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The Men Who Owned America

by Melanie - 0 Comment(s)

The fascinating period of American history after the Civil War seems to be foremost on a lot of TV minds recently as evidenced by popular Western series such as Deadwood and Hell on Wheels. The new-to-the-library documentary series The Men Who Built America (on DVD and blu-ray) casts its eye Eastward to the financiers who profited in the extreme from the technology innovations and discoveries of the time to the end of the Gilded Age.

Rockefeller, Carnegie and Frick, J.P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Ford are the focus of this interesting miniseries that follows their various monolopies of the rail lines, oil, steel and then gasoline production, the stock market, and even the White House when they set rivalries aside to ensure their president was elected. The castles they built for themselves, such as Frick's next to Central Park, and the billions of dollars they held led some to call them Robber Barons.

The Men Who Built America credits these larger-than-life investors for the automobile, skyscaper, and development of the West. At the same time, it records their exploitation of workers and the deaths ultimately resulting from their free reign over the marketplace.

The series' editing reflects its original TV broadcast, so there is quite a bit of repetition at the beginning of episodes and where ad breaks would have been. However, the historical content, visuals, and interviews with historians, investment gurus, and motivation speakers (who analyse the qualities that both made and broke the men) make for good watching.

 

Halston's Legacy

by Melanie - 1 Comment(s)

I promised to keep up with the fashion DVD reviews, and while searching to see what we had on Liza Minelli (how great was that blue streak at the Oscars?!), I came across the 2012 Tribeca film Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston.

Ultrasuede positions Halston as the first American designer to be accepted in Europe as a major player. Travelling with an entourage of models, Halston was so influential, he ended up in song lyrics by Chic and Billy Joel. Halston was the first to entertain a mass market line in nation-wide department stores. Ultimately, the documentary shows, this was his undoing. Although common now, designer clients then saw it as brand dissolution and walked away, while the average consumer found the line too pricey and didn't buy. Coupled with a turbulent relationship and the AIDS epidemic, this career move led to Halston's decline which parallelled or perhaps even caused the end of the disco era. What really endures, as Ultrasuede points out, is Halston's minimalist, draped designs and their influence on American fashion design.

You might also enjoy the feature film The Last Days of Disco and for books, the biography Simply Halston: The Untold Story. We also have Studio 54.

The Ken Burns Effect — Part One

by Moe - 0 Comment(s)

Ken Burns has an impressive filmography to his credit. In the world of current film styles the camera seldom seems to rest on any one image for more than a nano second before it is off to the next blow-up, melt-down, gargantuan special effect or drooling miscreation. All while being punctuated by a strident soundtrack. Burns' style is so laid back that if you aren't used to it it can at first glimpse seem a trifle boring. But stick with it and you will be rewarded with superior documentaries and it won't take you long to get hooked on "The Ken Burns Effect "—slowly zooming or panning over vintage still photographs while in-depth research is narrated by a pleasing voice.

The Dust Bowl just aired last year on PBS as a 240-minute series. In it Burns documents the worst human-made ecological disaster in American history that was the result of the 'Great Plow-up'. Vivid interviews, dramatic photographs, and seldom-seen movie footage bring to life incredible stories of human suffering and perseverance. You'll be stunned by what you didn't know about this decade long event.

And after you watch the mini series, here are three excellent 'companion' feature films.Sinise and Malkovich

First up is the powerful Of Mice and Men, a John Steinbeck classic. It tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression. This is before the arrival of the Okies who Steinbeck vividly describes in The Grapes of Wrath. Required reading in many schools, Of Mice and Men regularly appears on the America Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century. We have two versions and they are equally compelling. The 1939 with Burgess Meredeth and the 1992 made for television, with Gary Sinise and John Malcovich.

Secondly is Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winning Grapes of Wrath (1940), directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda. In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

And the third offering is Places in the Heart, which won Sally Field her second Oscar for Best Actress in 1984. Also starring John Malkovich, Ed Harris and Danny Glover.

