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The People Speak: The Howard Zinn Collection

Matt Damon , Morgan Freeman , Anthony Arnove , Chris Moore    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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The History Channel's The People Speak combines a documentary with a stage show and a concert. The material comes from Howard Zinn's bestselling books, particularly A People's History of the United States. As Zinn narrates, photographs and illustrations alternate with readings and performances that took place in Boston and Malibu, California, between 2008 and 2009 (Zinn passed away in 2010). Producer Matt Damon, who grew up next door to the history professor, starts by reading from the Declaration of Independence, followed by other notables, among them Morgan Freeman (as Frederick Douglass), David Strathairn (John Brown), Marisa Tomei (Harriet Hanson Robinson), Sean Penn (Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman), and coproducer Josh Brolin (Mark Twain). Others include Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Kerry Washington, Benjamin Bratt, Rosario Dawson, and Don Cheadle, most of whom play several parts. Some of the finest readers, however, aren't actors. Run-DMC's Darryl McDaniels, for instance, appears visibly shaken as he reads from "David Walker's Appeal." Except for Bob Dylan's croak on Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" and the edit that splits John Legend's version of the traditional "No More Auction Block" in two, the songs all work well, particularly Eddie Vedder with Dylan's "Masters of War" and Bruce Springsteen with Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," the only selection recorded sans audience (Zinn doesn't mention it, but "Auction Block" inspired Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind"). Supplements include cast interviews and a featurette in which Damon notes that he originally envisioned the production as a television miniseries. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
A number of actors, musicians., etc. read writings and letters by the
rebels of US history, like the slavery abolishionist John Brown.
Others read quotes showing some of the darker side of history,
like Abraham Lincoln's early determination NOT to free the slaves.
And still others read words by unknown 'regular people' commenting
on their times. Mixed with this are folk songs performed by Eddie Vedder,
Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and others.

Moving and informative, this is a very specific take on US
history, from the time of the Declaration of Independence on, as a
nation forged, and constantly changed by rabble rousers and
revolutionaries, from Thomas Jefferson to Fredrick Douglas to Susan B.
Anthony.

Zinn and his approach is neither the first nor last word on American
History, but it surely raises important questions, and teaches ideas
that were certainly not part of my US public school education. (e.g. the
fascinating distinction between the Declaration of Independence as a
more revolutionary, idealistic document ('All men are created equal') and
the Constitution, which was more conservative, and enshrined ideas such
as slavery as part of the very basis of the country).

And while it's clear the film has a 'liberal' political point of view,
to say - as many in the US have - that a film full of the words of those who
helped fight to change America for the better is somehow 'anti-
American' astonishes me.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
63 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you like Zinn, you'll like this Dec 13 2009
By Susan B. Anthony - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
If Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" is your type of history, this is a must have for your collection. The primary sources are good and the performances are powerful. Teachers might like this as a companion to teaching the use of primary source documents. Zinn gives the right amount of context to the pieces so that they make sense.

This review is based on the program that aired on The History Channel.
72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth in History - what a concept Dec 21 2009
By Rob C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I watched the video and plan to buy the book for myself and others.

It's sad to see accusations that Zinn loves to leave out information (even though his facts are true) when our school system teaches history without most of the mitigating facts.

We as a society can never grow if we cannot look upon our past actions in the context of truth.

Hearing the words of everyday people that helped change our society in this country makes me proud to be in America.

Name calling and accusations about such a fine work mystifies me, but so does slavery, why women were not able to vote, and treatment of Indians and so on.

I applaud the work of Howard Zinn and others who show the True beating of hearts in our democracy.
57 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic approach to American History Dec 14 2009
By J. Yanowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
(This is based on the version that aired on History -- this DVD is that plus more).

This is a fantastic approach to U.S. history -- the words of real people who struggled to make their lives (and ours) better; read by a fantastic line-up of actors. These are the voices that are too often left out of U.S. history.

