Glenn here with this week's Tuesday Top Ten. Wikipedia tells this Australian that the Fourth of July, Independence Day, is a day usually celebrated with “fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions and political speeches and ceremonies.” Curious that they don’t include movies since, at least since 1991 when James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day premiered to one of the then biggest opening weekends of all time, the big July 4th blockbuster is an annual trend with the likes of Independence Day, the Transformers franchise, Superman Returns and seemingly anything starring Will Smith.
With the holiday this Friday, most lists of movies to watch over the long holiday weekend will feature masculine, almost brutish titles that celebrate America’s achievements in war and rah-rah bravura (The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun) or the coming of age of a nation and its people in almost gooey fashion (Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, The Grapes of Wrath). So let's have fun and mix it up. Some of these titles are a bit off of the beaten path and others are outright bonkers, but I think they perform a somewhat patriotic service in one way or another.
TEN UNCONVENTIONAL 4TH OF JULY RECOMMENDATIONS
10. Mulholland Drive
David Lynch loves America. If we all lived in his world then people in small towns would never have to dream of moving to New York or Los Angeles because they’d all be just as interesting as each other. In Lynch’s world – predominantly the (overlapping?) universes of Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and this, arguably his magnum opus – America is full of weird people doing weird things and he wouldn’t change a thing. Mulholland Drive is the film of a director who loves his home and wants everyone to be as entranced by it as he. In Lynch’s world, the magic of the American dream is alive and well, and even if it doesn’t work out (as, let’s face it, it rarely does) then he’s going to portray it with as much dreamy, sensual beauty as possible.
None of Barbra Streisand’s infamous Oscar-winning musical is actually set in America – the closest it gets is the final scene, the stunning “Piece of Sky” as Babs’ Yentl ventures across the sea to her new home – yet the film feels uniquely soaked in the nation’s history. A new frontier awaits the character, but Yentl tells the story of the people who would help turn America into the nation it is and does it the best way how – with song! Yentl also gave us Mandy Patinkin naked, and isn't that the most patriotic thing Barbra has ever done?
There’s not much that is ostensibly American about Bill Morrison’s epic of montage given much of the film stock used could be from anywhere in the world (especially given how easy it once was to lose track of film reels, and how easily it is for them to degrade). Still, despite this fact, there’s something rather fabulous about the idea of Decasia as a metaphor for the assemblage of cultures in America. While there are images as American as Hollywood movie stars (Mary Pickford!) and marching Native American school students, it’s the idea that anyone is welcome that makes this experimental film vibrate with spirit.
7. Mars Attacks!
It’s immediate when watching Mars Attacks! that Tim Burton is actively out to both spoof and pay homage to the classic sci-fi films of his youth. Coming on the heels of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, Mars Attacks! was arguably too soon to cash in on any blockbuster fatigue (the kind of films that Burton now frequently indulges in). Still, the film works as a wickedly entertaining and visually inventive take on the sort of films one might normally expect to find on a list such as this where America saves the day and wholesome values return.
6. Two-Lane Blacktop
Is there anything more American that ‘Route 66’? Not likely. Nevertheless, Monte Hellman’s indie road movie classic isn’t your typical cross-country adventure slathered in flag-waving Americana. No, rather it’s an austere take on identity and Americanism battling itself in the face of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s. This is an America that no longer exists, but is no less influential and important.
5. Looking for Langston and 4. How to Survive a Plague
These two films, one an Oscar-nominated documentary and the other a lush, black-and-white short film directed by a Brit, serve two purposes. They not only remind viewers (gay and otherwise) of how far we have come as a people, but also how far this medium that we have all but dedicated our lives to has come in telling our stories. Whether Independence Day is a day for reflection like Thanksgiving or not isn’t really the point. These two films – the former was a direct inspiration for David Fincher and Madonna for their “Vogue” music video of 1990 – are essentially American stories that should speak to more than just the niche minorities that they may initially appear to target. Watching these and you may just feel a whole different sense of national pride, one born out of anger and injustice that is disappearing before our very eyes.
3. Dance Party USA
Of all the best teen films (or, perhaps more appropriate, films about teens) from the last decade or so, this incredible 60-minute Mumblecore coming-of-age drama from Aaron Katz (whose latest, Land Ho!, is out soon) is the only one actually set over the Fourth of July. More than that, it earns its place by being a woozy, hypnotically lo-fi take on the holiday and its significance (or lack thereof) to a group of teenagers. It is a slice of American like unlike any other outside of maybe the work of Gus Van Sant.) It deserves to rank amongst the pantheon of the genre.
2. The Wizard of Oz
“There’s no place like home”, recites Judy Garland’s Dorothy. While she may be speaking specifically of her Kansas farmhouse with Hunk and Zeke and Hickory, she may as well be talking about America as a whole. For despite how green the pastures on the other side may be – wonderfully gorgeous Technicolor green – there is no place like America. At least in the movies.
1. Pink Flamingos
He just wanted to make America a better place. When John Waters made his revolutionary trash masterpiece Pink Flamingos in 1972, he wanted to introduce audiences to a different way of life. A filthy way of life. A life of divinity, if you will. What’s amusing most of all about the film that shocked and stunned audiences in its extensive life as a midnight movie hit is that its characters define so much of what America appears to stand for. Pink Flamingos is about family, it’s against communism and the need for competition (friendly or not), it’s about gun rights and the freedom of speech. “Kill everyone now!” preaches Divine in the kangaroo court that leads into its infamous denouement, but Pink Flamingos is actually about celebrating everyone and everything about people. It celebrates America in all of its filthy, underground weirdness and changed the world in the process. It's the most patriotic movie I can think of.