Tag Archives: American Masters

PBS Distribution’s New Year Bounty of must-see, must-own DVDs . . . all score 20/20

We always hope a New Year promises happiness, good health, safety and weight loss.
We always know a New Year brings oodles of great new films and shows and specials and programs . . . especially from the King of TV, PBS.
We share the great ones for the month of January.

FRONTLINE
Fire in Paradise

A year after the devastating Camp Fire, who’s to blame and why was it so catastrophic? With accounts from survivors and first responders, the inside story of the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, its causes and the impact of climate change.

In the Age of AI
It’s been called “The New Space Race.” This time it’s China taking on the United States, and the race is to seize control of a technology with the potential to change everything — the way we work; how we play; how our democracy functions; how the world could be realigned. FRONTLINE explores some of the ways in which our world is being re-shaped and reimagined by the technology of artificial intelligence, whose development has been compared to the industrial revolution and the discovery of electricity as an epochal event in human history.

The film explores both the peril and the promise of this ascendant technology — tracing the battle between the U.S. and China to harness its power; examining fears about what AI advances mean for the future of work; and revealing how AI algorithms are ushering in an age of both great problem-solving potential, and of new and troubling threats to privacy and democracy.
In the Age of AI is a powerful and telling journey into how this new technology will transform our world — and some of the ways it already has.

NATURE
Okavango—River of Dreams
The Okavango River in Southern Africa is an unlikely oasis and lush paradise in the middle of a hostile desert that supports and feeds an incredible abundance of wildlife. Unlike most rivers that flow toward the shores of a nearby ocean, it instead runs inland through Botswana, creating a huge river delta before finally disappearing into the Kalahari Desert. An all-star cast of charismatic African wildlife lives and dies in the timeless drama of survival revealed in the program.

Among the one-of-a-kind footage captured includes that of a lioness injured by a buffalo and left for dead by her pride. While recovering, she must find a way to care for her two young cubs on her own. In a surprising sequence, hyena and warthog families share neighboring dens, helping each other by keeping an eye on potentially threatening predators such as lions and leopards. And in the deadliest part of the river, a leopard mother must climb trees in order to hunt from above.

Nature’s Biggest Beasts
Discover the ingenious strategies that nature’s biggest beasts employ to conquer their environments, from the Komodo dragon with a deadly bite to the tallest giraffe to the bird-eating Armored ground cricket. Nature’s Biggest Beasts shows their epic surivival stories.
Being massive can have its advantages, but it brings equally immense challenges to survive. Big bodies need more fuel, more space and can attract unwanted attention.

Take the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, whose huge appetite means it must take on prey ten times its weight, or the tallest of them all, the giraffe, who with such a long neck must control immense blood pressure. From the 150-ton blue whale who can suck up four tons of krill a day, to Japan’s finger-length giant hornets that can decimate a hive of 30,000 bees to feed on their larvae, nature’s biggest beasts must go to extraordinary lengths to thrive.

Bears
From the mighty grizzly bear to the endearing spectacled bear (the real-life “Paddington Bear”) and from the bamboo-eating panda to the bizarre-looking sloth bear, this remarkable animal family has long captured the human imagination.

Among the biggest land mammals on the planet, bears need a lot of resources to survive and must use all of their skills, brawn and brains to get what they need—whether they’re foraging for honeycombs or tasty plants, standing up to their rivals or raising cubs.  Follow the adventures of bears across the globe as they draw on their remarkable adaptations to survive in an ever-changing world. Viewers find out what it really takes to be a bear.

NOVA
Why Bridges Collapse

On a rainy August morning in 2018, a massive section of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, collapsed and killed 43 people. As emergency responders raced to rescue survivors, authorities began investigating the cause of the collapse. For 50 years, the iconic bridge had stood up to ever-increasing traffic, a testament to the strength of its pre-stressed concrete and cable stays. So what went wrong that fateful day?
Through eyewitness testimony, expert interviews, and dramatic archival footage, the program pieces together the sequence of events—and investigates what may have led to the bridge’s downfall. But the Morandi Bridge isn’t alone.

Across the United States and Europe,  thousands of bridges are listed as structurally deficient. Join experts as they compare what happened to the Morandi with other deadly bridge collapses, including Minnesota’s I-35W bridge over the Mississippi and the ill-fated Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. How can new technologies and engineering improvements make bridges across the world safer and more durable than ever before?

