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THEMATIC: Popular Culture:

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The Great Depression  |   Immigrant Experience  |   Spiritualism  |   Sports

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams
The legendary photographer who captured America's wild beauty.
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From the day that a 14-year-old Ansel Adams first saw the transcendent beauty of the Yosemite Valley, his life was, in his words, "colored and modulated by the great earth-gesture of the Sierra." Few American photographers have reached a wider audience than Adams, and none has had more impact on how Americans grasp the majesty of their continent. In this elegant, moving and lyrical portrait of the most eloquent and quintessentially American of photographers, producer Ric Burns seeks to explore the meaning and legacy of Adams' life and work. At the heart of the film are the great themes that absorbed Adams throughout his career: the beauty and fragility of "the American earth," the inseparable bond of man and nature, and the moral obligation the present owes to the future.

Ballad of a Mountain Man (no website available)
Bascom Lamar Lunsford and his campaign to preserve mountain music and dance.
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Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a pioneer folklorist who in the 1920s began a campaign to preserve mountain music and dance. He dignified what was known as "hillbilly music." Knocking on doors of local banjo pickers and fiddlers, listening to their songs, he amassed an extraordinary repertoire, recorded for the Library of Congress and started the first folk music festival.

Barnum's Big Top (no website available)
P.T. Barnum -- huckster, con man, promoter and entertainer.
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P.T. Barnum was huckster, con man, promoter and entertainer. His American Museum featured ancient relics side by side with such "living curiosities" as lions, snakes, bearded ladies and Siamese twins. In 1871 he took the whole show on the road; it traveled by rail. Barnum introduced the idea of three rings, and his "Jumbo the Elephant" added a new word to the English language. By the time he teamed up with James Bailey, his circus had become "The Greatest Show on Earth."
Big Dream, Small Screen

Big Dream, Small Screen
A Utah farm boy sketches out the idea for electronic television.
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The little known story of Philo T. Farnsworth, a Utah farm boy who first sketched out his idea for electronic television at the age of fourteen. An eccentric genius, Farnsworth spent years battling corporate giants to receive acknowledgment for his invention.
Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill
Just as the American frontier was disappearing, "Buffalo Bill" Cody transformed himself into a master showman, creating a world-famous traveling show that brought the "real" Wild West to life.
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William "Buffalo Bill" Cody's legendary exploits helped create the myth of the American West that still endures today. Born in an Iowa log cabin in 1846, he fought Indians, worked as a Pony Express rider, and earned his nickname while hunting buffalo to feed the construction crews of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. After the Civil War he scouted for the U.S. Army along America's vast western frontier. In 1883, just as that frontier was disappearing, he transformed himself into a master showman, creating and starring in a world-famous traveling show that brought the "real" Wild West to life. Part circus, part history, Buffalo Bill's Wild West toured for three decades, playing to enthusiastic crowds across the United States and Europe.
Coney Island

Coney Island
Internationally famous carnival of delights, offering everything from the bawdy to the surreal.
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Before there was Disneyland, there was Coney Island. By the turn of the century, this tiny spit of New York real estate was internationally famous as the world's most remarkable carnival of delights, offering everything from the bawdy to the surreal. The hot dog was invented here; so was the roller coaster.

Duke Ellington -- Reminiscing in Tempo (no website available)
The international star who created some of the most exciting music America had ever heard.
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At a time when black and white musicians rarely performed together, when black musicians were exploited by record companies, Ellington was an international star. He made the Cotton Club his showcase for original jazz compositions, some of the most exiting music America had ever heard. Underscored with more than 40 Ellington pieces.

Eudora Welty -- One Writer's Beginnings (no website available)
A writer's Southern childhood and the development of her art.
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Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Eudora Welty narrates the story of her own Southern childhood and early artistic development in Jackson, Mississippi. Based on her best-selling book of the same title.
Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O'Neill
Playwright Eugene O'Neill's turbulent story: from childhood through the years of his prolific career (including "The Iceman Cometh," "A Touch of the Poet," and the autobiographical masterpiece "Long Day's Journey Into Night") to his lonely, painful death
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Eugene O'Neill tells the haunting story of the life and work of America's greatest and only Nobel Prize-winning playwright -- set within the context of the harrowing family dramas and personal upheavals that shaped him, and that he in turn struggled all his life to give form to in his art. More than a biography of the greatest literary genius the American theater has produced, the program is a moving meditation on loss and redemption, family and memory, the cost of being an artist, and the inescapability of the past.

