The ultimate 4th of July viewing experience

To the rest of the world it’s just a day, but to Americans, July 4th is “Independence Day.” It’s the day when firearm toting, flag waving southerners unite alongside the scarf-wearing, Prius-driving yankees up north to celebrate our common love of blowing stuff up.

gif-fireworks

There’s not a whole lot of reflection on things like the Declaration of Independence, the meaning of freedom, or the heroism of our veteran-dead anymore on this holiday of ours; but then again, we don’t spend much time talking about the Alien and Sedition Acts, Trail of Tears or Imminent Domain either. So I guess it evens out.

What we Americans do end up doing on the Fourth of July is the most American thing there is to do these days: A whole lot of nothing.

You might think that’s lazy, but if so, you’re probably over in England or Canada or somewhere else, not doing a whole lot of nothing. In which case, that’s a shame. I’ll be here, sitting around my house, eating unhealthy food and watching all the best jingo-powered TV shows, movies and broadcast specials I can get my hands on.

If you’re like me, and you are looking for something really “merica” to watch on Independence Day, or, if you’re not like me but you want to revel in the once-a-year awesomeness that is “merica,” then let me offer you my top ten list of best things to watch on Independence Day. Sure there’s no way to watch all of these shows in one day, not when there’s afternoon naps and leftovers to eat, but since the 4th falls on a Saturday this year, you can easily knock these out over the festive weekend.

NUMBER TEN: OLD “GREAT AMERICAN BASH” VHS TAPES

Sure you can pull these up on the WWE Network, and maybe there’s a youtube match here and there, but if you want to experience these shows as they were seen in the olden days, you need to watch them in the cheapest video quality possible, in order to replicate the low quality 1980’s TV sets that we Americans had back then. Go back to the first event in 1985 and watch Ric Flair defeat Nikita Koloff to retain the World Heavyweight Championship. On that same card, The American Dream main-evented in a cage match for Tully Blanchard’s World TV Title. The Dream would win, and begin a stretch where, apart from one loss to Barry Windham, he would walk out of every Great American Bash he competed in victorious (seven out of eight shows, not counting the WWE editions). One of the 1986 shows saw Dusty Rhodes defeat Ric Flair for the World’s title.

The Independence Day, 1987 show saw a great WarGames match between the Four Horseman and The Road Warriors (and friends). The 1989 show is pretty much incredible from top to bottom, and the 1992 is underrated for its entertainment. If you’re looking for an old school pro wrestling fix, check out any of the old Great American Bash events and get your fill.

Watch it if you’re feeling nostalgic for some great American wrestling of days gone by.

NUMBER NINE: JFK

If you’re looking for answers, you will find a lot of them here, even if they don’t all agree with each other. If you’re looking for cold hard facts…look elsewhere. If it’s Oliver Stone at his most visceral that you crave, this is it. The film is tense and thrilling with a feeling of dread throughout, as though the heroes of the film might be gunned down at any moment for discovering too big a secret. You forget you’re watching a movie about real people whose fates are known and recorded in history. You forget that, because the direction is so tense, the editing so flawless, the music (a brilliant score by John Williams) so nerve-wracking, and the camerawork so hectic in its wildest moments, it feels more like a John Grisham adaptation than a historical dramatization.

Too many liberties were taken with the truth yet presented to the audience as understood fact, there’s a few outlandish theories that are tossed out there and not really explored, but every now and then, I’ll watch this movie and catch something that makes me say “hmm.” Even though it’s not traditional “Independence Day” material, it concerns the investigation into the murder of one of America’s most revered (after the fact) presidents.

Watch it if you’re looking for engrossing entertainment, with some great “What’s happened to America?” speechifying on the side.

NUMBER EIGHT: FORREST GUMP

Derided by some as overly sentimental, and blamed for robbing Pulp Fiction (or The Shawshank Redemption, depending on your persuasion) of the Best Picture Oscar, Forrest Gump is, if nothing else, a celebration and reflection of the most transformative period of 20th century America. In his life he interacted with soon-to-be-famous Elvis in the 50’s, played college football for The Bear, met JFK, fought in Nam, played ping pong against the Chinese, and stumbled—alive—through a Black Panther meet-and-greet. That doesn’t even touch the shrimp, investing in Apple, Watergate and so many other things.

The movie’s depiction of Vietnam was not as brutal as in Full Metal Jacket, but many vets have sworn by its depiction of the war as “easy going, then suddenly depressing, then suddenly horrifying, then suddenly easy going again.” The movie is not so much a film as it is a photo album of the recent American history, for good and for ill.

Watch it for a candy coated look back at the Baby Boomer era.

NUMBER SEVEN: UNFORGIVEN

The “western” is the quintessential American movie. Though other directors like Sergio Leone put a foreign spin on the genre, the template will always be American to the core: The “old west,” with its freedom, outlaws and lawmen, wagons and railroads, is celebrated in early western films, and Clint Eastwood made his name in many of them. Unforgiven, however, is not like the old western movies of days gone by. It tears it down and points at its every flaw.

Wannabe outlaws brag about killing twenty men, but in reality they break down at the killing of just one. Sheriffs who were honored in the past as keepers of the peace, are, in reality, just as racist and cruel as the rest of the town. Gunfights where pistols are drawn and bullets are fired with precision accuracy, in reality, feature fumbled draws, poor aim, and more punctured walls than punctured bodies. There are no “singing cowboys” here, only sadness, bitterness and gloom.

Watch it if you’re in the mood for a beautifully shot movie, which honors the little of the land “from sea to shining sea” that has yet to be developed by a real estate mogul.

