“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/ When I was young and dreamed of glory/ You have no control/ Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

– Chris Jackson (George Washington) in Hamilton

When I started this blog, I wrote that I would not attempt to make these posts a history lesson. I love history, being a historian, and talking about history. While teaching American history is my profession and passion, I want this blog to mix that with all the other topics I appreciate. Still, there are times, like today, when I use my knowledge of history, not to teach a lesson but to shine attention on my addiction to movies and television. Allow me, as I put on my historian hat, which I like to imagine resembles the one worn by Denzel Washington in Glory or Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird, and discuss my emotional reaction to cinematic historical drama.

During times like these, when history seems distant, distorted, and dismissed, I often look to cinema to help remind me of what inspires me. History has always been something that interested me. The other day, I watched Hamilton for the first time and felt emotions that I had not felt since the pandemic began. Teaching using ZOOM has left me disappointed, even while recognizing this format’s necessity and how lucky I am to do what I love. But, while I understand those facts, I have felt empty. Watching the filmed performance of the epic Broadway play on Disney + helped remind me, even if slightly, of my love of history. I believe that cinema can offer a powerful emotional trigger that can bring history into the present. So, join me as I reconsider this viewing experience alongside some of the best cinematic moments, for me, that repeatedly stirs up my passion for history.

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What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

“There’s only now, there’s only here
Give in to love or live in fear
No other path, No other way
No day but today”

– “No Day But Today” – Vocals by Idina Menzel and Lyrics by Jonathan D. Larson

One year ago, for New Year’s Eve, my wife and I drove into Cambridge, MA, for a live performance of Moby-Dick, A Musical Reckoning at the American Repertory Theater. We had bought these tickets a couple of months before, mainly because on the one hand we wanted to see more live performances in the new year and, on the other hand, I love everything related to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It was a fantastic night, and the play was brilliant, unique, and the songs were memorable. What we didn’t expect was that this performance would be our last live event of the year. With the pandemic shuttering the doors of Broadway theaters and theaters around the country, we had that previous event as a powerful reminder of the things we lost out on in 2020.

Today’s post is my 30th since mid-July, which was when I started this blog. Next week, my post will explore a travel adventure in Central America, so this week, and since tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, I decided to reflect on that Moby-Dick musical and think back to those times I took in a play either on Broadway or closer to home. Each live theater experience provided a wonderful experience that I deeply miss. I know these theaters will open their doors again. Still, in the meantime, l am going to get my memory ticket punched and head back in time to reflect on those amazing musical performances.

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