Directed by: Alex Horowitz.
You’d be hard pressed to find a big Pop Culture phenomenon in the past year that Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton – the biggest hit Broadway has produced in years, and the first in I don’t know how long to infiltrate the culture more widely that he insular world of Broadway usually allows. I was hardly the first person who hasn’t seen the play yet, to fall in love with it – in fact, I felt hopelessly behind when I finally did hear the soundtrack – and then introduce it to my Broadway loving wife, who loved it even more. No, we still haven’t seen the play (a scheduled trip in in January will rectify that) – but until then, a PBS documentary like Hamilton’s America will have to suffice. Directed by Alex Horowitz, the film itself isn’t particularly brilliant – it’s basically a series of talking heads, discussing the brilliance of the play and of Alexander Hamilton himself, the history that inspired the play, and some snippets of the songs that have become so popular in the past year.
That being said, I do think Hamilton’s America does precisely the job that it sets out to do. For fans of Hamilton, it provides some background information – the filming of the doc clearly started as Miranda was in the early stages of writing the musical, and contains wonderful moments of discovery with him – as he’s practically bursting with enthusiasm, as he figures out a line or a song that will eventually become iconic. If there’s one thing that the last year has shown, it’s that Miranda’s enthusiasm is contagious – it is impossible to watch him and not be happy. The film acts as an interesting, if rather cursory, look at his creative process.
It’s also an interesting look, if again, rather cursory look at the history that Miranda is adapting here. There is a lot of talk about who Hamilton was – and what his place in American history really is – it has interviews with politicians from both the Democratic and Republican Party, that sing his praises. It confronts (more than play did), the legacy of slavery that effects how we see great men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington – men who did so many great things for America, but also owned human beings – and how, as a country, America still needs to reconcile that.
Then, there is the music itself. For those of us who love the music, but haven’t scoured Youtube, looking for horrible versions, shot with clandestine cell phones, of the songs as performed on Broadway – Hamilton’s America gives the best view of those numbers from Broadway – with the now legendary original cast – that we have seen to date (and may ever see, if they don’t release the filmed version they did before everyone scattered to the wind).
I don’t think Hamilton’s America is a great doc – it tries to cover the creative process, American history, the play itself and other things all in the span of 90 minutes, and as a result, does everything on little more than a surface level. But it is a good primer – a primer for the musical, and the history it is based on – one that will hopefully have some people excited to dig into both more deeply – and for me, helped scratch that itch I’ll have until January, when I enter the Richard Rodgers theater, and finally see the damn play.