A&E // 2009 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Marco Duran (Retired) // April 7th, 2010
A look at America's struggles with war, class, race and women's rights; based on Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States."
There is much to be said about how memory affects history, which affects memory. I am reminded of Leonard Shelby's lines in Memento, "Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car, and memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts." But who really has the facts? As I went through the educational system, I was convinced that all the stories and the history we were shown in our schoolbooks were distorted and biased to only show us the awesomeness of this great country of ours. So, when Howard Zinn wrote "A People's History of the United States" and it became part of my college curriculum, I thought, "Finally, we're going to get the truth on how things really went down. We're going to get a fair view of history." Turns out I was right and I was wrong.
In 1980, "A People's History of the United States" was published and has, since then, sold more then two million copies. Starting in 2003, there have been dozens of stage performances in which actors and musicians read and sing the words of the people who inspired the book. Finally, in 2008 and 2009, Howard Zinn and more then two dozen actors and musicians filmed several of these performances.
The People Speak is just "A People's History" brought to life. This is a star-studded film. After watching, I am convinced that more textbooks need to have Viggo Mortensen and David Strathaim do dramatic readings. Matt Damon, Danny Glover, Bob Dylan, Josh Brolin, Marisa Tormei, Eddie Vedder and a myriad of other stars lend their voices, and sometimes their instruments, to bring history to life. It makes learning about the US from the Revolutionary War to current day not only interesting but also very exciting. As one who barely skated by in history class from jr. high through college, that's really saying something. I was thoroughly engaged throughout this film, feeling like I was being told the stories that those in power don't want you to know.
This movie starts with Howard Zinn's own history. He grew up in a working class family, and enlisted in the Air Force to became a bombardier in World War II. After the war, he went to college under the G.I. bill of rights. His first teaching job was in Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, a college for black women. He became thoroughly involved in the struggle against segregation in the south. And herein lies the rub. Finding his voice in the troublemakers, the rebellious and the revolutionaries; Zinn commits the same sin that all other history writers before him did. His history, in the end, is still not fairly handled, but instead is myopic and one sided, perhaps, as any history book will be. However, this side of the story is something we have never heard and it's another facet of a huge diamond. All the stories can never be contained in any one tome.
This film was made for the History Channel so both the audio and video are top notch. The HD-quality 1.85 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very clear. Multiple cameras were used to film all the performances (you can see the crane camera or the camera-men in the aisles in some of the sweeping shots of the stage) and they are all used to their zenith. Ambient music and sound effects are well placed in the 5.1 channel audio mix. I can't believe how excited and how concurrently disappointed with this film I am. When Pink takes the stage to sing "Dear Mr. President," the whole tone of the movie goes from educating the audience about things that happened to beating up on people who can't defend themselves. Those people are rich white heterosexual men who don't necessarily garner the greatest amount of pity. What the filmmakers did by being so ham fisted with their cause was tell us that they didn't believe we could understand it on our own. Taking out those unsubtle bits of propaganda will still leave great stories of heartache and celebration, protesting and joy, words of such emotions performed as perhaps they have not been since the day they were first uttered.
Guilty of bringing enjoyment to my history-lacking heart.
Review content copyright © 2010 Marco Duran; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated