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Brutus Cassius reviews Spirit of 76

Wow! More praise and acclaim for the Spirit of 76 at amazon.com. This review sums it up pretty well and we’re delighted to re-post it here.

If you’re expecting Pixar you should probably buy a copy of Cars, December 12, 2009
By: Brutus Cassius “Brutus Cassius” – First of all, some of the comments on this films animation are ridiculous considering that it is the first EVER, American made – full length animated documentary! It therefore is creating its own genre. If you are purchasing this film to be dazzled by Big Studio special effects, you will be disappointed. If you expect that this documentary, which I am told was made for a mere $50k, is going to change the physical impression you have of the founders and they way they were painted, sketched or engraved you will also be disappointed. Now on to this wonderful films high points.

First of all, the soundtrack is amazing! The detail poured into the moving of chairs, the bustling and rustling of boot-steps across the sets and the reverb of the halls is as well done as any film I can recall shot in similar locations. The voice characterizations are also outstanding including a surprisingly entertaining performance by veteran actor Jay Thomas (Cheers, Mr. Holland’s Opus) who plays Ben Franklin. Thomas brings Franklin to life in a way that Tom Wilkinson (John Adams) will truly be jealous of. The narration by Mr. Church is passionate when it needs to be, commanding but not preachy at times and jocular when needed too. Quite a feat for an actor with no other screen credit save for his own documentaries.

Steve Cook delivers a believable James Madison and Michael Weingartner nearly steals the show with his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton. Patrick Henry is played by Jean Hetherington and is the star of the 3rd act. Hetherington’s performance should get him a Grammy as he delivers a more spirited defense of the American values fought for and gained in the Revolution than Hollywood has attempted since “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”. The rest of the cast is outstanding and since their are no professional casting agents listed, I will assume that Mr. Church handled the task. Those that question Mr. Church’s directorial skills and negatively compare him to Ken Burns should consider the enormous task and responsibility that casting the voices of our Founders entailed. Yet upon this films conclusion you will most assuredly relate the voices heard on the screen with references to the Founders in your daily life.

{sidebar id=12} The story begins in the office of a newspaper publisher in Richmond VA (Thomas Ritchie I believe) and in the opening scene the stage is set for what will follow: The Framers created the Constitution to handle some tasks it was deemed individual states were -as James Madison puts it in the movie- incompetent at. Anything that the Supreme Court or Congress tackles outside those tasks is unconstitutional. We are then introduced to Mr. Church who stands on the Spirit of 76 background set for most of the rest of the film as our narrator. The real stars show up toward the end of the prologue: the Church twins: Madison and Reagan. Their questions about the Constitutions framing guide us through the rest of the “Timeline”. Church deftly incorporates the twins into the storyline as they seem to popup when the story gets a tad esoteric (and what documentary doesn’t?!).

The illustrations in this movie are handsome, vivid, and well done. Again, these are illustrations, drawn by the talented art director Craig Holloway. If you are expecting perfectly rounded and smoothed edges on every item drawn for the movie than the look of actual artwork may be disappointing. The interior of Independence Hall is recreated as it must have looked and here again Church’s directorial skills shine. You can make out famous Founders, surrounded by other Founders from their own states suggesting that someone must have taken the time to draw a seating chart. I especially like the angle used where the camera starts outside Independence Hall and then zooms through the windows into the hall.

Each Founder is drawn as they appeared to the men who painted their portraits. At the end of the movie there are segues between Holloway’s illustrations and surviving paintings of the Founders, the resemblances are spot on. Great care is taken in some scenes to illustrate the weather conditions during that summer of 1787, again, this attention detail is encouraging for a first time director.

In the story we quickly learn that some Founders desired to erect a monarchy in place of the one the states had just freed themselves from and short of that we are shocked to learn that James Madison wanted a central government that would eliminate the role of the states. Madison is portrayed in a light I was never aware of, that of the BAD GUY for most of the film though it is obvious from Church’s narration that we won’t leave the theatre with an impression of Madison the tyrant king!

The opposite side of this debate is taken up by George Mason, Luther Martin -played by XM talker Andrew Wilkow – Elbridge Gerry and Charles Pinckney, played by the multitalented Weingartner. in one scene, if you watch closely, Weingartner actually debates himself (Pinckney vs Hamilton). These men, led by Mason, defend the independence of the states with a fervor and eloquence few alive in America today could match and Church wisely allows them to argue it out and adds commentary to fill in the narrative gaps.

The most surprising part of the story happens in the 3rd act where we learn of a plot to influence New York and Virginia’s ratification that was left out of my high school history books. Church guides the story through this intrigue as we meet New York governor George Clinton (no, he didn’t start Parliament) who was a profound proponent of the Constitution. Most of the 3rd acts action takes place in Richmond VA in a building called the New Academy. Here, Hetherington brings Patrick Henry to life as he and Mason desperately try to stop ratification. Henry even resorts to the supernatural as we see in the films finale sequence. This scene would have been nice to see animated by Pixar or Dream Works but you’ll get the point.

Church then ties the stories elements together with Masons reading of the VA ratification statement which will come as a shock to most audiences.

All things considered, the Spirit of 76 will keep you interested for the entire run-time and packs more historical insight and fact than what many of us have learned in an entire life. This is American history like you’ve never seen it before and it comes along not a moment too late as many today feel that the Constitution you will watch the drafting and ratification of is dead. Hopefully the Spirit of 76 will at the least, stir up enough interest in the fabled document to save its relevance.

Brutus Cassius at amazon.com’s Spirit of 76 page

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About the author

Host of the Mike Church Show on The Veritas Radio Network's CRUSADE Channel & Founder of the Veritas Radio Network. Formerly, of Sirius/XM's Patriot channel 125. The show began in March of 2003 exclusively on Sirius and remains "the longest running radio talk show in satellite radio history".

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