We caught this documentary on PBS streaming video, and according to the PBS website, the DVD, to be released on February 4, is the two hour documentary with English subtitles available and no other content.
As for the documentary itself, we had low expectations. In recent years, previously excellent shows like NOVA and Frontline have turned into infotainment that skims the surface. Breathless commentary and gee-whiz special effects replace information and science.
However, American Experience: 1964 was just great. There's plenty of film from the time, and lots of people who have vivid memories of the year are interviewed. In this show, we hear from Hodding Carter, Todd Gitlin, Stephanie Coontz, Phyllis Schlafly, Jann Wenner, Jon Margolis, Rick Perlstein, Robert Dallek, Robert Caro, Mark Kurlansky, and more. Presented in a roughly chronological sequence, it starts with New Year in Times Square, only weeks after JFK was assassinated. Weeks later, the Beatles would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. From tragedy to giddiness, to tragedy again, as the Civil Rights debate, simmering all along, starts boiling over when Lyndon Johnson makes it his priority.
Hearing from historians and biographers helps put things in perspective, but the testimony from some who were there is what makes you realize how people felt at the time. One civil rights organizer, Dave Dennis, recalls the moment when he moved from calling for peaceful change to calling for change at any price. It's powerful, and the fact that there is film to document his moment of evolution is riveting.
Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, the Harlem Riots, Bewitched, the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, the Gulf of Tonkin and the escalation of the war in Vietnam, it's all in here, and arranged and edited so that it makes as much sense as a two hour review of a single year can. It could have been a hodgepodge of sights and sounds, but it comes across as a milestone year, musically, politically, socially.
Even if you were there, you will learn something from this well thought out documentary of a year that is still resonating.