PBS Marks 50th Anniversary Of Freedom Summer With New Episode Of American Experience

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS announced this week, the upcoming home release of another episode of its series American Experience.

PBS will release American Experience: Freedom Summer June 24th on DVD. The documentary takes viewers back to the Summer of 1964, recalling the events that would change America forever over a mere ten weeks. It was over those ten weeks that the civil rights movement took a big turn. Over seven hundred student volunteers joined forces with organizers and local members of the African American community in Mississippi to establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Freedom Schools throughout the state. The goal of the movement was to challenge the state’s already established Democratic Party at the DNC in Atlantic City that year.

The efforts of Freedom Summer organizers and student volunteers were met with a lot of resistance. Three civil rights workers were killed that year. There were also numerous beatings. And some thirty-five churches were burned. A total of seventy homes and community centers were bombed in the process, too. Acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, the Murder of Emmitt Till) directed this documentary. Till takes viewers through the dramatic events of the Freedom Summer, from the violence to the efforts to get African Americans registered to vote and everything in between. It shows the sheer complexity of the movement to end segregation in America.

American Experience: Freedom Summer retails for $24.99. It can be pre-ordered via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=34894696&cp=&sr=1&kw=american+experience+freedom+summer&origkw=American+Experience+Freedom+Summer&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience, http://www.pbs.org/americanexperience, and http://twitter.com/AmExperiencePBS. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS Documentary Proves Truth Is Sometimes Stranger (And Better) Than Fiction

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

American Experience: The Last outlaws – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is another wonderful addition to PBS’ hit series.  The documentary on the famed outlaw cowboy and his cohort (Sundance was not his sidekick despite how he was presented in various movies and TV shows) is so impressive first and foremost in that it presents the real history of the two infamous figures.  It doesn’t try to over glamorize the lives of the two men.  Viewers will enjoy this episode of American Experience because of its minimalistic use of actors and dramatization in telling the story of Butch and his friend.  This plays directly into the episode’s general presentation and refusal to over-glamorize their history.  And last but not least, the use of cinematography and vintage pictures help to illustrate the story.  That combined with the minimalist dramatization and the straight forward history makes this episode of American Experience more proof of just how interesting history can be.  And it makes the newly released DVD one that any history buffs or teacher will want to purchase and add to their own home library.

The first and most obvious reason that audiences will appreciate American Experience: The Last Outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is that it is a straight forward history of the two infamous outlaws.  So many movies and television programs through the decades have been crafted presenting depicting the men in one fashion or another.  In many of those depictions, The Sundance Kid (a.k.a. Harry Alonzo Longabaugh) is presented as Butch Cassidy’s sidekick.  But as audiences will learn through this episode of American Experience, the relationship between the men was more an equal friendship than one of a leader and sidekick.  What’s more, audiences not so familiar with the life and times of these infamous outlaws will appreciate learning that they were far more average than the noted movies and TV dramas have made them out to be.  It’s interesting just to learn that Cassidy (a.k.a. Robert Leroy Parker) actually started out in a very strict religious family from Utah before eventually leaving and making his way to Colorado where his life of crime truly began.  There is so much more to learn throughout this program.  The best summary of what is presented is that sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.  And in this case, that’s definitely a good thing (bad pun fully intended).

The true history of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid presented in this episode of American Experience is the central reason that audiences will enjoy the newly released DVD.  Another reason that audiences will appreciate this DVD is its minimalist use of actors and dramatization. In most cases of historical pieces, dramatizations are necessary in order to help tell the story of the subject presented. In the case of this episode of American Experience, the use of actors and dramatization actually would have been overkill. That’s because the story itself is interesting enough without those extra elements. Audiences will find themselves fully engaged as they learn how two seemingly ordinary men became the virtual Robin Hood and Little John of the old west, stealing from major organizations, yet through it all, leaving only one person dead in their wake. Those behind the program perfectly balanced the minimalist dramatization approach with just enough history to make this episode even all the more enjoyable.

