Judge Joel Pearce sums it up this way: Speech, good. DVD, not so good.
The electrifying speech that changed the hearts and minds of a bitterly divided nation.
Dr. Martin Luther King's speech from Washington in 1963 has become one of the most recognizable in history. It was the right speech at the right time, a perfectly balanced piece of rhetoric that showed hope and optimism at a moment when hatred and violence were imminent. MPI has created a DVD package called Martin Luther King: "I Have a Dream" which lets this famous speech, well, speak for itself.
Until today, I hadn't heard much of the "I have a dream" speech. Like most people, I have heard clips of it before, but today was my chance to hear the whole thing. It's a remarkable speech, one that goes far beyond the short dream section that's so often quoted. In fact, that section is the climax of the speech, following a passionate description of the history of civil rights in the United States. Martin Luther King is always careful to avoid the racial discrimination that he is fighting against, but never softens his stance on the mistreatment of his peers or the importance of full equality. And, even during this period of cruelty and violence, he offers a vision of hope, believing that the presence of white supporters in the march on Washington was a sign that most people did want to live in peace. This speech was one of the key moments that led to positive changes in legislation a year later.
The main feature on the disc doesn't run the full hour that's stated on the back, but contains only Martin Luther King's speech with a brief introduction that explains the march to Washington, for a total of just under 20 minutes. While it's great to see this footage, it is easy to find the speech in text and audio format for free on the Internet. The video and audio quality on this DVD is disappointing at best, clearly ripped directly out of a news program without much cleaning up. The image is extremely murky, with massive amounts of grain and little detail or contrast. The audio is faint and tinny, and although it's intelligible, sometimes it's hard to pick out the words. Obviously, the source is in lousy shape by this point, and this is no better than what you would find on VHS.
The rest of the running time is filled with other news footage. There are two reels from 1963, which cover some of the same ground. They provide background footage on the March on Washington, but neither reel gives a comprehensive overview of the civil rights movement. There is also a 1983 news clip from a 20 year retrospective event in Washington, which pales in comparison to the quality of the original speech. A sequence of excerpts from speeches seems more like a celebrity parade than it does a timely quest for peace. What made Martin Luther King's original speech so great was its uniqueness and creativity, lacking in these new speeches.
Is this disc worth a purchase? Probably not. Educators may want to have a copy, since the entire speech is included in video format, but I can't imagine most people needing to keep it that close at hand. It's worth a rental though, since watching and hearing the "I Have a Dream" speech is a stronger experience than simply reading the text. This important piece of history shouldn't be forgotten, but the cost of the DVD is too high for quickly assembled news footage.
I wouldn't dream of convicting Martin Luther King and his timeless speech. Still, MPI's motivations are suspect here, and they will remain behind for further questioning.
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