American Experience: 1964 is quite the interesting look at what was one of the most important years in America’s modern history. The approximately two-hour program takes viewers through the events of the year, showing the good, the bad, and the ugly. That fully unbiased presentation is central to the success of this edition of American Experience. Along the way, various figures are interviewed to help illustrate the importance of the events that made 1964 an important year. From historians to activists and more, each figure makes the year’s different subjects much clearer and more interesting than they would have otherwise been. That is another key factor to the overall success of this presentation. The subjects examined throughout the two-hour run time of American Experience: 1964 and those that helped to illustrate each subject work together to make this a presentation that any history buff will appreciate. There is one more factor to take into account in examining the program that makes it work as well as it does. That final factor is the program’s pace. A lot of ground is covered over the course of 1964’s two-hour run time. Even with as much as is covered over that time, those behind the program keep the pace at just enough of a pace to not lose viewers along the way. This final factor brings everything full circle in this episode of American Experience, making the program complete and even more well worth the watch whether it be in the classroom or the living room.
The first and most important factor that makes American Experience: 1964 is the completely unbiased presentation. Presented within the course of the program’s near two-hour run time is all of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It presents the violence that arose from the civil rights movement. It presents Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to fill the shoes of John F. Kennedy after his assassination. It even shows the cultural impact of the arrival of The Beatles in America and of the now influential book The Feminine Mystique on women across the country among much more. Through it all, the events of the year are presented chronologically from New Year’s Eve 1963 to the year’s end. It is all wrapped up nicely with the use of singer Sam Cooke’s hit song ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ as the discussion point for the events that would come as a result of everything that happened in 1964. The tone taken in those final moments is one of optimism. It drives home the argument that for all of the unsettlement experienced in 1964, it would lead to much positive change in the years to come.
The unbiased presentation of the events of 1964 and their chronological together form a solid starting point for the success of American Experience: 1964. The presentation is made even richer through interviews with various scholars, activists, and others. The interviews in question are used to help illustrate precisely why each of the year’s events were so pivotal. Some of the most powerful of the program’s interview segments are with civil rights activist Dave Dennis. At one point late in the program, he recalls the mistreatment of a young African-American male by police in riots that rose from other events. His reaction at recalling a conversation with one of three civil rights activists that had come down to help was just as powerful. There are other equally enlightening interviews from various scholars, journalists and more that illustrate the events that made 1964 such a pivotal year in America’s history.
The events discussed in American Experience: 1964 and the accompanying interviews go a long way toward making the program especially useful whether it be used in the classroom or the living room. The last piece of the presentation that will impress viewers is its pacing. At no point through the course of the program’s two-hour run time does its pacing ever go too fast or too slow. And keeping in mind the number of topics covered over the course of the program’s total run time, the pacing becomes even more of a positive. Viewers aren’t left feeling like they were just rushed through a freshman level college history course by the program’s end. And it’s that, along with the program’s interviews and topics, that together make American Experience: 1964 a must see whether one is a history buff or just wants to learn a little bit of America’s history.
PBS released earlier this year what is one of its most intriguing documentaries of the year in Spies of Mississippi. Now the network will release the “companion” program to Spies of Mississippi next week in a new episode of American Experience. American Experience: Freedom Summer will be released on DVD next Tuesday, June 24th. This latest program centers on the civil rights movement of 1964 that was centered on Mississippi. American Experience: Freedom Summer is an excellent companion to the previously released documentary in that it goes into even more depth than that program. That is the first aspect of this program that makes it well worth the watch. Making it even more interesting is the use of vintage footage from the Freedom Summer. Sealing the deal for the program is its writing and editing. Writer/director Stanley Nelson and editor Aljernon Tunsil are both deserving of applause for making the roughly two hour program pass by with ease without losing viewers along the way. This factor along with the in-depth stories and vintage footage make American Experience: Freedom Summer a piece that everybody should see at least once this year.
American Experience: Freedom Summer is a program well worth the watch by any viewer first and foremost because it picks up where Spies of Mississippi left off. While that documentary focused primarily on the efforts on a covert group to try and keep African Americans from registering to vote in Mississippi, this latest feature on the Freedom Summer goes into even more depth. It focuses on more than just that one aspect of the Freedom Summer. Rather, it focuses on the Freedom Summer in whole. It presents the movement from its roots to its end. Along the way, it also connects the Freedom Summer to its effects on the country as a whole. The whole thing is told by those that organized the Freedom Summer movement and by those that it affected. It adds a whole new layer to the story that was started by Spies of Mississippi, making the program in whole even more worth the watch.
Mississippi’s civil rights movement in the summer of 1964 was one of the most important cultural events in America’s history. That is made clear through the combination of American Experience: Freedom Summer and Spies of Mississippi. The additional layers of information added to the story of that movement here are just part of what makes this program well worth the watch. Making the program even more interesting and in depth is the use of vintage footage to illustrate the story. Actual footage of the events that happened during the Freedom Summer is included throughout the program in place of re-enactments. The use of re-enactments would have been the easy way out. But those behind the program didn’t go that route. It’s nice to see that this avenue was taken. It serves to pull in viewers even more and keep them engaged along the way. This plays directly into the last factor of the program’s success. That factor in question is its collective writing and editing.
The use of vintage footage, and of interviews with those directly connected to the Freedom Summer movement are both integral to the success of American Experience: Freedom Summer. Just as integral to the feature’s overall success is the program’s writing and editing. Everything included in this program had to be scripted in a certain order. That order in turn had to be edited so as to keep viewers’ attention throughout the course of the program’s approximately two-hour run time. Writer/director Stanley Nelson and editor Aljernon Tunsil both did just that. There is not one moment over the course of the program’s two-hour run time during which the program loses audiences’ attention. The pair is to be applauded for such expert execution of their job duties. Because both individuals went to painstaking lengths to make the program interesting, it makes viewers want to take in the vintage footage and the stories told by those that were directly linked to the Freedom Summer movement. All of these factors together make American Experience: Freedom Summer a presentation that is just as valuable in the classroom as it is in the living room. It proves in the end to be a candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new documentaries.
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: 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.
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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.
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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.
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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.