PBS Distribution tops the list (yet again) for its must-see, must-have programs, specials, miniseries and documentaries. These are just a small sleighfull, dozens of others can be found at shoppbs.org.
The best of the best: Ken Burns: Country Music. This eight-part, 16-hour documentary series chronicles the history of a uniquely American art form, focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters who created it. More than eight years in the making, the film follows the evolution of country music from its diverse and humble origins as it emerged, by the end of the twentieth century, into a worldwide phenomenon. Filled with memorable musical moments, interviews with more than 80 country music artists, and evocative footage and photographs, Country Music weaves an unforgettable story that is both intimate and sweeping.
Other top choices:
The bitter, partisan battle that played out during monster and deviant Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings reflected deep divisions in Washington that may seem unique to America’s current political and social moment. But as the FRONTLINE investigation Supreme Revenge reveals, the intense politicization on display during the Supreme Court confirmation process, and the transformation of the Court itself, has been a shift decades in the making.
Offering both critical context on the state of America’s judicial system and a gripping political narrative, Supreme Revenge is a must-watch look at the battle for control of America’s highest court.
Trace the improbable journey of Robert Shaw’s life and career, from his childhood as a preacher’s son in rural California through his meteoric rise as a star of popular music during the Great Depression, with Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices.
An early champion of civil rights, his chorales were among the first to break the color barrier in the American South. Shaw performed the music of Bach in the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, brought audiences to tears in East Berlin in the darkest days of the Cold War.
Shaw believed great music could have a profound influence, whether in individual lives or in bringing communities together. His eventful journey is brought to life in the film by interviews with legendary musicians including Yo-Yo Ma, Sylvia McNair, Alice Parker, Marietta Simpson, and Florence Kopleff, among others.
It’s 1969, and things have taken a darker turn for the old Cowley team. With Endeavour, Thursday and the gang now scattered across Oxfordshire, it takes a series of brutal crimes–including the death of a young schoolgirl, a fatal act of sabotage,
a deadly campaign of gossip and rumor in a picturesque village and a murder at the Bodleian Library–to reunite them. Welcome to the riveting Masterpiece Mystery!: Endeavour, Season 6.
In iconic settings such as the First Ancient Theatre of Larissa, the historic Church of Pammegiston Taxiarchon at Pelion and the newly opened Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performs works by Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Ravel and the contemporary Greek-American composer George Tsontakis. Odyssey: The Great Music Society in Greece also offers a sumptuous taste of Greece itself, exploring the history, mythology and ideas that have inspired classical music for centuries.
We all know the riddle: What came first, the chicken or the egg? The Egg: Life’s Perfect Invention takes a fascinating look at what is perhaps nature’s most perfect life support system. These remarkable structures nurture new life; protecting it from the outside world at the same time as allowing it to breathe.
They are strong enough to withstand the full weight of an incubating parent and weak enough for a hatchling to break free. But how is an egg made? Why are they the shape they are? And perhaps most importantly, why lay an egg at all? Step by step as the egg hatches, host David Attenborough reveals the wonder behind these incredible miracles of nature.
Words from a Beartakes audiences on a journey through the expansive landscapes of the West, when N. Scott Momaday’s Kiowa ancestry roamed the Great Plains with herds of buffalo, to the sand-painted valleys of Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico where he showed superior writing skills as a young mission student.
The biography gives a thorough survey of Momaday’s most prolific years as a doctorate fellow at Stanford University, his achievement of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1969, and his later works that solidified his place as the founding member of the “Native American Renaissance” in art and literature, influencing a generation of Native American artists, scholars, and political activists.
Historical photos and original animation will complement captivating interviews with Robert Redford, Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, James Earle Jones, and Joy Harjo to bring audiences inside the creative core of this American Master.
Enjoy all five seasons of the outstanding historical family saga Poldark, here in Poldark: The Complete Collection. Set against the spectacular landscapes of the Cornish coast, Poldark is full of unforgettable characters, captivating storytelling and fiery romance.
In the more than 150 minutes of bonuses, go behind the scenes with cast and crew in special featurettes from all five seasons; meet the skilled people who design the vivid scenery and create the lavish costumes and hear from the actors who bring to life the compelling heroes, heroines and villains of Cornwall.
Louise Brooks, the ’20s silver screen sensation who never met a rule she didn’t break, epitomized the restless, reckless spirit of the Jazz Age. But, just a few years earlier, she was a 15-year-old student in Wichita, Kansas, for whom fame and fortune were only dreams. When the opportunity arises for her to go to New York to study with a leading dance troupe, her mother insists there be The Chaperone. Norma Carlisle, a local society matron who never broke a rule in her life, impulsively volunteers to accompany Louise to New York for the summer.
Why does this utterly conventional woman do this? What happens to her when she lands in Manhattan with an unusually rebellious teenager as her ward? And, which of the two women is stronger, the uptight wife-and-mother or the irrepressible free spirit? It’s a story full of surprises . . . about who these women really are, and who they eventually become.
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’sthat 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.
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).
When 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 City. Plus, 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 watchIt’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.
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.
The 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 Uprisingreveals 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.
There’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. For 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, Octavwanders through the atmospheric house and undulating grounds that surround it and is confronted and transformed by 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.
The 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, is 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.”
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).
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.
PBS is world-renowned for their specials, documentaries, miniseries and films and TV fare . . . simple always first-rate. Some of our favorites released this year:
The best DVD set of the year? The Vietnam War, another epic miniseries by the master, Ken Burns. and Lynn Novick. In an immersive narrative, they tell the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film.
The epic program features testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the winning and losing sides.
Ten years in the making, the series brings the war and the chaotic epoch it encompassed viscerally to life. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward, produced by Sarah Botstein, Novick and Burns, it includes rarely seen, digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies and revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.
The series also features more than 120 popular songs that define the era, including tracks from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Ben E. King, Phil Ochs, Donovan, Johnny Cash, Barry McGuire, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Santana, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, The Temptations, Booker T. and the M.G.s and Pete Seeger.
Second best: May we serve you a nice cup of tea? Imbibe, as long as the beverage isn’t being served by Mary Ann Cotton. Inspired by the book Mary Ann Cotton: Britain’s First Female Serial Killer by noted criminologist David Wilson, Dark Angeldramatizes the events that drew a troubled woman ever deeper into a career of casual murder, while her loved ones and friends, who were also her victims, never suspected a thing.
Joanne Froggatt, who stole the hearts of millions of viewers as Anna, the loving and resilient lady’s maid on Downton Abbey, stars in a totally different role in the spine-tingling two-part drama. Dispensing death from the spout of a warm teapot, Froggatt plays the notorious Victorian poisoner. Born in North East England in 1832, a child of the coalfields, Mary Ann Cotton grew up in poverty with the dream of escaping the hard life of a miner’s family, a goal she came tantalizingly close to achieving. Her chosen means were her good looks, sexual allure, and the dirty secret of nineteenth-century suspicious deaths: arsenic, which is tasteless and easily disguised in a cup of tea.
For authorities, the problem was that arsenic poisoning, if done skillfully, mimicked the symptoms of two of the major public health scourges of the day: typhoid fever and cholera. The passing of a child or husband after a week of severe stomach pains, convulsions, and other portents of disease was all too common—and even less surprising when several members of the same household succumbed.
She’s back. And as spirited a teen as ever. Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars is the second installment of the classic best-selling Lucy Maud Montgomery story returns after the successful Thanksgiving 2016 premiere, which reached more than 3.2 million viewers. In this installment, Anne Shirley turns 13 and faces complex situations with friends, learns from inspirational adults, and experiences an escalating friendship with Gilbert. Her free-spirited nature is challenged by her perceived need to be sensible, a journey fraught with confusion and some unfortunate—albeit amusing—(mis)adventures.
