- The American Revolution (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 4, December 1974
- pp. 19-20
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The American Revolution (American Heritage-Learning Corporation of America, 1971) Part I, 23 min., Part II, 26 min. color As the bicentennial approaches we may anticipate a deluge of films on the American Revolution. This recent production approaches the subject by examining the experiences and attitudes of John Laurens, the young South Carolinian who served the revolutionary cause in various military and diplomatic capacities. The narrative uses actual correspondence between John and his father Henry Laurens,, an early president of the Continental Congress. Part I covers Laurens as a law student in London from 1772-75, eagerly following the course of events unfolding back home. Part II covers his career from 1777 until his untimely death in 1782 in a minor skirmish after full-scale combat had already ended. The film is intelligently conceived, focusing on issues and avoiding an older classroom film approach to the Revolution which concentrated on stirring patriot speeches and shots of falling redcoats. Battle scenes here occupy less than a minute. Although Laurens was in fact an important aide to George Washington and a close friend of Alexander Hamilton, Washington appears in only one scene and Hamilton is not shown at all; neither are many other of the more famous figures of the age. Instead, the film attempts to show how the revolutionary generation, as represented by one young idealist, was forced to come to grips with disturbing paradoxes that made the era more complex than a portrayal of a single-minded struggle on behalf of liberty and against tyranny would suggest. Laurens is shown throughout the film to be deeply troubled -- as that 18th century liberal and son of a slaveholder truly was --by the discrepancy between America's professed revolutionary ideals and the reality of slavery. He is also troubled when he encounters the seamier side of war, as common soldiers suffer while civilians, including many members of the Continental Congress, show more concern about private profits than about supplying the troops. In the one scene with Washington, Laurens, following a visit to Valley Forge, reveals a temporary disillusionment by suggesting that the civilian government is unable to prosecute the war and that the military should seize control for the duration of the conflict; Washington points out the long-range dangers of the argument. The film's shortcomings stem largely from its merits. An effort is made to show the internal problems which existed within the new nation even as it struggled for independence from external control, but there is at times a hurried pace as scenes cut quickly back and forth from these problems to the larger struggle against England. Nevertheless the film is recommended as a fine attempt to raise important questions about the meaning of the American Revolution, and to show the continuing 19 significance of many of those questions. It provides numerous suggestions for classroom discussion. Both parts should be seen, but if it is necessary to choose, part II will be a bit more useful. Grant Morrison, CW. Post College (Course: U.S. History Survey) How Do They Make Bicycles, 1970, 5 min., color, 16 mm.; What Are Toothbrushes Made Of, 1970, 6 min., color, 16mm. These films will crack up your classes with laughter and at the same time force your students into serious thinking as to the effects that technology, mass production and a consumer culture have had on their lives, children's lives and on the lives of workers. Both films make ample use of the absurd and brilliant insights of Woody Allen and Jonathan Winters appears, as in What Are Toothbrushes Made Of In no other eleven minutes of footage that I know of can you have these two contemporary cultural heroes. I use the films in my course on Contemporary America and Early American Cultural History (16071877 ). Believe me they fit in both. In the early course the films quickly reveal what our culture has become and also since they were originally produced for educational television, they raised questions in class as to how the Puritans educated their children and the transmission of a culture. In the contemporary course they raise all kinds of questions about machines dominating men, the alienated worker, ecology...