The balance of story and minimalist dramatization used throughout American Experience: The Last Outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid make this program one that any history buff and any history teacher will definitely want to add to their own home library. The last piece of the program that audiences will appreciate is the combination of the use of vintage photos and stunning cinematography. As narrator Michael Murphy discusses the “Outlaw Trail”, audiences are presented with stunning views of the areas where Cassidy and other outlaws would hide in order to evade law enforcement. The aerial shots of the canyons—some split by rivers, others lined by craggy overhangs—are incredible. The vintage photos of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid help to illustrate just how average the two legendary outlaws looked. It is a direct contradiction to how they are portrayed in movies and on television. The two elements are expertly balanced throughout the program, thus helping to pull viewers even more into the story of two of history’s most talked about figures. Those final two elements work in tandem with the aforementioned factors to make this new documentary from PBS’ American Experience so much more worth watching. It ends up proving to be one more excellent documentary that is just as useful and enjoyable in the living room as it is in the classroom.

American Experience: The Last OutlawsButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=32476546&cp=&sr=1&kw=butch+cassidy&origkw=Butch+Cassidy&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Amish Shunned Shows The True Reality Of Amish Life

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS proved time and again throughout 2013 why it is the last true bastion of worthwhile educational programming. Where History Channel, Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel have all allowed themselves to fall victim to the plague that is “reality television”,PBS has stayed the course, standing tall while the aforementioned networks have become but pale shells of what they once were. As 2014 is still in its infancy, PBS continues to prove to audiences why it sits atop the broadcast spectrum with the release of the latest piece in its American Experience series, The Amish Shunned. The first part of this presentation that audiences will appreciate is the stories shared by those on both sides of the divide. Audiences won’t find any Breaking Amish or Amish Mafia style stories here. What audiences get in this presentation is real reality. Just as key to this new documentary is its editing. The entire presentation runs roughly two hours. The manner in which the documentary was edited goes a long way toward keeping viewers engaged throughout the course of the program. The last piece of the whole that makes The Amish Shunned is the cinematography. The work of those behind the cameras works directly with the editing and the storytelling to make this piece another impressive presentation from PBS proving why it remains the last bastion of true worthwhile programming.


The stories presented in The Amish Shunned are the central piece of the whole that makes this program well worth watching. They are nothing like the overhyped, over the top drama ofAmish Mafia and Breaking Amish. Instead, viewers see the true emotional impact on young Amish individuals in their decisions to leave their communities. Right from the program’s outset, audiences are introduced to a young Amish girl that had made the decision to leave her community. It’s shocking to learn the lengths to which she had to go in order to make her escape. Just as eye-opening is the revelation of how she (and other Amish individuals) initially feel a certain amount of guilt for leaving the Amish church despite knowing they need to break away. Her story of her departure from the Amish church is just one of many that are shared over the course of this program’s roughly two hour run time. Each of the stories shared by those that have left the Amish church presents more drama than audiences will ever get from those shows on Discovery and TLC. They are far more moving, too.


The stories shared by the subjects in The Amish Shunned are in themselves quite moving and powerful. Making the stories so powerful in part is the program’s editing. Editor Rachel Clark is to be commended for her work. The transitions from one subject’s story to the next are clear and solid. On top of that, her ability to reach the emotional heart of each story with her editing is to be applauded. As audiences will notice throughout each story, footage of daily life within the Amish community is used to heighten the emotional depth of each story. And it works quite well. On a more subtle yet important level, audiences that watch closely will notice that the face of the program’s first subject is shown a little more each time she is re-introduced each time throughout the program. This editing illustrates how she is becoming increasingly open to her new lifestyle and feeling less guilty for having broken away from the Amish church and culture. As subtle as it is, it is a powerful statement. And it’s just one of so much expert editing done throughout this piece that audiences will appreciate about this new release.