Look Who’s Driving
After years of anticipation, autonomous vehicles are now being tested on public roads around the world. Dozens of startups have sprung up alongside established auto and tech giants – which are also testing the waters—to form what many hope will be a transformative new industry.
Nova: Look Who's Driving
But as innovators rush to cash in on what they see as the next high-tech pot of gold, some experts warn there are still daunting challenges to overcome—like how to train computers to make life-and-death decisions as well as humans can. NOVA peers under the hood of the autonomous vehicle industry to investigate how driverless cars work, how they may change the way we live, and whether we will ever be able to entrust them with our lives.

Rise of the Mammals
The course of life on Earth changed radically on a single day 66 million years ago. Blasting our planet, an asteroid caused the extinction of three of every four kinds of living things. The impact ended the Age of Dinosaurs and launched our age, the Age of Mammals. But our understanding of the asteroid’s aftermath has been spotty. Who survived? How quickly did mammals and their habitats spring back? How did our planet recover from this global cataclysm?

Now a remarkable find—a trove of exceptionally preserved fossils from the critical first million years after the catastrophe—shines a revelatory light on what followed Earth’s darkest hour. With exclusive access, viewers see the discovery from the first thrilling moments of the initial find in 2016. Providing a rare record that combines plants, animals, and precise dates—a paleontological trifecta—the discovery paints a vivid portrait of the emergence of a brand-new world. Thanks to the vision, grit, and luck of the scientific team, we are gaining our first clear understanding of how our modern world of mammals arose from the ashes.

Dead Sea Scroll Detectives
One of the greatest archaeological finds of all time—the Dead Sea Scrolls—was made by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947. And since the 2,000-year-old scrolls were first taken from a cave, they’ve intrigued scholars, religious leaders, and profiteers alike. These fragile parchment relics include the oldest known versions of the Hebrew Bible and hold vital clues about the birth of Christianity. But who compiled them? And do more scrolls await discovery?

While some scrolls have survived intact, others have been ravaged by time—burnt, decayed, or torn to pieces—and remain an enigma. Now, scientists are using new technologies to read the unreadable, solve mysteries that have endured for millennia, and even discover million-dollar fakes.

American Masters
Rothko: Pictures Must be Miraculous

One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Mark Rothko’s signature style helped define Abstract Expressionism, the movement that shifted the center of the art world from Paris to New York.

American Masters—Rothko: Pictures Must Be Miraculous is an intimate portrait of the celebrated painter whose luminous canvasses now set records at international auctions. Interviews with Rothko’s children, Kate and Christopher, as well as leading curators, art historians and conservators present a comprehensive look at the artist’s life and career, complemented by original scenes with Alfred Molina in the role of Rothko. Molina performs segments from Rothko’s writings, and the documentary features clips from the six-time Tony-winning play Red.

PETRUCELLI PICKS: GIFT GUIDE 2019: THE BEST DVDS/BLU-RAYS OF THE YEAR

Before making Hollywood epics such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, director Richard Fleischer started his career with a series of low-budget B-features, often taking ripped-from-the-headlines tales of crime stories and spinning them into noir gold,  of which an exquisite example is 1949’s endlessly entertaining Trapped.

A young Lloyd Bridges stars as hard-boiled hood Tris Stewart, a convicted counterfeiter doing time in the Atlanta pen. When a fresh batch of fake bills starts circulating, treasury agents bail Stewart out to help lead them to the maker of the fake plates. But Tris double-crosses the Feds, hooking up with his gun-moll sweetie (22-year-old Barbara Payton in her breakout role). They plan to heist the plates and hightail it across the border. With the Feds closing in and the double-crosses piling up, Stewart finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Will he trapped for good?

Although long sought by the Film Noir Foundation, Trapped was believed to have suffered the unfortunate fate of many B-films of the era—oblivion. But when a private collector deposited a 35mm acetate print at the Harvard Film Archive, the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive (with support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Charitable Trust [The HFPA Trust]) sprang into action, restoring the film. The result, presented in a Blu-ray/DVD dual-format edition by Flicker Alley, honors the pitch-perfect performances, assured direction, and gorgeous cinematography of this edge-of-your-seat, noir classic.


Olive Signature line has released  a Blu-ray edition of Bells of St. Mary’s that is a significant improvement over the DVD released by Republic Pictures 100 years ago. The lack of specks and soot and and scratches leads us to believe the film has been (greatly) restored, though why Olive doesn’t use this bragging point is beyond us.
The Bells of St. Marys (Olive Signature) [Blu-ray]This is not a true “Christmas film”, but the warmth and heart and humor and luminous Ingrid Bergman make it worth a few viewings. We are still a bit surprised when we admit that she and co-star Bing Crosby (as a nun and a pastor at odds with each other) have appealing chemistry together.


