PBS // 2014 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // March 8th, 2014
"It would be the year when change was inescapable, the moment that fundamentally altered the kind of nation America would become."
I've always been fascinated by the 1960s, particularly with the music and television that decade produced. Over the years, my interest in the events that shaped those times has grown, and as a result, I've sat through many a disappointingly glib retrospective.
You know the kind -- a samey-same collection of film clips and sound-bites (broken up by a procession of talking heads) that essentially take what arguably constitutes the most exciting ten years of the twentieth century and boils them down to what seems like a busy week:
* Sunday: JFK elected president. The Rat Pack turns everything they touch into Vegas.
* Monday: The Bay of Pigs. Marilyn Monroe dies. The Cuban missile crisis. James Bond.
* Tuesday: MLK has a dream. JFK assassinated.
* Wednesday: The Beatles invade America. The Rolling Stones follow.
* Thursday: Miniskirts. Vietnam. LSD. Love-Ins. Protest marches.
* Friday: MLK assassinated. RFK assassinated. Nixon elected.
* Saturday: Moon landing. Manson. Woodstock. Altamont.
As a refreshing change of pace, the PBS documentary American Experience: 1964 makes the most of its time, packing a surprisingly detailed and fluff-free examination of a most extraordinary year into a scant 120 minutes.
"The year 1964 really began on November 22, 1963 with a tragedy of the assassination of a president." -- Robert Caro, author of "The Lyndon Johnson Years."
"That singular event led to the '60s as we know it, the letting loose of everything." -- Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine.
"1964 was the birth of the modern conservative movement." -- Phyllis Schlafly, conservative activist.
These are bold claims, indeed, but amazingly, they're all supported by an intelligent and briskly-paced text (by director Stephen Ives), expertly narrated by actor Oliver Platt (The Oranges), and backed up by a healthy complement of historical footage, but not one single frame of re-enactment -- Saints be praised!
Historical footage often comes at a price, and not unreasonably, some of the source material tends to be a bit wobbly and time-worn in audio and visual terms, but American Experience: 1964 remains eminently watchable, and so stuffed with provocative information that once will never be enough. There are no extras, unfortunately.
Footnote: There's one strange, inexplicable error by omission: Near the end of this chronological essay, mention is made of Sam Cooke's powerful spiritual "A Change Is Gonna Come" being released in December of that year, but no mention of the fact that Cooke himself died at on December 11, 1964, at age thirty-three; the victim of a shooting under mysterious circumstances.
While 1964 was in progress, I was working on word formation, and taking the baby steps that would inevitably lead to my "terrible twos."
Before they know it, today's crop of fifteen-year-olds will blink in amazement that 9/11 was fifty years ago!. Eternal paragons of youth such as Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and Gabby Douglas will be milestone markers for the retirement set, their (natural) hair gone as grey as the moss on Trayvon Martin's grave stone.
Welcome to my world, kids.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Not Rated