The editing and storytelling both are integral pieces to the overall presentation that is The Amish Shunned. Just as key to the overall presentation is the camera work. The work of those behind the cameras works in direct connection with the documentary’s editing. The wide shots of the Amish countryside are outstanding to say the very least. The serenity portrayed in those shots in comparison to those of the city life that the program’s subjects have taken will actually lead some to wonder in the backs of their minds why in fact they would leave such peace and serenity.  That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have.  But it definitely opens the door for some discussion.  It’s just one of so many examples of how effective the cinematography was in this piece.  There is much more worth noting in terms of the documentary’s cinematography.  And audiences will find out just how much more there is to note when they order the program for themselves.  It is available now on DVD and can be ordered direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=30498866&cp=&sr=1&kw=the+amish+shunned&origkw=The+Amish+Shunned&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other documentaries from PBS’ American Experience is available online at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience and http://www.pbs.org/americanexperience.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Audiences Of All Types Will Appreciate PBS’ Latest Video Bio

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Next Friday, November 22nd marks the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Everybody knows the story of how Kennedy was gunned down while riding through the streets of Dallas, Texas.  Countless conspiracy theories have been crafted about his death in the years since his murder.  Just as many people know the associated conspiracy theories.  But just how many people know what Kennedy was doing in Dallas to begin with?  PBS answers that question and more in the new episode of its hit series, American Experience: JFK follows the life and career of John F. Kennedy from his birth to his rise to the Presidency to his untimely death in 1963.  Along the way, viewers are given a look not only at his own life, but how his own family roots led to his career in politics as well as much more.  This is one part of what makes this documentary an impressive addition to any history buff’s home library.  Those same history and political science junkies will appreciate the addition of some familiar footage from Kennedy’s career, and some more rare footage from his personal life as well as his career.  JFK is made even more impressive thanks to the manner in which the story was assembled.  The four-hour, two-part documentary is split up into a way that doesn’t require viewers to be afraid of missing anything.  That aspect of the overall presentation works with the previously mentioned factors to make it one that anyone with even the slightest interest in history and/or political science will appreciate.

Most audiences that watch JFK are sure to come into the presentation with at least a general knowledge of Kennedy’s time in office.  After watching this presentation, audiences will come out of it having learned more about Kennedy than they ever thought they would learn about him.  That is thanks to the bounty of information provided about his life and that of his family.  While more seasoned viewers might already know, others will be interested to find out that John and his brother Bobby weren’t the only politicians in the Kennedy clan.  Their father was also a well-known politician.  And their brother died serving America.  Just as noteworthy are the revelations about the secrets of the Cuban missile crisis.  According to the program, narrated by veteran actor Oliver Platt, Kennedy negotiated a secret deal with Nikita Khrushchev in order to get Khrushchev to remove his missiles from Cuba.  Platt goes on to explain that even after the crisis, this part of the story had not been revealed to Americans.  It wasn’t until years later that this information was made public.  There is much more information provided with JFK.  And viewers will find that it collectively makes this program another enjoyable addition to PBS’ American Experience.

The story presented by writer Mark Zwonitzer and his cohorts behind the documentary is one that is certain to interest anyone with even a fleeting interest in JFK’s life.  The story alone isn’t all that makes this edition of American Experience work so well.  Audiences will be just as impressed by the inclusion of so much vintage footage throughout the feature.  Some of the footage is relatively similar.  A prime example is that of Kennedy riding through the streets of Dallas, TX.  Less familiar but just as interesting is footage of Kennedy talking to his cabinet throughout the Cuban missile crisis.  There are also still photos of Kennedy in the Oval Office used to illustrate his state of mind through his ups and downs.  They and the video footage together make the overall presentation of this episode of American Experience even richer.

