Judge Eric Profancik was disappointed to learn the White House does not really have a secret booty room.
"May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."
In the mid '90s, I lived outside of Washington, D.C. I resided there for only about 19 months, but it made an impression on me. At the time, I had no idea of the extraordinary nature of the city and the surrounding areas, for all I could focus on was the snarling traffic, which overwhelmed a Midwestern guy like me used to quick and simple commutes. Now that I am gone, I miss the city, the excitement, the diversity, and the opportunities—but definitely not the traffic. Perhaps the biggest regret on my part is not taking the time to visit the White House. The tour times were very narrow, and I knew I would have to line up early if I wanted to get in. I was younger, a bit lazier, and thought I'd be living there longer. Obviously, I made a miscalculation on that one. Now that the building has been turned into a fortress of solitude, getting in for a good tour seems like a long shot.
As with most Americans, I do have a certain fascination with the Presidential mansion. It's something we see everyday in the news, but we really don't know that much about it. We silly Americans, we just don't know our history, and the White House has had a spectacular one. This PBS special, hosted by Martin Sheen, takes a unique twist in documenting the history of the White House. Instead of a pure and dull lecture, the special enhances the historical tour with readings of letters written by Presidents, First Ladies, and selected staff members. These letters—read by Philip Bosco, Avery Brooks, Kathleen Chalfant, Blythe Danner, Robert Prosky, Campbell Scott, Regina Taylor, Sam Waterston, and Dianne Wiest—give you a personal insight into history. They bring the situation to life by offering a first-hand account of what was going on around those fortunate enough to live in the White House. It's a clever and enriching way to capture the viewer's interest.
Echoes from the White House packs an amazing amount of information into just 55 minutes. While the primary focus of this PBS special is a history of the White House, it doesn't limit itself to just that. We also get a quick lesson in America's history and her Presidents. And, by the end of the special, we've also had a brief tour of the White House mixed in for good measure. All of this combines to give an intelligent and interesting look at one of America's best known homes.
I enjoy history but just don't take the time to delve into it. Maybe I need to read more books or watch more of The History Channel, but I definitely need to stop forgetting how rich and textured our past is. If you take the time to watch this special, I have no doubt you will learn a great deal about the White House, things you never imagined. And while the past thirty years are covered in three minutes, that's not a problem because most of us know recent history, so it's smart of the special to go deeper into the past.
The disc itself has a decent, if slightly dark, full-frame video transfer and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that keeps the dialogue clean and hiss free; both are thoroughly unexceptional and serve the documentary. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles or additional bonus features.
This is another fine offering from PBS, but I have a hard time recommending it if you have to spend a lot of money. Right now, there are many used copies available at a very reasonable price (less than five dollars), and I can recommend it at that price. If you have a monthly flat-fee rental service, go ahead and toss it into your queue. If you rent one disc at a time, it's not worth it. Your best bet is to find it at your local library or as a rerun on PBS.
"I feel the weight of history here."
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