The Real Jesus of Nazareth Starring no less than seven Academy Award winners, the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth was a global television event–one of the most celebrated TV biographies of Jesus ever made. Now, 40 years later, the actor who portrayed the Son of God, Robert Powell, is returning to the Holy Land to seek out clues to the real historical figure who inspired Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth featured a cast of blockbuster stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ian McShane, Sir Laurence Olivier and James Earl Jones, but for his lead character, legendary Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli chose the relatively unknown British actor–Robert Powell–who gave a performance for the ages. Since then, the series has become an Easter and Christmas television tradition for many–more than 90 million people have watched the series in the U.S. alone. Now, this new program will draw parallels between the scripted depiction of the biblical story and the real history behind it by breaking down the life of Jesus and the world he lived in–a world ripe for a radical message that would change history.
Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive draws on the rich palette of Poe’s evocative imagery and sharply drawn plots to tell the real story of the notorious author. The film, featuring Tony Award-winning and Emmy-nominated actor Denis O’Hare, explores the misrepresentations of Poe as an alcoholic madman akin to the narrators of his horror stories. It reveals the way in which more than any other writer of his time, and even our own time, Poe tapped into what it means to be a human being in our modern and sometimes frightening world.
The Durrells in Corfu: The Complete Second Season This charming and hugely popular series returns to follow the further adventures of the eccentric Durrell family as they embrace life on the gorgeous Greek island of Corfu. Based on Gerald Durrell’s trilogy of Corfu novels, this latest series sees sparky English widow Louisa Durrell and her brood continue to put down roots in their dilapidated rented house, alongside an ever-increasing menagerie of animals brought home by youngest son Gerry. Doing their best to settle into the community, they must earn enough money to pay their aggressive new landlady Vasilia, who sees Louisa as a love rival for charming playboy Hugh. With the help of Spiro and Theo, the Durrells resort to selling typical British produce at the market. But accidentally poisoning the locals might not be the best way to start a new business?
Does George Warleggan finally have the upper hand against his archenemy, Ross Poldark? Can George’s growing power in Cornwall cement his control over the fate of his populist foe? Dream on! In Poldark: The Third Season, follow the latest thrilling exploits of Ross Poldark and his fiery partner, Demelza, as the intrepid eighteenth-century duo. The new season costars Jack Farthing as the dastardly George and Heida Reed as his bewitching wife, Elizabeth, now estranged from her first love, Ross—or is she?
Also enlivening the new season are a mysterious plague of frogs, a thwarted famine, and Aunt Agatha’s eagerly anticipated one-hundredth birthday party, which has a catastrophic catch. But the most stirring action involves the French Revolution, which manages to ensnare one of the program’s main characters in its Reign of Terror, prompting Poldark’s most dangerous mission yet.
Cook’s Country: Season 10 features the best regional home cooking in the country and relies on a practical, no-nonsense food approach where family-friendly recipes are scientifically re-imagined for the modern home cook. Join hosts Bridget Lancaster, Julia Collin Davison and your favorite chefs from America’s Test Kitchen as they uncover blue-ribbon specialties from across the country and classic fare in need of a makeover. The DVD also includes tips & techniques, food tastings, equipment tests, and printable versions of all 31 recipes!
The Gene Doctors
Every year more than one million babies are born worldwide with an error in one of their many genes. These errors, or mutations, can cause genetic illnesses that are often severe and can rob people of sight, breath, movement and life. Now, for the first time, doctors can take aim at the root causes of these diseases. Through intimate stories of families whose lives are being transformed, the program takes viewers to the frontlines of a medical revolution.
NOVA: Ghosts of Stonehenge
In this Stone Age detective story, archaeologists analyze the bones and piece together tantalizing details of the elite families who presided over Stonehenge. Remnants of huge feasts that fed the laborers at the site have come to light, including evidence that they traveled from far corners of the British Isles to raise the stones and celebrate the winter solstice. Yet Stonehenge’s place as a centerpiece of ancient culture was not to last.
Join NOVA as they reveal intimate details of the Stonehenge people and why their power began to fade soon after they raised the mighty stones.
NOVA: Secrets of a Shining KnightA knight in shining armor may sound like a character out of a storybook, but once upon a time, knighthood was serious business. For countless medieval fighters, their armor was what stood between their life and death. But what was it really like to live beneath the metal? How was that shining armor crafted and how strong was it? Could it withstand impacts from the most lethal weapons of the day, including crossbows, muskets and primitive hand guns?