The video footage, still photos, and historical information together are key elements that make JFK another successful episode from PBS’ American Experience.  The overall makeup of the presentation puts it over the top.  That’s because of the “episode’s” four-hour run time.  Four hours over two discs seems like a lot.  Those four hours are split into much shorter and distinct segments.  Viewers aren’t forced to take in large amounts of information at one time.  This plays perfectly to the attention span of the average viewer.  And in turn, it makes this feature even more of a win for PBS because that means it could potentially bring in an audience group that they otherwise might not have had if only for that reason.  That aspect of the feature mixed with everything already mentioned will not only bring in more casual viewers, but those that are more inclined to watch regardless.  It will be available next Tuesday, November 19th, on DVD and Blu-ray and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=24514266&cp=1378003.29088156&ab=Aspot_JFK&parentPage=family.  More information on this and other programs from PBS’ American Experience is available online at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience and http://www.pbs.org/americanexperience.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

War Of The Worlds Doc Is One Of PBS’ Best This Year

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Halloween 2013 is only days away. And just in time for the country’s spookiest day of the year, PBS has released the latest documentary from its American Experience series, American Experience: War of the Worlds. Most audiences know the story of the Mercury Theater’s now infamous broadcast on October 30th, 1938. But how many people really know the full story behind the panic caused by Orson Welles and his cohorts? Now thanks to PBS, audiences will finally see the full story of what happened not just on that fateful night, but the long term fallout from it, too. The presentation, narrated by veteran actor Oliver Platt (Get Smart), shows how the story of that night didn’t end after Welles announced to audiences nationwide that they were just listening to a play. This is the most important part of what makes this documentary so successful. Just as interesting in this feature, is the fallout itself. It will leave audiences realizing the more things change, the more they stay the same. Making the documentary even more worth the watch is the inclusion of actual letters typed and written by listeners who both supported and criticized Wells and his cast mates. That and the actors that helped illustrate the view of those people put the finishing touch on this documentary. Everything assembled together, American Experience: War of the World proves to be a candidate to be one of the best documentaries of 2013.

The panic caused by Orson Welles’ broadcast of The War of the Worlds is the stuff of legend.  It’s a story told every year from one generation to the next.  But what isn’t told is the full effect of the broadcast.  American Experience: War of the Worlds tells that portion of the story.  It sets up the untold story with an in-depth introduction explaining what could have led up to the panic.  The story leading up to the panic is just as interesting as the story that everyone knows.  As Platt explains to audiences, a number of factors led to the panic.  The main factor in that night’s happenings was that audiences at the time had become so familiar with breaking news flashes on the war in Europe.  This was well before America entered the war.  Just as important in the entire story is that that night’s broadcast by the Mercury Theater was part of a larger programming block on CBS radio.  Allegedly, the result of this was that many audiences had not heard the early portion of the broadcast noting that the “Martian attack” was in fact just made up.  These two factors together ultimately led to the panic that would later ensue across the country that night.

The full story behind the Mercury Theater’s performance and the ensuing panic is just part of what audiences will find interesting in this program.  Just as interesting is the fallout from the performance.  Platt discusses how both officials with CBS and even the federal government got involved in the case.  Their kneejerk reactions happened because of the fact that people believed the broadcast.  There were injuries and even suicides in reaction to that belief.  That too, is something about which most audiences don’t know.  Looking back at this, one can’t help but think the more things change, the more they stay the same.   A clear comparison would be the reaction of the media and viewers to Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at Superbowl XXXVIII.  It’s a different situation.  But the fact that the government would get involved as a result is the same reaction.  It’s something subtle.  But it’s just as important a part of the documentary as the feature’s primary focus.

Welles’ “Halloween prank” as many listeners called it (according to the letters, it was called much worse) and the overall reaction to the play was eye opening to say the least.  That is because the revelations made in this documentary are ones that few people have ever known about Welles’ now infamous radio broadcast.  The revelations are made even more eye opening thanks to the inclusion of actual letters written to CBS Radio, the Mercury Theater, and even to Welles himself in reaction to the play.  There are also newspaper articles used as visual aids to help move the story forward along with actors who portrayed some of Welles’ audience.  This is the crowning touch in this program.  The black and white video effect at first will fool audiences up to a point.  Even when audiences finally realize that the individuals are just actors, their segments are still as enjoyable an addition to the overall presentation as the newspaper articles and letters that were included.  They make the overall story that much more worth watching whether one is a media history buff or just a fan of Welles’ classic radio play.  American Experience: War of the Worlds will be available Tuesday, October 29th.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org/search/index.jsp?kwCatId=&kw=american%20experience%20war%20of%20the%20worlds&origkw=American+Experience+War+of+the+Worlds&sr=1.  More information on this and other programs in PBS’ American Experience series is available online at http://www.facebook.com/AmericanExperience and http://www.pbs.org/americanexperience.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Henry Ford An In-Depth Look At The Life of An American Auto Pioneer