If you like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, you'll like this. If you don't know that book, check out this movie (watch it with others!) and then go read the book.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important Film I Have Ever Seen May 21 2010
By Iconsofclasswar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I find it somewhat difficult to express how impactful this film was on me. I've seen a lot of films. I don't know how many exactly, but it's into the thousands. This film probably left the deepest impression upon me that any film has. I read all of the critical reviews. After seeing the film I can so easily discard them. This was an amazing film to say the least. The musical performances, though they weren't of musicians that I particularly care for, I found myself very moved by them. One of the critical reviews here claims that there is a highlight of the bad things in America. The critical reviews are so feverish that it raises the question to my mind; "Did they even see the film?". This is a beautiful history from the bottom, our history. I find it shameful for these reviewers to disgrace our history. And it is OUR history. I will set aside my bitterness of those who seek, for whatever reason, to omit our history from our schools and from our minds, to say only this: WATCH IT! DECIDE FOR YOURSELF! HAVE FAITH IN YOUR ABILITY TO JUDGE FOR YOURSELF! DON'T LET ANYONE TELL YOU NOT TO WATCH IT! It's important.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique and powerful theatrical piece captured on film. July 1 2011
By K. Gordon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
A number of actors, musicians., etc. read writings and letters by the
rebels of American history, like John Brown. Others read quotes showing
some of the darker side of our history, like Abraham Lincoln's early
determination NOT to free the slaves. And still others read words by
unknown 'regular people' commenting on their times.

Mixed with this are political folk songs old and new performed by
Eddie Vedder, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and others.

Moving and informative, this is not, 'fair and balanced', nor does it
pretend to be. The idea is to take a specific perspective on America,
from the time of the Declaration of Independence on, as a
nation forged, and constantly changed by rabble rousers and
revolutionaries, from Thomas Jefferson to Fredrick Douglas to Susan B.
Anthony.

I was fascinated and disturbed to read the vitriol that this project
has brought out from the right, and the mindless knee-jerk
counter reactions from the left - quickly degenerating into the old
'you're a commie who hates America!' 'Oh yeah? Well you're a fascist
who hates what America stands for!' childish spats.

Zinn and his approach is neither the first nor last word on American
History, but it surely raises important questions, and teaches ideas
that were certainly not part of my public school education. (e.g. the
fascinating distinction between the Declaration of Independence as a
more revolutionary, idealistic document ('All men are created equal') and
the Constitution, which was more conservative, and enshrined ideas such
as slavery, and voting as only for white males as part of the very basis
of the country).

And while it's clear the film has a 'liberal' political point of view,
to say - as many have - that a film full of the words of those who
helped fight to change America for the better is somehow 'anti-
American' astonishes me.

The greatness of this country has been it's willingness to change,
grow, challenge itself, right its wrongs and attempt to be a nation
that gives voice to people from countless backgrounds and
points-of-view. This film reminds us of that. Not quite sure how that
makes it 'anti-American'.

There is no contradiction between patriotism and a questioning mind
that seeks to look honestly at our past, uncover historic wrongs,
determine to right them and avoid them in future and celebrate those
who fought for the freedom of their race, or sex, etc.

That said I do have couple of qubbiles with the film;

a) not all the readers bring the same level of passion, commitment
(or, let's face it, acting talent) to their readings.

b) some of the readings and musical performances seem unfortunately
truncated. On a 'director's cut, extended version' DVD, why not let it
run 3 hours if need be?

c) The one point I will cede the anti-Zinn folks is that he is sometimes
guilty of cherry picking facts, or leaving out facts that might soften his point.
Of course, everyone from Fox news on the right to Michael Moore on the left
is guilty of far more extreme versions of the same sin, but it's still
a fair nit-pick. (I also think Zinn would admit it more freely than most,
since, again, he never makes the claim he isn't expounding a point-of-view).

But none of these minor flaws were enough of a problem to keep me from
being constantly involved, eductated and moved.
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