The War is one of the most educational, informative, enlightening, and inspiring documentaries ever made. Equally important, this documentary feels like a well deserved tribute to those who fought WWII, at the battlefront or at home, and had to make immense sacrifices. The War makes us think about the many social and cultural complexities that haunt warfare, and are often ignored by books and popular media. For those who missed this groundbreaking documentary when it first aired, or for those who wish to revisit its enlightening presentation of WWII, PBS Home Video has released The War in this lavish DVD set. The seven chapters of The War are spread over six discs and include a couple of interesting extra features. Most notably is the audio commentary by Burns on two episodes, where he recalls the genesis and challenges in the making of the series. A making-of documentary and a few deleted scenes nicely round up the package.
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There are actually two Stax Records stories. The first is of the mid-‘60s, when they defined soul music before tragedy and a sudden collapse. The second is of their rise up from those ashes to become a player in the post-Black Power funk era, and of a second, crippling financial controversy. This Samuel L. Jackson-narrated doc, although a little sketchy on some of the details, delivers both stories with vibrant interviews, including label co-founder Jim Stewart and Otis Redding’s wife Zelda. But feel free to skip the history lesson and enjoy the steady stream of rare concert and TV footage starring Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, and many soulful more.
The Discovery Channel’s massively popular, frightening and enlightening shark series is 20 years old this year and the network is celebrating in grand style. A recent four-DVD set, Shark Week: 20th Anniversary Collection, offers highlights from the history of the show and it’s not just all gory attacks. Many of these episodes offer the latest research on these fascinating creatures and make a convincing case for strengthening and enforcing shark preservation efforts across the globe. A perfect present for all the nature show junkies and shark fans amongst your friends and family.
For barely the price of a family outing to the movies, you can present your family with a collection of movie history in a box. The Legends of the Silver Screen set draws from the compelling A&E biography series to offer in-depth looks at the careers of Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean and many more. The Robert Redford bio, Hollywood Outlaw is an engaging peek at the enigmatic legend who started the Sundance Institute and Festival, despite being a reluctant matinee idol for most of his career. The most intriguing and unexpected of the set is the documentary on Hollywood’s founding fathers, all Jewish emigres born within 500 miles of each other in Eastern Europe and all instrumental in the cinematic depiction of the American dream and the establishment of Hollywood as the primary means to express those ideas globally in creative terms.
The 15 DVDs in this beautiful set represent the wide range of documentaries aired on PBS over 20 years, as they vied for attention against the programming on major networks. This is a thoughtful gift for anyone who cares about important social issues, and revels in being reminded of just how many different ways there are of being, and seeing, in the world—and all so very close to and much like one’s own life. Covering subjects such as living (and dying) with physical or mental illness, suffering (and fighting) judicial malfeasance, and the casualities and survivors of cultural and political battlefields, this is brain food that’ll stir you, nay, take a clench-hold on your heart and knee you in the gut. The fearlessly brainy and big-hearted types will love this set; the aspiring documentarian and the precocious youngster will learn from it, and anyone who just loves to be told a really good story will enjoy these immensely. Details on each of the films is available on the Docurama site.