Courtesy:  PBS/Liberty Mutual Insurance/Alfred P. Slaon Foundation/National Endowment For The Humanities/CPB/WGHB

Courtesy: PBS/Liberty Mutual Insurance/Alfred P. Slaon Foundation/National Endowment For The Humanities/CPB/WGHB

PBS’ documentary on auto pioneer Henry Ford is an interesting piece for anyone that has or has ever had any interest in the history not only of Ford but of the auto industry.  Its release was rather well timed what with the American auto industry trying to make a comeback after the troubles that the industry has had in recent years as a result of the economy.  While it is somewhat lengthy—it clocks in at two hours—it offers a glimpse of a man that likely few have ever known.  And it has something that will any car enthusiast will find interesting.  It offers an in-depth look at Ford’s life from his early childhood living on a farm to his later years.  Audiences will see Ford as a man who was driven throughout the better part of his life.  He wanted to be the best in the game both in business and even in racing.  Because of his drive (no pun intended), he was also a very shrewd businessman.  Audiences will be shocked to learn that as driven and respected as he was, Ford apparently started going downhill later in his life.  He began to show anti-Semitic leanings.  And his family life started to take a hit, too as he got older.

The story told through this documentary is enlightening for anyone that has any interest in the history of America’s very first automobile industry.  It even includes an item of interest for fans of auto racing, too.  As noted early in the documentary, Ford actually raced his car in the nation’s very first auto race in Michigan.  It notes that he won that race in a come-from-behind win after the car of one of his competitors broke down.  From there, he would go on to a handful of other wins, and would later incorporate Ford Motor Company.  This goes back somewhat to the recent discussions in NASCAR centered on the new “Gen 6” car as it was made to look like street cars so as to encourage buyers to go out and buy cars on Monday that win races on Sundays.

Ford’s life and his influence on America and its economy is eye opening in so many ways as seen through this program.  Making it even more interesting is the inclusion of actual photos and video of Ford’s life and accomplishments.  They are excellent visual aids that help to move the story along over the course of its two-hour run time.  Audiences get to see firsthand, footage of the workers on what would become the country’s first assembly line and pictures of the nation’s very first race.  Also included are pictures of the very first two-seater created by Ford (essentially the country’s very first sport coupe).  The pictures and footage of Ford later in his life are just as interesting to see as those of the empire that this once great man had created early in his life.  The images and footage together fit very well with the story told by various academics to make a story that anyone with an interest in the auto industry will enjoy.

From the garages of America’s auto enthusiasts, to the garages of NASCAR, and from the assembly lines to conference rooms of today’s auto industry, Henry Ford will interest anyone who has anything to do with cars.  Because of its history, it’s a tool that could even be used in the classroom for anyone studying auto technology or related courses at colleges and tech schools across the nation.  It is available now to order online.  It can be ordered direct via the PBS online store, http://www.shoppbs.org.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Abolitionists PBS’ First Great Documentary Of The Year

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Half documentary, half historical film and all educational and entertaining, PBS’ the Abolitionists is even more proof of the value of public broadcasting.  This three part/three hour documentary from PBS’ American experience series is a wonderful tool both inside the classroom and outside.  Its mix of documentary and re-enactment does something very rarely seen with PBS’ documentaries.  This is a piece that would typically be more closely akin to those programs produced for the History Channel.  So seeing such a presentation from PBS shows that the network is just as capable of producing such entertaining and educational content.

