Opinion: It’s Time for Another ‘Hamilton’
2015 now seems a distant memory. To paraphrase comedian John Mulaney, any time prior to the 2016 election now feels, in retrospect, like one big, wild party with no responsibilities or consequences.
Like other great works of art, ‘Hamilton’ was able to anticipate this coming state of national fragility. It was based around what sounded like a painfully cheesy pitch. Oh, it’s about Alexander Hamilton? And there’s rapping, alongside traditional musical theater showstoppers? Cool.
There’s the famous video clip from Lin-Manuel Miranda, of his performance of an early version of the opening song from ‘Hamilton’ in the Obama White House. During the song, the audience, including Obama and First Lady Michelle, laugh. It’s a ridiculous premise.
But of course it proved to be one of the most significant moments in the history of American musical theater, all out of absolutely nowhere. It had power beyond its immediate story, it rewrote American history to a degree where it included every man, woman, and child, not just white, land-owning males.
It showed us an American Revolution in which the goals were pure, the intentions altruistic and saintly. It gave us strength in a time when the country’s future has seemed precarious at best.
But already our impatient media-minded selves want another one. We want to be inspired again. We forget our media quickly, and expect more on a constant basis. And it can’t just merely entertain. Right now, so many Americans need their media to provide some kind of sustenance.
It’s an outlandish demand, yes, almost childish, but it remains true. Have our creators lost the guts needed to directly address the problems of the day?
Somehow, the Comedy of Ernst Lubitsch Stays Fresh
Ernst Lubitsch was born unto an incredibly German name, in Germany, at the tail-end of the 19th century. He wound up being one of the most prolific and versatile directors of early Hollywood.
He tends to be remembered for movies like ‘To Be or Not to Be’ and ‘Design For Living,’ and these do hold us ap great works of cinema. But it was in an unremembered film of his titled ‘Heaven Can Wait’ that best proves his lasting relevance.
It’s the story of a man, now dead, showing up to Hell to be taken in. He tells Satan himself that he was a terrible person, and that, according to everyone else in his life, he now deserves eternal punishment.
The bulk of the movie is watching his life play out, and this format does indeed feel old-fashioned. It reminds us of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘basically any Gregory Peck movie you can think of. But as this fictional life plays out before our eyes, it becomes clear, through the characters and dialogue, that ‘Heaven Can Wait’ maintains a feeling of contemporaneity.
Every cast member falls into one of two categories:
1. An overly pompous, yet well-meaning, dope who is oblivious of the way in which the world really works.
2. A charming, intelligent, self-aware individual who just ‘gets it.’
The fun is watching the two types fight it out, arguing over their futures, their legacies, their fears, often mocking each other in the process.
It’s easy to find yourself in these scenes, to somehow relate to these very old, very common problems and situations. It’s a lesson in how to cover serious material while simultaneously laughing about it, whether in writing, filmmaking, or just real life.