From the grapevine … Steven Spielberg is set to acquire the rights to The Grapes of Wrath, with a view to producing a new film adaptation for DreamWorks. There are many movies that I think were perfect the first time and don't need to be redone, and Grapes of Wrath is one of them. But having said that, if anybody can do it justice it would be Spielberg. However he is unlikely to direct the movie, and likely will oversee the project as producer.

Connections

by Moe - 0 Comment(s)

This excellent 10 part/10 hour series from 1978 is well worth a look. Don't be put off by the beige battle jacket and bell bottoms- James Burke knows his stuff! Some of it might be outdated- for example, the computers he is talking about in 1978 will bare little resemblance to what we know today. But Burke's theories on how we got to computers in the first place are still fascinating.

As the Sherlock Holmes of science, James Burke tracks through 12,000 years of history for the clues that lead us to eight life changing inventions-everything form television to the atom bomb. This series explores the various paths of how technological change happens and the effects of these changes on society as a whole. To illustrate this, Burke follows various timelines of how one innovation lead to something seemingly totally unrelated in the future---such as how a 17th century Dutch cargo ship design lead to development of plastic in the 20th century. And so the Connections begin.

Live From Wembley Stadium

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We all know that CPL has an amazing collection of CD's. Everything from Slayer to Shostakovich-Justin Bieber to Alice Cooper! But do you know that we also have a huge collection of performances/concerts on dvd? In fact, my recent search brought up over 200! These are concerts performed around the world at international venues by a huge and diverse group of performers. For example:

Fleetwood Mac: Rumours

The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles

Eagles: Farewell tour live from Melbourne

Queen: Live at Wembley Stadium

Simon and Garfunkel; the concert in Central Park

U2: Live at Red Rocks

This just barely begins to scratch the surface of some of my own faves. Music--performance as a search term will bring up everything and show you the depth of the collection; my above mentioned faves came by searching Rock Concerts dvd;

by Moe

Exit through the Gift Shop

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This documentary has such a great title, why change the title of my blog post to something else? It asks us to question the status of the gallery or museum as the sole site for aesthetic practice. Narrated by Bristol bred artist Banksy, Exit follows videographer Thierry Guetta as he records street artists in action, including his cousin "Space Invader," whose mosaic tile recreations of vintage video game creatures can be seen around the world. If you think street art (aka graffiti) is merely senseless defacement of public spaces, you might shift your view after watching Exit. Some of the art is politically challenging ("One Nation under CCTV"), some gives viewers a chuckle, and others inspire wonderment, like the permanent shadows of objects painted on the ground. Whether you decide that Exit is a mockumentary or not you will thrill to the artists' death defying climbs on the sides of buildings, mourn their citation by often reluctant authorities, and look at your urban setting differently. Ponder as the film-maker becomes instant street art sensation "Mr. Brainwash" and leaves his former subjects, including Banksy, scratching their heads...

Further dvds to study:

The California underground art angle> Crumb

The autheticity/fine art/value angle> F for Fake

Not at CPL but free online: The Mona Lisa Curse by Robert Hughes... the contemporary- art speculation-driving up prices/autheticity angle

Non-Fiction Films

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Although I enjoy watching non-fiction (and CPL has a great selection from which to choose), I always seem to get side tracked by all the feature films I want to recommend. So let me correct this right now and point you at four titles definitely worth a look.

The Crusades---they began as a holy mission to liberate Jerusalem and became the largest mass migration in European history. When they ended 200 years later, the Crusades had created a mythology of knights and chivalry, and left a legacy of distrust between East and West that continues to shape our world today. Filmed on location throughout Europe and the Middle East. By Terry Jones of Monty Pythons fame with none of the silliness of The search for the Holy Grail.

Babies---this is a real charmer which the whole family can watch and enjoy. A look at one year in the life of four babies from around the world--- Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo and the culture and nurturing that informs their lives.

