Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution
It goes without saying that ‘Silent Night’ is one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time. It is both a national and international treasure according to the members of the United Nations. Yet for all of its acclaim most people, when asked, likely couldn’t answer the question of its roots. However thanks to the people at PBS the history of this internationally lauded composition has finally been revealed in the network’s new documentary The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World. This hour-long presentation is a wonderful piece for those that are in the holiday spirit but want to watch something other than the annual holiday fare. The main reason that it is such an enjoyable presentation is the information that is shared throughout the program. Who would have thought that even with its popularity, the duo that originally created the song would become so unknown to the world or that the song was originally performed not on Christmas but after and on guitar no less. That is just a taste of the interesting material shared throughout the course of this documentary that makes it such an enjoyable documentary. The information shared throughout the program is just one part of what makes this documentary so enjoyable. The cinematography is just as important to the whole of the program. That is because it makes the program just as much of a video postcard as a documentary. Considering the amount of ground that is covered over the course of the program’s roughly hour-long run time the program’s pacing must be addressed here, too. It does move, at first at a relatively rapid pace. But it never becomes too fast for viewers to keep up with it. Keeping that in mind, it rounds out the reasons that audiences will appreciate The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World as they count down the final days until Christmas. And maybe, just maybe, in taking in the presentation audiences will gain a new understanding and appreciation for a song that is not just another Christmas carol but a song that is perhaps one of the most important of all Christmas carols.
The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World may be just a holiday-themed documentary. But it is still a documentary nonetheless. It is yet another piece proving why PBS remains today the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming, too. The main reason for this is the breadth of information shared throughout the program. Rather than just trying to be another run-of-the-mill documentary based on re-enactments, it actually centers itself on its information instead. And there is quite a bit of interesting information shared throughout the main feature. Audiences will be surprised to learn that as much as it is used in churches the world over each holiday season, ‘Silent Night’ actually was not performed on its originally intended date (at a Christmas mass no less). Instead it was performed after the fact. And the reason for that is that the organ that was going to be used to perform the song had to undergo repairs due to damage to its bellows. The damage in question was caused by pests. So it was originally performed on guitar. That in itself is just as interesting to learn. That is because apparently, as is noted by narrator/host Simon Callow, the view of the church was that using guitar actually low brow. This is the actual term used by Callow, too. On another note, audiences will be just as shocked to learn that as the song rose in popularity so did Gruber and Mohr’s notoriety didn’t in fact rise along with it. In fact their names became even less familiar oddly enough. One would think that their fame would have increased considering the song’s reach. But apparently that wasn’t the case. As if that isn’t enough, audiences will be just as surprised to learn that if not for the discovery of a manuscript in 1995 that contained both the original lyrics and musical composition of ‘Silent Night’ Gruber and Mohr’s names might have remained in obscurity. That important discovery is covered, too. And the location of the discovery adds its own share of intrigue to the story of the song. From there, things get even more interesting. Of course viewers will have to find out for themselves the remaining story as well as the other intriguing facts revealed throughout the program. When they do, viewers will agree just why the information shared throughout the program is so important to its overall presentation. It is just one reason that musicologists, history buffs, and anyone that enjoys the holidays will want to see this presentation.
The in-depth examination of ‘Silent Night’s’ history is in itself plenty of reason for musicologists, history buffs, and those that simply love the holiday season to watch The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World. It is just one reason that this presentation makes for a great break from the typical annual holiday fare. The program’s cinematography is just as important to the whole of the presentation as its in-depth examination of the song and its history. The cinematography is stunning to say the least. There are extraordinary aerial shots of the snow-covered mountains near Salzburg and slow panning shots of Salzburg’s main plaza lit up for the holidays. There are also beautiful shots of some of the region’s most well-known sites including one of its most famous gardens and a mountaintop fortress that once served as a defense point against Napoleon and his forces. That is another piece of information that is shared in the program’s examination of the song. It is used in the program’s earlier minutes to set up the history of the song’s creation. But it is an interesting addition nonetheless. There are even beautiful shots of the riverside city that Mohr once called home. On the surface none of this may seem like much. But in looking at it on a deeper level, the footage is important for two reasons. The primary reason for the footage’s importance is that it serves to show the region in which Mohr and Gruber grew up. In other words it serves to help set the stage for the story of the song’s creation. On another level, the footage proves to be so important because it serves as a video postcard of sorts. For those that likely will never be able to make the trip to such a picturesque region, it’s almost like actually being there, much like watching another well-known PBS program, Rick Steve’s Europe. It takes viewers on that trip without the cost of the trip or any of the hassles either. Considering these functions together, the cinematography incorporated into The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World proves just as important to the program as the program’s in-depth presentation of ‘Silent Night’s history. They still are not the only factors that should be considered in examining this documentary. The program’s pacing rounds out its presentation.
The history lesson presented in The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World and its companion cinematography are both key elements in the documentary’s overall presentation. While both elements play their own important part in the whole of the program, they are not the program’s only important elements. Its pacing plays its own important part, too. The program’s pacing is important to note simply because of the amount of material that is covered over the course of its run time. The actual story of the song’s creation and its continued cultural impact around the world is just one part of the overall story. There is also a massive setup that makes up the first half of the program. That means that those responsible for assembling it all couldn’t waste any time with any of it. In other words, said individuals couldn’t just spend an inordinate amount of time on the story’s setup or the story itself. But moving too fast through any of it wasn’t an option either. There is no denying that the program moves rather fast in its first half. But luckily those behind the story didn’t let it get too fast for audiences. Because they didn’t it ensures that audiences will still be there when the presentation gets to the heart of the story. And once it does get to that point things slow down but not too much. The contrast of that slower pace to the clearly faster pace of the program’s first half makes for quite the contrast. Yet it is all still balanced just enough to keep viewers engaged. That maintained engagement leads, in turn, to a deeper appreciation for the depth of the presented story and the cinematography presented in this program. Appreciating these elements and the program’s pacing, audiences will agree that in whole The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World is a wonderful watch this and every holiday season.
The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World may not be the standard holiday fare. But that is actually a good thing. Considering the fact that audiences get pretty much the same specials every holiday season, being the polar opposite of those specials makes this documentary is a great thing. It presents a story that likely very few audiences actually know. It also presents cinematography that makes the program a virtual video postcard that also saves viewers the money of having to travel or the stress. The program’s pacing solidifies its overall presentation. The faster pacing of the program’s first half is expertly balanced with the slower pacing of the program’s second half. That expert balancing keeps the program moving at an overall pace that luckily doesn’t lose viewers at any point despite coming close early on. Each element is important in its own right to The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World. Collectively, they make The First Silent Night: The Christmas Carol That United The World a documentary that anyone looking for a break from the annual holiday fare will appreciate completely. It is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=69428296&cp=&sr=1&kw=the+first+silent+night&origkw=the+first+silent+night&parentPage=search. More information on this and other titles from PBS is available online now at:
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