It is also a penetrating exploration of the masterpieces O'Neill created only at the very end of his career -- "The Iceman Cometh" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" pre-eminent among them -- brought to life in mesmerizing scenes performed especially for the production by some of the most gifted actors working in theater today, including Al Pacino, Zoe Caldwell, Christopher Plummer, Robert Sean Leonard, Liam Neeson, and Vanessa Redgrave.

Forbidden City, USA (no website available)
Chinese Americans defy cultural tradition to pursue their passion for American music and dance.
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Before WWII, San Francisco's Chinatown was a separate world, closed to outsiders, ruled by rigid homeland customs. But in the 1930s, second generation Chinese Americans defied cultural tradition to pursue their passion for American music and dance. They started careers as "Chinese Fred Astaires" and "Chinese Frank Sinatras" in one of the city's famous Chinatown night clubs, Forbidden City.

French Dance Tonight (no website available)
Cajun and Zydeco music innovators and performers talk about the emergence of two musical traditions.
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When French settlers, exiled from Nova Scotia, migrated to Louisiana in the 1750s, they mixed with African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and others to create one of America's richest, most varied cultures. The film captures many of Cajun and Zydeco music's most important innovators and performers as they talk about the emergence of two musical traditions.

God Bless America and Poland Too (no website available)
A nostalgic and humorous look at how old world Chicago lives side by side with the new.
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Frank Popiolek was 14 when he came to America in 1911, one of 2 million Polish immigrants who made the journey. He settled in Chicago and became a barber, instilling in his family a love of the "old world" traditions and pride in their Polish heritage. A nostalgic and humorous look at how old world Chicago lives side by side with the new.
Houdini

Houdini
He could escape from everything -- except from his own mortality.
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In 1912, Harry Houdini was lowered into the East River in a crate wrapped in chains. The crowd of spectators gasped; reporters pulled out their stopwatches. Houdini was out in less than a minute. The resulting media blitz established him forever as the world's greatest escape artist; on stage, Houdini subjected himself to the Water Torture Cell, being buried aive and other perils of his own design. Throughout his rise from Hungarian immigrant to international star, Houdini confronted humanity's greatest fears - entrapment, pain, death - and emerged victorious.

If You Knew Sousa (no website available)
America's favorite bandmaster.
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John Phillip Sousa became America's favorite bandmaster, but band music wasn't Sousa's only passion. He was the first to bring the classics -- Verdi, Wagner, Puccini -- to a burgeoning American middle class. Wildly popular, his was the first large musical organization to go on tour and make music pay. He helped give birth to that great American institution, the small town marching band.
Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory

Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory
Former slaves sing their way into a nation's heart.
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In the chaotic decade following the Civil War, a group of young ex-slaves in Nashville, Tennessee, set out on a mission to save their financially troubled school by giving concerts. Traveling first through cities in the North, then on to venues across Europe, the Jubilee Singers introduced audiences to the power of spirituals, the religious anthems of slavery. Driven to physical collapse and even death, the singers proved more successful -- and more inspirational -- than anyone could have imagined. A portrait of faith, music, and sacrifice.
Las Vegas: An Unconventional History

Las Vegas: An Unconventional History
A distinctly American saga of optimism and opportunity.
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The story of Las Vegas' last hundred years is a distinctly American saga of optimism and opportunity. By 1999, it had become one of the fastest growing cities in the United States and could lay claim, in the words of one historian, to be "the first city of the twenty-first century."

American Experience tells a rollercoaster story, peopled with unlikely heroes and villains, to trace the city's development from a remote frontier way-station to its Depression-era incarnation as the "Gateway to the Hoover Dam"; from its mid-century florescence as the gangster metropolis known as "Sin City" to its recent renaissance as a corporately-financed, postmodern, desert fantasyland.