The Story of China History lessons Greek to you? Welcome PBS’ offer of an unprecedented, six-part series exploring the 4,000-year history of China, home to more than a billion people and an emerging global superpowerwith Michael Wood. He brings a joyful curiosity to the series that is matched only by the warmth and enthusiasm of the Chinese people, suggests that to understand China today we must examine its past.
The all-new fashion-centric miniseries Masterpiece: The Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. World War II is over and stylish clothes are back as Paris recovers from the horrors of the Nazi occupation. Richard Coyle, Mamie Gummer and Tom Riley star as a family struggling to build a fashion empire at any cost. Set in 1947, The Collection captures a turbulent era in French history, when partisans hunted down Nazi collaborators and anyone with something to hide shunned the past and embraced the future. Fashion became the perfect expression of this impulse to look ahead. Wartime rationing, drabness, and erotic restraint gave way to alluring displays of color, form, and fabric in women’s clothes—for those who could afford them.
Teresa Brewer suggested we put another nickel in the Nickelodeon so we could hear “music, music, music!” Now Robert Redford steps up to the plate (or platter) by narrating American Epic, the essential that explores the pivotal recording journeys at the height of the Roaring Twenties, when music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology captured the breadth of American music and discovered the artists that would shape our world.
Virtually no documentation of these extraordinary events survives and nearly ninety percent of the recording masters have been destroyed. A vital part of American cultural history has been lost. Over three episodes, narrated by Redford, American Epic rescues this history. The remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage and photographs, and exclusive interviews with music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses to the era.
Teresa Brewer suggested we put another nickel in the Nickelodeon so we could hear “music, music, music!”
Now Robert Redford steps up to the plate (or platter) by narrating American Epic, the essential that explores the pivotal recording journeys at the height of the Roaring Twenties, when music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology captured the breadth of American music and discovered the artists that would shape our world. PBS Distribution has released this journey back in time to the “Big Bang” of modern popular music.
In the ’20s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities in search of new styles and markets. Ranging the mountains, prairies, rural villages, and urban ghettos of America, they discovered a wealth of unexpected talent. The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratized the nation and gave a voice to everyone. Country singers in the Appalachians, Blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians were all recorded. For the first time, a woman picking cotton in Mississippi, a coalminer in Virginia or a tobacco farmer in Tennessee could have their thoughts and feelings heard on records played in living rooms across the country. It was the first time America heard itself.
Virtually no documentation of these extraordinary events survives and nearly ninety percent of the recording masters have been destroyed. A vital part of American cultural history has been lost.
Over three episodes, narrated by Redford, American Epic rescues this history. The remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage and photographs, and exclusive interviews with music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses to the era.
American Epic represents a 10-year odyssey undertaken by director Bernard MacMahon and producers Allison McGourty and Duke Erikson, and audio engineer Nicholas Bergh that involved tracking down countless long forgotten musicians, restoring the music that they recorded and reassembling the technology that created it. Along the way they brought some of the most important figures in contemporary culture to help them on their quest. Executive Producers Jack White, T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford have lent their support to what Redford calls “America’s greatest untold story”.
The DVD also includes the feature-length film The American Epic Sessions for which the team has reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system from the ‘20s, and invited Jack White and T Bone Burnett to produce an album of recordings by twenty of today’s greatest artists. In this beautifully filmed musical feature, these artists are given the chance to pass through the portal that brought the world into the modern era.
Engineer Nicholas Bergh has reassembled this recording system from original parts and it is now the only one left in the world. The system consists of a single microphone, a towering six-foot amplifier rack, and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by a weight-driven pulley system of clockwork gears. The musicians have roughly three minutes to record their song direct to disc before the weight hits the floor. In the ’20s, they called this “catching lightning in a bottle.” All the musical performances in this film are live. The audio you hear is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements.
Petrucelli Picks the best in books, music and film . . . and then some