NUMBER SIX: TOP GUN

One of the biggest movie stars of the era? Check. A pulse pounding score and schmaltzy action and acting? Check, check and check. 1980’s Jingoism? Check again. Rampant homo-eroticism? Big time check.  This might just be the ultimate movie of the Reagan 80’s. I mean if you don’t shed a tear whenever “Great Balls of Fire” plays on the radio, because you think about poor Goose, you can’t be my friend.

The movie isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s not trying to be. It’s just stupid fun and that’s okay too every now and then.

Watch it with friends and laugh. Except for when Goose gets got. There’s nothing funny about that.

NUMBER FIVE: JAWS

Forty years later, this movie is still a masterpiece. This is Spielberg at his most Hitchcockian (the clip above even uses the classic “dolly zoom” that Hitchcock debuted in Vertigo). There is a menacing terror, but it goes almost entirely unseen until the very end. The stories behind this production are almost as fascinating as the movie itself, as so many things that are now legendary (John Williams and his score, the unseen shark) were simply lucky breaks or unlucky ones that turned out good.

If you’re planning on going to the beach this holiday, this might be the worst movie to see (other than Jack and Jill, which is always the worst movie to see, ever). On the other hand, if you’re sitting in your recliner, in the mood for a movie that blends suspense, horror and old school movie monster mayhem in a way few have bettered, JAWS (always in all caps) is your film.

Watch it to appreciate Hollywood’s greatest filmmaker and the industry’s first real summer blockbuster.

NUMBER FOUR: ROCKY

The movie is set during America’s bicentennial, 1976. Unfortunately America was in pretty crummy shape in those days as many were saying America’s best days were behind her (sound familiar?). The story of Rocky was a rags to almost riches story, about a man who just wanted to go toe-to-toe with the champ, just to say he could. Winning was never his ambition. He just wanted to prove he wasn’t a bum. When he took the champ down (momentarily), the euphoria of the crowd was just a happy by-product.

Of course (SPOILER ALERT) he lost the match, because a true rags-to-riches story would have been unbelievable in the 1970’s. Still, the story isn’t about winning the championship; it’s about proving that you were good enough.

Watch it if you want to go back to the grime of the 1970’s only to be pulled out of the funk by an uplifting story about a loser who loses (from everyone else’s perspective) but wins (as far as he’s concerned).

NUMBER THREE: ELVIS: ALOHA! FROM HAWAII

Fair warning: I’m a hardcore Elvis aficionado.

Speaking of rags to riches, this one was real. Growing up in a house not bigger than most of our bedrooms, Elvis was raised in the deep south in gross poverty, with few of the advantages and security blankets that could have helped him along the way. He was blessed with good looks, a Gospel-singing-trained voice, and (often overlooked) a remarkable ability to interpret a song and make it his own.

Most people reach 21 and have no idea what to do with their lives. By the time Elvis was 21, he was one of the biggest stars in the country. By 25, he was the biggest star in the country. By 35 he was the biggest star in the world. By 42 he was gone. A few years before dying, at the peak of his 1970’s touring, he recorded a pair of live concerts from Hawaii, the latter of which was aired live via satellite (a rarity at the time).

Though his voice was a little wobblier than in years past, and his eyes a little too glassy (he was heavily abusing uppers and downers in those days), the show was a huge success and one of the biggest “rock concerts” in history. His rags to riches story was truly The American Dream personified, and his medley of songs about the American Civil War (titled “American Trilogy”) certainly played into his roots as America’s first mega star.

Sidebar

A lot of people misunderstand American Trilogy, because they can’t get over the opening third. The song starts with a stirring rendition of “Dixie,” the South’s anthem, as it were. Because of that, people have assumed the song is racist or inappropriate. No. The song is a medley of three, which tell the story of the Civil War. It begins with Dixie, then moves into the Battle Hymn of the Republic (an anthem of the North, as it were). Then it transitions into “All my trials,” which was a black spiritual hymn sung during the civil rights era of the 50’s and 60’s. Essentially that song is the plight of the African American the Civil War was fought over. After that, the medley returns to Battle Hymn and closes in strong style, symbolically showing the North’s victory and the victory of blacks in their civil rights movement. There’s nothing racist about the song: It is an American Trilogy

Watch it if you want to see The King of Rock and Roll Music Entertainment, a little past his prime, on the biggest stage anyone’s ever played.

NUMBER TWO: BRAVEHEART

There’s nothing American about this movie. It wears its Scottish heritage on its sleeve, loud and proud. But think about it: It’s a mostly fictional story that pretends to be real, as told by a racist misogynist. And the theme of the movie is “freedom.”

Yeah. Merica.

Watch it because it’s a masterpiece. I didn’t post the clip of Wallace being tortured and crying “freedom!” just before dying, because that scene chokes me up every time. Powerfully acted, directed, and beautifully shot. The film’s a gem.

NUMBER ONE: INDEPENDENCE DAY

Obviously, right? What I love about this movie is how the cast is essentially a bunch of then-unproven headliners and even more type-casted co-stars. For most of the movie they are all seperated on their own little plot lines, but they all are so well written, the story is so stupidly fun, and each plot line is so independently interesting, that when the climax of the film arrives and they all come together, you really feel like this is a superhero team up ready to save the world from the alien invasion.

The movie is basically Marvel’s Phase One in miniature.

It also happens to have some horribly dated CGI effects that I remember being wowed by in the theaters as a kid. It’s great to laugh at now, in a “I can’t believe people used to think that was cool” sort of way.

Watch it because it’s right there in the title. You have to watch it. It’s Independence Day.

~~~

So that’s my list. What’s yours?

Follow me on twitter @bigpaleblog

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