Have an appetite for a dark, delectable comedy in the tradition of cannibal classics Eating Raoul and Delicatessen? Look no further than A Feast of Man (IndiePix Films), certain to satisfy your hunger (and funny bone).
A Feast of ManWhen a wealthy and eccentric New York playboy prone to mischief dies unexpectedly, his four closest socialite friends  are summoned to the late aristocrat’s country home overlooking the Hudson for a viewing of his video will. Only things don’t go quite as Wolf, the executor of the estate, had planne: Gallagher’s posthumous wish is to put his dearly beloved to the test—each will become a millionaire overnight if they can unanimously agree to consume his dead body and the group, has until the end of the weekend to reach a decision.  Funny food for thought!

Say hello to the ultimate Tony Montana experience with the Scarface “The World Is Yours” Edition Gift Set (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment). This gem is chockfull of goodies: The 1983 film is 4K UHD; experience the unforgettable film like never before with HDR for brighter, deeper, more lifelike color.
There’s also more than 2 and a half hours of bonuses, including the brand-new Scarface 35th Anniversary Reunion Feature, with an all-new conversation with director Brian De Palma and actors Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer. Another Blu-ray bonus: Both the original theatrical and alternate censored versions of Howard Hawks’ newly restored 1932 version Scarface. Perhaps best of all is the limited edition, individually-numbered replica of one of the most iconic props from the film.


After a 30-year-old bachelor, leaves his corporate job to pursue his dreams as an artist, he embarks on a new life as an Uber driver while working on a graphic novel titled Pixelia, which just happens to also be the name of this IndiePix Films release. One day, a transgender woman gets into his car and changes his life forever; they spend the whole day together, opening each other’s minds: she shares her desire to adopt a child, while he narrates the story of his graphic novel.
After a special bond quickly forms, he realizes his own queer identity, and the couple start to make their way in a culture that is not always friendly to alternative ways of life.
This LGBTQ festival favorite, made on a show string budget, is a prime example of India’s budding queer cinema movement.

The Broad City Complete Series(Paramount) has everything a queen or two could ever need. In addition to every single freakin’ episode, there are special features including outtakes, deleted/extended scenes, and every episode of Hack into Broad City and Behind Broad CitysPlus, a special features only disc with more than 30 minutes of additional extras. Yaaaas!


Frank Capra’s heart-warming masterpiece is the best-known and most-loved holiday film.  Now you can watch It’s a Wonderful Life (Paramount)  holiday classic like never before, newly remastered from the original film negatives and more vibrant than ever with stunning clarity.
With the endearing message that “no one is a failure who has friends”, Capra’s heartwarming masterpiece continues to endure, and after more than 70 years, this beloved classic still remains as powerful and moving as the day it was made.


Not to be catty, but little heroes can romp to the rescue with the PAW Patrol pups, as the canine crew use their tools, tech, vehicles and problem-solving skills to save Adventure Bay.
Each pup has a unique job and skills, but the pack must always come together as a team to save the day. The 3-DVD set PAW Patrol: Best in Snow Collection (Nickelodeon) deserves a spot in each kid’s stocking.


For the young and young-at-heart: Bumblebee & Transformers Ultimate 6-Movie Collection,
including Bumblebee and all five Transformers films, from visionary director Michael Bay and legendary producer Steven Spielberg.


Baby Boomer boom! The Toys That Made Us (Screen Media) is an American television series created by Brian Volk-Weiss. The first four episodes of the series began streaming on Netflix on December 22, 2017, and the next four were released on May 25, 2018.
The eight-episode documentary series, as it was originally touted, focused on the history of important toy lines. The first four episodes focus on the Star Wars, He-Man and G.I. Joe toy lines with subsequent episodes featuring LEGO, Transformers, Hello Kitty and Star Trek. The Bu-ray set includes a free collectible!


Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orphee & Eurydice in one of opera’s most beautiful masterpieces; his exquisite drama introduces us to Orpheus, the poet and musician whose every word and note communicate the most overwhelming love for his Eurydice.
Gluck: Orphee et Eurydice [Blu-ray]This production features Gluck’s reworking of the original German opera into a French-language production which contains thrilling ballet sequences that will come to vivid life under the direction and choreography of the legendary John Neumeier. This production stars Dmitry Korchak as Orphée with Andriana Chuchman as Eurydice and Lauren Snouffer as Amour.  Oui!


