Tuesday, August 5, 2008

HBO's John Adams.

John Adams at 89

ast weekend, I watched the first 5 parts of HBO's video production of the David McCullough book, John Adams. It was well done. The little things look right, the horse carriages are worn, and the paint is peeling on the homes where it should be. This is not a visually romantic view of life in the 18th century. Clothes are not always pressed and ironed, fields have weeds, and makeup appears to be minimal -- except with the French, where it is exaggerated, as if the make up artist for the Joker moved over to the John Adams set. The white powder faces in one scene were eerie.

Here's what I liked and disliked about the series:

  • The relation between Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and Washington. It's hard to summarize a 10 year period into 5 hours. The characters have to be reduced to some generalized persona, but I think they hit the mark fairly well.
  • I liked the distinction made between the French and American Revolutions even if I would have preferred it to be explained a little more. The Americans were able to control the passions of the mob, the French glorified those passions and manipulated them as can be seen in the words of Jefferson. The French rejected the Western tradition, the Americans appealed to it. (okay, I'm a bit of a homer, I admit).
  • Abigail was lovable as I imagined her to be, and influential as history indicates. John and Abigail's love for each other was enjoyable. Laura Linney is pleasant to watch as Abigail.
  • I like the frontier spirit of the Americans and how the Europeans "looked down their nose" at them.
  • The difference in political philosophy of Adams and Jefferson.
  • Paul Giamatti gets slightly annoying as John Adams, and whether that's Giamatti or John Adams I don't know. At one point I thought I was watching Bilbo Baggins.
  • I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing old Ben Franklin and older French lady in a bathtub playing chess. It may have happened but I certainly don't need to see it.
  • My idea of Washington is as a greater figure than portrayed, which was tall, quiet, oafish, and sometimes easily led by factions. Washington, though not a classicist in the sense of Hamilton, Jefferson or Adams, was nevertheless an on-the-field military leader who knew his classics. Washington was verbally quiet but was a daily writer. His letters, essays and commentary take about 20 volumes of large books and indicate a man of broad learning.
  • That Adams was not mentioned as a contributor to the Declaration of Independence.
Disclaimer: I did not read the book.

Comments? Kenny? Mary Ann?
After the Post Edits on 08/11/08:
It was embarrassingly pointed out to me that the Giamatti was Paul not Bart which I corrected in the post.


Cowboy fan, burger junkie, GodFather of Tech said...

I watched it when it debuted. I thought it was a good series and the acting was done well.

Not having read up on John Adams, I cannot determine if it is historically accurate, but I didn't let that sway me either way, I simply enjoyed the series.

Francis Shivone said...

I agree, I enjoyed it, too.

scott d said...

bart giamatti was the commissioner of baseball who banned pete rose. paul giamatti is the actor in the series

Francis Shivone said...

Scott -- Thanks for the correction.