The presentation of the Abolitionists as part documentary and part re-enactment is the most notable of the positives from this outstanding story.  Within the three-hour course of this feature, audiences will appreciate not just the re-enactments themselves, but also the story’s organization.  What audiences have here is the historical equivalent to a movie with an ensemble cast as it focuses on not just one person, but five.  The documentary seamlessly weaves together the stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown without allowing each figure’s story to step on the other.  Rather each one nicely compliments the other throughout the documentary’s three segments.  This may seem minor.  But in the larger scale of things, it goes a long way towards keeping audiences of all ages engaged within the context of each hour-long segment.

Within the context of each of the documentary’s three segments audiences are given even more reason to enjoy this recently released DVD through the re-enactments and the actual words of Stowe, Brown and the others.  The actors portraying the famed figures do an outstanding job in their roles.  The addition of readings of each figure’s own words makes those portrayals and each individual’s role in ending slavery hit that much harder.  And actor Oliver Platt’s narration was a solid fit.  His delivery combined with the film’s editing and music come together to make each segment equally solid.  Kudos to all involved for such impressive work.

The general make-up of The Abolitionists plays the largest role in the overall success of this recently released DVD as has already been noted.  On a more specific level, the presentation’s construction so to speak itself plays its own role in viewers’ engagement.  Viewers will be quite impressed at the cinematography and the re-enactments.  The re-enactments within this release could easily go toe-to-toe with the documentaries released by the History Channel.  The combination of the historically accurate clothing, sets, and even dialects show that those involved with bringing this special from the American Experience series took its creation with the utmost seriousness.  The same can be said of those running the cameras during the re-enactments.  The historical re-enactment segments were beautifully shot.  They look and sound like anything that might be seen any day on the silver screen.  Coupled with the telling of each figure’s story, the Abolitionist’s cinematography will grab audiences and keep them right to the final minutes of the final segment.

Whether for re-enactments, the presentation’s overall structure–music, editing, narration, etc.–or for something smaller such as the inclusion of each figure’s own words, it’s obvious that a lot of work went into bringing The Abolitionists to life.  The end product is a feature from PBS that easily holds its own against releases from the History Channel and that has made its argument to be one of the best documentaries of the year.  It is available now and can be ordered online at the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The First Ladies Shows The Power Of A Woman In The Presidency

Courtesy: PBS

There’s an old adage that states something to the effect of behind every great man is a great woman.  That couldn’t be more wrong.  Women don’t stand behind any man.  The proper adage should state that NEXT TO every great man is an equally great woman.  PBS’ special, The First Ladies is proof of that.  This two-disc, seven hour special from the network’s “American Experience” program presents five of the first ladies who have stood by their husbands and showed that they were just as great as their husbands at the same time.

Among the most influential of the five First Ladies profiled in this double disc set is the one and only Eleanor Roosevelt.  Mrs. Roosevelt had quite the life.  The profile on Mrs. Roosevelt takes up a large portion of the set’s seven hours, clocking in at just under two and a half hours.  It takes viewers on a journey from her birth to her death.  That’s right.  Her story doesn’t end when her husband died.  Throughout her life, Eleanor Roosevelt showed that she took some advice from her uncle (by marriage) Teddy very seriously.  Teddy told her when she was young, that she should never show fear.  She obviously took that to heart, as she became a fearless advocate for civil rights and women’s rights.  She became so active that she was under constant surveillance by the F.B.I.  Even after discovering that her husband, FDR, had had an affair with another woman, she showed no fear.  She stood up to him, and essentially forced him to give up his affair.  One can’t help but admit that probably if not for Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR might not have held office for three terms.  As The First Ladies shows, hers was a very powerful influence on public opinion of her husband.  She definitely didn’t stand behind FDR.  She stood beside him in every sense of the word. 