Democracies should protect their citizens, especially the most vulnerable among them, but the United States is increasingly failing to do so especially in areas like the Rust Belt, the manufacturing heartland of the nation that includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The investigative documentary The Corporate Coup d’Etat (First Run features) shows how corporations and billionaires have taken control of the American political process, and in doing so have brought economic hardship and ruin to vast swaths of the country. It combines insights from political thinkers and journalists with the experiences of citizens from the Rust Belt, where factory closures and outsourcing have left it desolate and people hopeless.
Corporate Coup d'Etat, TheThe film argues that the crisis predates Adolph Freak’s election by many years: Decades ago, U.S. democracy began selling its soul to big corporations; lobbyists and business-friendly politicians took control in Washington, gradually undermining the will of the people. Provocative and revealing, The Corporate Coup d État exposes what happened and where we are now.

Other First Run features topping the list:
Tattoo Uprising reveals the artistic and historical roots of today s tattoo explosion. This sweeping overview explores how tattoos were used in early Christian practices, how they were discovered halfway around the world during the voyages of Captain James Cook, and how they exploded in popularity in America beginning with artists like Ed Hardy.
Tattoo UprisingThere’s an unforgettable appearance by  Werner Herzog, who allows a rare glimpse at his Ed Hardy tattoo.

Spanning three generations, Chasing Portraits is a deeply moving narrative of the richness of one man’s art, the devastation of war, and an unexpected path to healing. Moshe Rynecki was a prolific artist who painted scenes of the Polish-Jewish community until he was murdered during the Holocaust. Chasing PortraitsFor more than a decade his great-granddaughter, Elizabeth, has searched for the missing art.

An elderly man, Octav Petrescu (portrayed by the brilliant Marcel Iures), returns to his childhood villa in Romania to sell it. Arriving there after a decades-long absence, Octav wanders through the atmospheric house and undulating grounds that surround it and is confronted and transformed Octavby the memories and spectres of his youth, eventually finding answers to questions that have cast a shadow over his adult life.

From Oscar-nominated Josh Aronson and featuring a new song from Jon Bon Jovi, To Be Of Service is a documentary about veterans suffering from PTSD who are paired with a service dog to help them regain their lives.
To Be of ServiceThe film follows these warriors with their dogs as this deeply bonded friendship restores independence and feeling for the men and women who so courageously served our country.


Inherited from Maria Montessori in 1907, the Montessori Method is a child-centered educational philosophy that celebrates and nurtures each child’s desire to learn, an approach valuing the human spirit and full development: physical, social, emotional and cognitive. The Montessori Method is increasing in popularity both in the U.S. and abroad.
Curious to see how the Method works first hand, filmmaker Alexandre Mourot sets his camera up in the oldest Montessori school in France (with kids from 3 to 6) and observes. He meets happy children, free to move around, working alone or in small groups. Some read, others make bread, do divisions, laugh or sleep. The teacher remains discreet.
Children guide the filmmaker through the whole school year, helping him understand the magic of their autonomy and self-esteem–the seeds of a new society of peace and freedom, which Maria Montessori dedicated her life work to.
Such is the wonder and joy of Montessori: Let the Child be the Guide.


Holy high notes! Melody Makers (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Visual), a chronicle of the birth of music journalism from the world’s oldest and longest standing seminal music magazine, Melody Makersis not just another music documentary; through a series of interviews from artists and journalists of the time, the film tells the true story of the rise and fall of the world’s most influential music publication and uncovers an era of tremendous creative freedom.


Who says the holidays can’t be a horror . . . and we don’t just mean when the in-laws come. George Roy Hill’s landmark science-fiction classic, Slaughterhouse-Five, tells the tale of World War II soldier Billy Pilgrim and how he was abducted by aliens. The flick took home the Jury Prize at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and has been a favorite of sci-fi fans ever since.  Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote the novel the book is based on, famously claimed, “I drool and cackle every time I watch that film.”
Slaughterhouse-Five [Blu-ray] Not only is Arrow bringing this to Blu-ray for the first time in North America, but it comes with a brand new 4K restoration and a spaceship-load of special features. Yippee!


He was a true genius. And Kurt Weill’s Street Scene is an amazing mélange of show tunes, arias, jazz numbers, folk songs and spirituals, a true musical melting pot that aptly underlines the rich variety of characters that populate the New York City tenement block in the ’30s that’s the focus of this exceptionally vital and criminally undervalued work.
It was meant meant to be a truly American opera, half-way between his The Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and drawing from the famous play by Elmer Rice (recipient of the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1928).
Kurt Weill's Street Scene [Blu-ray]Weill wrote Street Scene shortly after fleeing Nazi Germany. When he discovered the vitality of the American musical scene, his focus became to reconcile the Broadway musical with European traditional opera, jazzy and North-American tunes with an almost Puccinian-like lyricism. Under Tim Murray’s vivid and precise baton, the superb production by John Fulljames perfectly renders the vitality and energy released by the streets of New York that proved to be a great inspiration to the theatrical mind of the composer.
Released by BelAir Classiques, the staging generously evokes a bygone era of American history, simultaneously looking rundown and part of a dreamscape worth longing for.


 

 

 

“Sammy Davis , Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” chronicles the career of the one-eyed wonder

Finally. PBS Distribution has released the new American Masters program, Sammy Davis , Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,  the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, vast in scope and scale.

And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America. Davis was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to that of another persecuted minority. In Duke Ellington’s words, he was “beyond category.”

Featuring interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and footage of his electric performances, this film explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory highlighted the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the ’80s.

TV pioneer Norman Lear is impossible to stifle. PBS celebrates his career in “Just Another Version of You”

We call it 90 minutes of good times. How else would you explain a PBS special–the first documentary about the television legend– celebrating the career of Norman Lear? Savor American Masters: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You on Blu-ray and DVD.  Enjoyed the special on PBS? Take note that the home releases include more than 12 minutes of bonus features.

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Bea Arthur and Bill Macy in an episode of “Maude”.

Largely responsible for the explosion of bold American television in the ’70s, the writer/producer is synonymous with the sitcom. With unprecedented access to Lear, his work and his massive personal archives, the special combines stories from his turbulent childhood and early groundbreaking TV success (think All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude) and social activism.

The documentary also features colorful stories from Lear’s family, friends and collaborators, including John Amos, George Clooney, Alan Horn, Bill Moyers, Rob Reiner, Phil Rosenthal and Russell Simmons, as well as cinéma vérité moments with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Jon Stewart, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham.

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Rob Reiner and Carroll O’Connor bickering (as usual) in “All in the Family”.

Breaking down the fourth wall to create an evocative collage where past and present intermingle, Oscar-nominated filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady reveal a psychologically rich man whose extraordinary contributions emerge from both his personal story and his own self-professed childlike view of the world.

The documentary traces how a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut started writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, created All in the Family and became one of TV’s most successful showrunners.

All character-driven, with theatrical sets and live audiences, Lear’s TV series changed not only the face of national television but the content of national discourse. Bringing provocative subjects like war, poverty and prejudice to 120 million viewers every week, Lear proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism–laughter–and created some of the greatest moments in television history.

Co-produced by Ewing and Grady’s Loki Films and THIRTEEN’s American Masters series, Just Another Version of You doesn’t shy away from the controversies Lear stirred with his TV series and advocacy organization People For the American Way (PFAW). The documentary also highlights his later years touring the country with the Declaration of Independence and promoting his memoir Even This I Get to Experience, spending time with his tight-knit family, and developing new productions.

Look at this way: Lear can never be stifled.

“American Masters” celebrates its 30th anniversary with the launch of “In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive”

Everything old is new again. And in the case of THIRTEEN’s American Masters, the old is very new and very special. The series made in debut in 1986 on PBS with Private Conversations: On the Set of “Death of a Salesman, a cinéma vérité documentary about the making of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece for network television, and its stars Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich.

Today, American Masters celebrates its 30th anniversary with the launch of In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive and the American Masters Podcast, featuring previously unreleased interviews filmed for the documentary series: 2,156 tapes, approximately 1,388 digitized hours, 800-plus interviews and counting.

A selection of short-form videos showcasing interviews with David Bowie, Gloria Steinem, Herbie Hancock, Bernadette Peters, Mike Nichols and other luminaries discussing America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants are available now on the American Masters website (pbs.org/americanmasters). New videos will be released on an ongoing basis as the archive is digitized.

The American Masters Podcast, hosted by series executive producer Michael Kantor, will feature long-form interviews from In Their Own Words. The first season, “Women on Women,” presents interviews with influential women discussing women cultural icons. Episode one features Gloria Steinem in conversation with the late, multiple Emmy-winning filmmaker Gail Levin taking a critical look at the life and career of Marilyn Monroe from 2006’s American Masters Marilyn: Still Life. New episodes will be released biweekly on the American Masters website, iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher.

All full-length, digitized interviews will be archived by the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between WGBH and the Library of Congress to preserve and make accessible significant historical content created by public media.
“I’m thrilled that the National Endowment for the Arts has provided major funding to get this project off the ground so we can finally share gems from the cutting room floor with the public,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “Series creator Susan Lacy built a rich library of more than 200 documentary films, which is a treasure trove of American arts, culture and intellect, and the amazing interviews that informed these films are largely unseen. While we are still seeking funds to create a comprehensive, interactive digital archive website, we are confident that In Their Own Words and the American Masters Podcast will inspire and entertain a broad audience both today and in the future.”
Here, A gem of Betty White chatting about her (and my) pal Carol Burnett.