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Las Vegas: An Unconventional History

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Product Details

  • Actors: Michael Murphy
  • Directors: Stephen Ives
  • Format: Black & White, Color, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: NR
  • Studio: PBS
  • Release Date: Nov. 8 2005
  • Run Time: 180 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #82,537 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9b671360) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b447ba0) out of 5 stars Terrific Perspective of Sin City's History... Nov. 19 2005
By Swederunner - Published on
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Under the impression of this slogan many visitors believe that they can bring out their wild and uninhibited self while fulfilling their wildest imaginations and fantasies in Vegas, as no one would ever find out. For this reason many pilgrimage out to this oasis of sin and pleasure, as it would allow them to be completely free. The PBS documentary Las Vegas: An Unconventional History offers the audience a historical perspective to how Las Vegas has become the resort for personal desires.

Today, Las Vegas is a booming modern metropolitan city that is amidst a flowering period where money stream into the city through a constant flow of tourists. It has, ever since the completion of the railway that runs through Las Vegas, been a city friendly to strangers. However, the kindness towards strangers has always been reciprocal, as the city provides pleasures while the strangers dropped their hard earned money in a few minutes of hope and desire for something better. Through gambling and prostitution Las Vegas exchanged money for dreams with the visitors, and this is how people helped build this concrete giant.

Despite the banning of gambling, the bars and gambling spots continued to provide the service for the visitors. The building of the Hoover Dam and the development of the atomic bomb also helped boost the number of visitors to Las Vegas, as there was nothing else to do in the arid city than to drink booze, party, and gamble. Thus, the city became a hot spot for those who sought some escape from the hard reality outside its city limits. Soon the mafia world also discover this golden goose that simply was ready for the picking of anyone that knew the business, which lead to a migration of wise guys from Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami. The mobster Bugsy Siegel changed the future for Las Vegas by building the first luxurious hotel - The Flamingo Hotel - with all of the modern amenities including entertainment. Later the Rat Pack would also honor the city with its legendary performances.

The constant flow of money made many people willing to turn their eyes the other way, as politicians and other people of significance allowed hardcore crooks to become respectable businessmen in the desert city. However, the sweet dance could not go on forever, as politicians began to seek justice. In addition, the NAACP began to protest the Jim Crowe laws that were in place, which quickly were removed as it influence the flow of cash. Even the rich philanthropist Howard Hughes bought his way into Las Vegas when he was order an eviction, and his money was cleaner than his predecessors, which again made many close their eyes.

In Las Vegas: An Unconventional History, the audience gets to see the history while it also touches on many of the negative aspects of the city such as water shortage, overpopulation, gambling addiction, and its consequences. It is a clever narrative that follows a traditional linear approach while every now and then returning to present day through some interview with different aspects of the city. When it all comes together it is a very enlightening two part piece that stretches over three hours, which will offer the viewer a decent understanding of how Las Vegas grew up from first being a small railroad intersection to the gambling Mecca of the world.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b447fa8) out of 5 stars The modern part is not included Feb. 1 2007
By I. Chiang - Published on
The overall content of this DVD is fine. It goes through a desert town with water supply, rising due to Hoover Dam, Bugsy and the mobs, Howard Hughes, the fires of MGM and Hilton and the challenges of Atlantic City. Then it stops here in spite of its being released in 2005.

This is disappointing since it is kind of distant from what we see today. After I've visited Las Vegas twice and watched this film, a gap is certainly there and I just cannot bridge them together. I'd like to know more about Steve Wynn, how these latest casinos are built, what they look like inside...etc.

So if you really intend to know the history of Las Vegas, it is a fine piece. But if you are in the case like me more preferring in the modern part of Las Vegas, you should leave it aside.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cb4f87c) out of 5 stars Worth the money July 12 2008
By Vegas Gar - Published on
Verified Purchase
This DVD is well worth the money, it is very well made and an excellent resource on the history of Las Vegas. There is a lot of old footage of the strip and downtown that I hadn't seen before. If you are wanting a DVD on the hotels & casinos of modern day Las Vegas, you probably want to stay away from this since it presents a historical view of the town. Modern Las Vegas is constantly refered to, but there is no detail of any of the newer casinos. What I really enjoyed was the vignettes that are injected throughout the DVD, they include very real people to live and have moved to Las Vegas. They are not all happy stories and show people who have had hard lives in Sin City. The DVD is one disc that has 2 parts to choose from. It also has a couple of extra features, but nothing to get excited about. Well worth the money, in my opinion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b5a21a4) out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, containing the history and analysis with contemporary human examples June 26 2015
By Christopher Schwinger - Published on
Verified Purchase
I wanted to know the history of Las Vegas, going deeper than the commonly known info. It's common knowledge that organized crime created Las Vegas, but this documentary delves into how it transformed into legitimate corporations owning the city's wealth, through Howard Hughes and Steve Wynn, and how television and other kinds of ads, the Interstate Highway System, and increased air travel made it explode in popularity in the 50s. I learned how the Hoover Dam project, military bases beginning in WWII, atomic testing in the nearby desert, performance acts by people from Hollywood and New York, closeness to Los Angeles (comparatively speaking), and new face of "legitimacy" beginning with Howard Hughes, all contributed to its popularity. The fundamental reason early-20th-century Nevada had lax laws about gambling, divorce, and prostitution while the rest of America had conservative laws, was because climate made agriculture unprofitable for the state.

Something I really like about this documentary is that besides analyzing causes and narrating history, it often features present-day people who have some kind of role in the city, such as a gambling addict whose addiction caused him to attempt a bank robbery, a schoolteacher who explains the negative impact on kids--because of their parents working at the casinos and resorts in evenings and the fact that people can make good money WITHOUT education in Vegas--and numerous other people.

The DVD also includes a 1950s government film on nuclear testing and the importance of being prepared for nuclear disaster, by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, and it's a powerful reminder that they were just as scared back then about destruction as people have been since 9/11 about terrorism.

I like this documentary because it shows me a human side to a city which is one of the most artificial in the world, built on a foundation of gambling which is unmerciful to people who lose, much like Darwinian "survival of the fittest" or the Wild West's gambling milieu. I think of the maxim "Not all that glitters is gold" and wonder why so many people seem to like its gaudiness. However, there are many people who have jobs in the gambling system, at hotels or restaurants, who just are trying to make a good living for their families, and came to Las Vegas to find a good job after Steve Wynn's Mirage resort initiated major growth. I consider myself a social scientist in how I think about things, and it's hard to see how Nevada's economy could be reshaped on other things. How many future crises will it be able to overcome without changing its economic foundation? It's only 110 years old, and this documentary really gets my mind wondering what will come of it in the future. It probably isn't going to vanish completely, even though it is in the desert, but will it ever have to change its ways?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b5a24f8) out of 5 stars Must View July 18 2010
By ajl623 - Published on
Verified Purchase
I am a hard core Las Vegas lover and student. This documentary, along with the A&E/History Channel Las Vegas documentary are clearly the best profiles of the City and its history. This one is 10 years newer, so it is much fresher. It is very informative, historically accurate and moves well. It is easy to watch and not boring.
The only part I don't care for is the profiles of "average people". I don't think it adds anything to the production.

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