Just as Eleanor Roosevelt stood by and worked right by her husband, so did Nancy Reagan.  Nancy developed a reputation outside the White House as being little more than another version of a certain other former first lady.  But behind the scenes, she was quite the hard working and serious individuals.  And according to Mrs. Reagan herself, she was right there at the late President’s side because she was interested in the people that surrounded him.  She played a direct role in the people in her husband’s cabinet, as well as other factors.  As one person interviewed for this segment noted, she was almost sort of a Mary Todd Lincoln figure in that she seemed to want to make the White House itself a reflection of the power of the position of President.  Just one example of that was how Mrs. Reagan raised private funding to purchase new china for hosting state dinners, and for re-decorating certain rooms of the White House.  As much as she worked behind the scenes, The First Ladies is much like The Presidents in that it shows no bias.  It shows everything that made her an influential First Lady.  In the same breath, it also shows the view that the public had of her because of her personality in front of the cameras.  That reputation was not exactly a good one.  She and her husband developed the reputation as socializing only with the super rich, which was contradictory to the job of the President.  The job of the President and First Lady is to work for Americans.  So spending so much time with the people who helped to get him elected made both Mr. and Mrs. Reagan look very bad.  But again, this feature pulls no punches.  It even shows Nancy’s reaction to those views.  It offers archived footage showing her poking fun at herself as a result of those personal media opinions.  That archived footage helps to paint a much broader picture of Nancy Reagan as First Lady.

The archived footage and interviews culled for each segment in The First Ladies go a long way toward making all seven hours of this special all the more informative and interesting.  The First Ladies may only be comprised of two discs.  But being that it has seven hours worth of material, and focuses on five of the most influential First Ladies in our nation’s history, there is enough material here for an entire semester’s worth of classes both in public schools and college level courses.  It’s an interesting piece of American history both inside and outside the classroom.  And it can be ordered online now via PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.  

The Presidents Re-Issue Adds Even More For Audiences

Courtesy: PBS

Binders, Bigbird, and great balls of fire.  Both our current President and his opponent are all over the television and radio this year.  And it’s not entirely for good reasons, either.  How many people out there remember the debates between other presidential candidates?  For that matter, how many people out there can name even half of the men who have led this great nation?  Thanks to PBS, both general viewers and students alike will be reminded of nearly a dozen of those men.  From Roosevelt to Truman to Reagan all the way up to Bill Clinton, this seventeen disc set is an excellent watch for anyone who has any interest in politics and political science both inside and outside the classroom.

There are those who have made certain allegations about PBS.  But in watching this series, perhaps those same people will change their tune in seeing how wrong they are.  It is a fully unbiased look at the lives of some of our nation’s most well known and respected leaders.  It pulls no punches, showing each President in his high times and low.  For instance, the program focusing on Clinton leaves nothing out, including the scandal centered on former intern Monica Lewinsky.  Perhaps one of the most interesting facts from the newly added piece on Clinton was that he apparently originally did not want to get involved in the Serbian conflict in the late 1990s.  From what the feature notes, he originally wanted to leave that conflict to NATO forces.  But amid growing pressure from the national and international community, he finally gave in and took the lead in the air war that ended things there.   His ongoing conflict with then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was just as interesting.  Any movie buff will see some similarities to the Frank Capra helmed 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the pair’s ongoing conflict.

Another of the more interesting segments included in this updated re-issue focused on President Harry Truman.  Anyone who has any interest or knowledge of Presidential history will find his history to be unlike any of the other Presidents featured in the set.  Truman, as documented in the set, came from the most humble of roots.  He grew up in a less than well-to-do family in Missouri.  He was unlike nearly every President before and since.  He ended up marrying his wife Bessie after having first met her when he was only five years old.  Through all the years that he could have strayed, his heart never did.  Even when he spent part of his young adult life in Kansas City, he never strayed a single bit.  At that time, as the feature notes, Kansas City was a rather seedy area.  So seeing that he didn’t break from his upbringing even then is incredible.  Even more interesting is that even after having married Bessie, he moved into her mother’s home with her and dealt with her mother for many years without even the slightest problem from him.  There is so much more that audiences will learn about Truman here as he gets two of the discs in the total seventeen discs included in the set, as does Clinton.

The features on Clinton and Truman are just a couple examples of what viewers can expect in this newly re-issued set.  Also included are:  Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.  The material on these presidents is more than enough to last an entire semester for a college level political science class and an entire academic year in a public high school.

The Presidents is available now.  It can be ordered online at PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org

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