedom without the disproportionate use of force.
The climactic battle in the rain, where mud, blood and tears mix, is perhaps, the finest choreographed battle scene ever staged.
Every skilled director in Hollywood studies this masterpiece and tries—without success—to emulate Kurosawa’s cinematic style. We all stand in Akira Kurosawa’s shadow. This is the film that compelled me to become a screenwriter.
If you love movies but have not seen The Seven Samurai, you are without oxygen.
I’d love to hear your picks for Fourth of July movies.
Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a joyous and meaningful Fourth of July.