God in America (2010)
This six hour documentary looks at the settling of America, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and the issue of religion and politics in America from a strictly religious history point of view.
The Evangelical Protestant religion of many of the early settlers made them resentful of either church leaders or kings telling them what to do. Itinerant Methodist ministers traveling in the wilds west of the Appalachians made Methodism the fastest growing denomination in the US until the battle over slavery broke it into northern and southern denominations. The rights of Catholics and Jews to have their children free from Protestant religious training in public schools led to a greater separation of church and state.
In postwar America, Billy Graham and his crusade against “Godless” communism made him the best known religious figure in America. These are just a few of the interesting takes on American history found in this program which was created by a cooperative effort of The American Experience and Frontline.
For more information, visit the companion website.
Babies (2010) PG
This fascinating, charming documentary shows the growth of four babies living in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco from swollen bellies to one year olds. With minimal words, no translation is needed. I really enjoyed the background music.
Watch the babies bond and interact with parents, siblings and other children. See them as they explore their surroundings, crawling, and learning to talk. The documentary shows contrasts in the babies’ lives, from their environments (modern or primitive) to the animals they encounter (both farm and domestic). But no matter their circumstances, all of the babies seemed happy and well-adjusted.
Also check out the special feature that shows them at three years old.
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) PG-13
Come take a look behind the scenes of the fascinating world of haute couture and Valentino, the world-renowned fashion designer. This film focuses on two shows: a 2006 collection show in Paris and a 2007 retrospective show in Rome celebrating his 45 year career. The film crew follows Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, his longtime business partner and companion, through the lengthy process from design to show. It’s amazing how much preparation and work it takes.
The documentary is interspersed with film from Valentino’s earlier days where he was influenced by the silver screen. View a world of fashion few have access to, including the elaborate parties, glamorous gowns, celebrities, and elaborate sets. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of his five pugs. The film touches on the ownership of the company. A drawback is that most of the film is spoken in French and Italian with English subtitles.
One of the special features shows Valentino traveling between his homes in Paris, Rome, Gstaad, and New York and the perfectionism that goes into maintaining them.
Control Room (2004)
It’s an eye-opening step into what was happening during the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Told from the point of view of Arab television network Al Jazeera, the documentary follows Al Jazeera employees and covers time spent in the US Central Command briefing room in Doha, Qatar. It explores the media’s role in modern war.
The only American featured prominently in the documentary – Marine Corps media liaison officer John Rushing – later becomes a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for Al Jazeera International (check out his YouTube channel). After I saw the documentary, I read Mission: Al Jazeera (2007) by Josh Rushing; he resigned from the Marines after he was forbidden to speak about the documentary with the press.
Chicago Bulls: the 1990s (2003)
Are you excited about the NBA draft on June 26? With the #1 pick, do you think the Bulls will choose Michael Beasley or Chicago native Derrick Rose? But before we begin a new season, relive the glory days with this four-disc set about the Bulls’ six championships from 1991 to 1998. With highlights from each of the six seasons, you can reminisce about Michael beating Magic, Paxson hitting the three against Phoenix, the record-setting 72 victories, and Jordan’s last shot as a Bull. The set also contains six games as they were originally broadcast – one from each finals appearance.
Includes a history of the Chicago Bulls.
H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (2003)
A 64 minute biography of Herman Mudgett, focusing mainly on the murders committed while Mudgett used the name H. H. Holmes, but still describing Mudgett’s early life and later his trial and execution. In the late 19th century, Mudgett built what was then called a “castle,” but in what was more reminiscent of a spider web, he captured and killed visitors thronging to the Columbian Exposition of 1893. This could be thought of as the movie version of the book Depraved by Harold Schechter and could accompany a reading of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.