Constitution USA Makes Politics Enlightening And Entertaining

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

America is one of the greatest nations in the world today.  However, as Constitution USA with Peter Sagal points out, it isn’t a perfect nation.  The four-part documentary sees the host of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me making his way across the country discussing some of the major hot button issues in America today, and how they relate to the Constitution.  More specifically, he discusses how specific portions of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution itself still play a major role in Americans’ political views today.  It is one of the most impressive pieces of the year from PBS as it takes some very deep concepts and makes them easy to understand and entertaining all at the same time.

Constitution USA with Peter Sagal is unlike so many political documentaries that are out there today.  It doesn’t talk down to viewers, nor does it talk over their heads, either.  The people behind this program have shown that PBS can be intellectual while still being on the level of average viewers.  One of the figures interviewed in the course of the program is a lawyer.  She notes in her interview with Sagal that her job is to take the legal jargon written and spoken, and interpret it for her clients.  That’s what Sagal and company do in this program.  They take the over-the-top political jargon and make it easy for average viewers to understand and appreciate.  It really serves as a solid starting point for anyone that has any interest in politics.  And it serves to prove even to PBS’ brass that it is possible to make programming that is both entertaining and enlightening for average viewers.  Perhaps if more of PBS’ politically based programming takes this course, it could potentially lead to more eyes and in turn, more contributions to the network.  It’s one more piece that proves just how valuable and important PBS is to viewers to this day.   

Sagal and company make politics accessible and entertaining for average viewers of any age through Constitution USA.  They have also crafted a feature that through its roughly four-hour run time, is entirely unbiased.  Opinions are shared on both sides of the issues through Sagal’s interviews.  What’s more, they are shared by every day people, rather than politicians.  This circles back to the ease of understanding and entertainment value for audiences throughout all four segments of the program.  This is because in using a variety of subjects for interviews, audiences are seeing people just like themselves sharing their opinions instead of only some talking head in a stuffed shirt.  Of course, Sagal’s own rapport with his interviewees helps set these people at ease just like he does on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  He has taken his interview skills from his NPR news quiz show and translated it so well to this format.  In its own way, this is another positive to this presentation. 

As minor as it may seem, Sagal’s rapport with his subjects plays its own part in the success of Constitution USA.  Far too often, political documentaries are presented either with a nameless, faceless narrator that speaks off camera over the presented material.  This is the exact opposite of those all too common presentations.  Whether or not audiences are familiar with Peter Sagal from his show on NPR, they will enjoy watching him as he gathers information and opinions from people on every level from ordinary citizens to academics and even politicians.  Sagal shows time and again his ability to talk to anyone at any level.  He shows that he has the ability to get them to loosen up and open up, rather than put on airs.  It’s a refreshing change of pace, especially being that this is a documentary about politics.  What’s more, his interviews are held in a variety of settings.  They’re not always in some sterile office environment.  Many of the interviews culled for the show are held outside or in classrooms.  That plays into Sagal’s interviews.  Because they aren’t all done inside those sterile office environments, they help establish a calmer mood both for the interviewees and for viewers.  Much like the use of colors in a movie or TV show, the variety of settings is a very psychological aspect.  Viewers won’t entirely recognize it on the surface, but it very much plays a role in keeping audiences’ attention.  Combined with everything else that went into bringing it together, it is one more piece of the puzzle proving the importance and value of Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.  It also serves to prove just why w as Americans need to better understand the Constitution.  It is available now and can be ordered online via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427076&cp=&sr=1&kw=constitution+usa&origkw=Constitution+USA&parentPage=search.

After ordering Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, audiences can go online to the official PBS Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pbs and “Like” it to find out about all of the latest programming news and more from PBS.  Audiences can also keep up with all of the latest news from PBS on its official website, http://www.pbs.org.

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Sam Cooke To Be Honored At Annual SHOF Ceremony

Courtesy:  ABKCO Records/merlis for hire

Courtesy: ABKCO Records/merlis for hire

Sam Cooke is set to receive a very special honor.  His song, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ is one of a small handful of songs to receive the “2013 Songwriters Hall of Fame Towering Song Award.”  The presentation will be made at the 44th annual Induction and Awards Dinner on Thursday, June 13th.  The dinner and awards ceremony will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. 

The song—which was originally written by Cooke in 1963 and recorded in 1964—was referenced as recently as the 2008 election by President Barack Obama after winning the election that year.  It was also used as an anthem during the Civil Rights movement.  Since its original release, it has been covered over five hundred times by various artists from the likes of: Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Otis Redding to more modern artists such as: R. Kelly, Gavin DeGraw, and Seal just to name a few.  These are just a few of the song’s accolades.  It has even been deemed by National Public Radio (NPR) as “the most important ever recorded” and has been selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion into its National Recording Registry.  Cooke himself was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987.       

‘A Change is Gonna Come’ will be inducted into the SHOF along with works from Tony Hatch, Mick Jones & Lou Gramm, Holly Knight, JD Souther, and Steven Tyler & Joe Perry.  A full list of inductees and bios is available online via the SHOF’s virtual museum at http://songwritershalloffame.org.

Tickets for the induction ceremony are available now.  They start at $1,000 each.  They are available through Buckley Hall Events by phone at 212-573-6933.

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Sleepwalk With Me Original, Funny, And Heartwarming

Courtesy:  IFC Films

Courtesy: IFC Films

Movies based on actual events are far too many in today’s era of film making.  And far too many of those movies over-glamorize the events on which they are based.  However, among that genre of movies though, is thankfully an occasional diamond in the rough.  One of those diamonds comes from veteran comic Mike Birbiglia and NPR host Ira Glass.  That movie is the indie flick, Sleepwalk With Me.

Sleepwalk With Me is quirky.  It’s sometimes bizarre.  And it’s original.  There is nothing like this movie out there today either in the mainstream or indie world.  The story behind Sleepwalk With Me centers on Mike’s character Matt and his attempt to become a big time comedian all while trying to very precariously balance his relationship with then girlfriend Abby (played by Lauren Ambrose).  In the middle of all of this is Matt’s sleeping disorder called “R.E.M. Behavior Disorder.”  According to the doctor that Matt listens to on his book on tape, “R.E.M. Behavior Disorder” is the tendency of a person to actually physically act out his/her dreams.  That behavior makes for more than its share of both funny and emotional moments.  Added into the story’s balance of comedy and drama, it adds its own touch to make for both more laughs and emotional moments, making for a movie that is entirely original and entertaining at the same time.

The central story of Sleepwalk With Me is original in that as star Mike Birbiglia notes in the additional Q&A bonus feature, it is in large part autobiographical.  So rather than being just another one of those movies that is based on actual events, Birbiglia and friend Ira Glass (NPR’s This American Life) have crafted a story that while somewhat fictional still is a very close mirror to Birbiglia’s life.  And what’s more entertaining that someone telling a story of their own life in their own words?  Birbiglia’s story is both funny and at times heartwarming.  As is the case with any movie though, it is a niche film.  So it’s not a movie for everyone.  But those who are fans of Ira Glass work on NPR or Birbiglia’s work will appreciate this movie.  Niche film aside, it’s still nice to see this movie as it’s nice to see that among all the prequels, sequels, and remakes that abound in today’s movie industry that original and enjoyable scripts are still out there.  Sleepwalk With Me will be available on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday, December 18th.

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