How many people can live on planet earth- the always highly informative Sir David Attenborough presents this look at the growth of the world's population and the future of the earth with a population that is projected to grow to 9 billion within the next 40 years. Researchers study densely populated regions to try to understand the problems of overpopulation.

The Medici, godfathers of the renaissance---(not to be confused with The Borgias which is currently running on tv), this is an excellent look at this powerful family and the influence they had over the course of western civilization.

by Moe

Three from Bahrani

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With only three full length features to his name, writer/director Ramin Bahrani has shown himself to be a master filmmaker. Bahrani, an American of Iranian descent, has focused on the Immigrant experience in the US. Using non-professional actors and shooting on location with natural light, his films have a distinct authenticity to them. His films are gritty, beautiful, and profound.

Man Push Cart (2005) - The story of a former Pakistani music star, now caught with the Sisyphean task of wheeling his coffee cart throughout Manhattan. A sobering look at the difficulties of new Americans just trying to make ends meet. Chop Shop (2007) - Follows the daily grind of 12 year old street orphan, Alejandro and his 16 year old sister. The siblings do what they must to survive and hopefully make a better life for themselves.

The film was Shot on location in the Willets Point slum of New York, directly in the shadow of Shae Stadium. Goodbye Solo (2008) - Follows the unlikely relationship of Solo, a Senegalese cab driver and his fare, William, a crotchety old southern-boy with a lifetime of regrets. A touching friendship develops between the two men, transcending their ages and cultural differences.

by Mat

Tearing down to build up

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Ah Spring...When our thoughts turn inevitably to home improvement. If you are eating take-out and heating food in the microwave all of the time, your pets piling up with you in your bedroom, boxes of unsorted items shoved to the side, you either live at our house, or you are in the middle of a home renovation project.

Amidst our non-fiction dvds, you will find an assortment of items aimed at informing the do-it-yourself-er. See for yourself:

Holmes on Holmes: Shirtless but shod and service-oriented Mike Holmes is adored for his righteous rage at corrupt contractors and their incompetent handiwork. In the process of taking apart their work, he teaches the right (Holmes) way to build.

Dare to Repair Mag Ruffman of Road to Avonlea is the feisty host of this dvd based on the sleeper hit tv show "A Repair to Remember" which was aimed at timid, inexperienced handypeople. She leads you through various typical home fixits.

Remember Bob Villa? We have the This Old House series on videocassette, should you have a vcr. We also have a newer dvd series Ask This Old House.

On order for the collection are Floors and Ceilings and Plumbing and Electrical. and the So You're Renovating series, which covers a wide variety of topics, such as basements, kitchens, additions, and roofing.

Lastly, Build Green and Raging Renos. The titles say it all.

These don't cover local permits and structural engineering issues, which the borrower is responsible for researching.

Planet Earth

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I almost broke my thesaurus trying to find enough superlatives to describe this remarkable BBC series. Four years in the making, and with a budget in excess of 16 million pounds, this epic series spans 204 locations in 62 countries on all 7 continents. No mountain was too high, no location too remote, no insect or animal too obscure for this award winning production. Filmed in HD, each episode runs about 50 minutes and at the end is another 10 minutes showing how they got the footage. Normally I eschew bonus material as I would rather just 'stay in the moment', but I found here that it only added to the impact of what I had just viewed. They captured species, locations and animal behaviour never before put on film. Watch them in any order, just watch them all. Planet Earth as you have never seen it. One last superlative---stunning!!!

Episode 1: From Pole to Pole


Episode 2: Mountains


Episode 3: Fresh Water


Episode 4: Caves


Episode 5: Deserts


Episode 6: Ice Worlds


Episode 7: Great Plains


Episode 8: Jungles


Episode 9: Shallow Seas


Episode 10: Seasonal Forests


Episode 11: Ocean Deep

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