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford
Actress, businessperson, and legend -- Mary Pickford played a pivotal role in shaping the first new media of the twentieth century.
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Late in her life, the actor Mary Pickford described a recurring nightmare in which she walked out on stage to perform, only to find there was no one in the audience to watch her. For most of her career, Pickford had played to full houses and adoring fans. She had created a totally new way of acting that entranced audiences and left them spell-bound.

But Mary Pickford wasn't just a talented performer; she was also a creative producer and shrewd businessperson who played a pivotal role in shaping the first new media of the twentieth century. She was the first star to have her own production company and the first woman to take control of her career in a tough business run by tough men. For nearly two decades Pickford skillfully navigated her way through the industry. But by the end of her life, her nightmare became her reality. She discovered that fame was fleeting, the crowds fickle.

This powerful and moving American Experience

production uses archival footage, stills, original audio interviews with Pickford and clips from her movies to tell a story that is full of joy and power, of loneliness and despair.

Midnight Ramble (no website available)
The little-known story of a black independent film industry.
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The little-known story of a black independent film industry that thrived outside of Hollywood and produced close to 500 feature movies for African American audiences between 1910 and 1940. Many race movies tackled some of the difficult social issues that confronted black urban society: alcoholism, crime, morality, class conflict, even racism and lynching, setting the stage for today's independent black cinema movement.
Miss America

Miss America
Miss America, the country's oldest beauty contest, is an Atlantic City seaside tradition that has become a battle ground and a barometer for the changing position of women in society.
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Tracking the country's oldest beauty contest -- from its inception in 1921 as a local seaside pageant to its heyday as one of the country's most popular events -- Miss America paints a vivid picture of an institution that has come to reveal much about a changing nation. The pageant is about commercialism and sexual politics, about big business and small towns. But beyond the symbolism lies a human story -- at once moving, inspiring, infuriating, funny and poignant. Using intimate interviews with former contestants, and fabulous behind-the-scenes footage and photographs, the film reveals why some women took part in the fledgling event and why others briefly shut it -- how the pageant became a battle ground and a barometer for the changing position of women in society.
Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore
The story of a temperamental artist and the creation of the world's largest piece of sculpture.
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High on a granite cliff in South Dakota's Black Hills tower the huge carved faces of four American presidents. Together they constitute the world's largest sculpture. The massive tableau inspires awe and bemusement. How, and when, was it carved? Who possessed the audacity to create such a gargantuan work?The story of Mount Rushmore's creation is as bizarre and wonderful as the monument itself. It is the tale of a hyperactive, temperamental artist whose talent and determination propelled the project, even as his ego and obsession threatened to tear it apart. It is the story of hucksterism and hyperbole, of a massive public works project in the midst of an economic depression. And it is the story of dozens of ordinary Americans who suddenly found themselves suspended high on a cliff face with drills and hammers as a sculptor they considered insane directed them in the creation of what some would call a monstrosity and others a masterpiece.
New Orleans

New Orleans
Focusing primarily on the century from Reconstruction to school desegregation in the 1960s, the film offers a portrait of New Orleans that both explores its unique and distinctive culture and illuminates its central place on the American landscape.
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New Orleans: the utterly original American city that lies at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi and at the beating heart of the great American experiment. Walled in on almost all sides by water, pressed together by the demands and dangers of geography, the crowded streets of New Orleans have always been a laboratory where the social forces that characterize American life play out in dramatic and, at times, disastrous fashion. Over the course of two provocative hours, American Experience tells the story of this remarkable city. Focusing primarily on the century from Reconstruction to school desegregation in the 1960s, the film offers a portrait of New Orleans that both explores its unique and distinctive culture and illuminates its central place on the American landscape. Featuring the city's rich archival resources and a remarkable collection of on-camera commentators, the film also includes a series of verité-style portraits of New Orleans residents. The resulting cinematic narrative is a dialogue between past and present that highlights New Orleans' particular brand of humor, fatalism, and wry rebelliousness, while raising critical questions about what lies ahead for the city and the nation.
Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster
The life and times of America's first great songwriter.
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Stephen Foster was the first great American songwriter. His melodies are so much a part of American history and culture that most people think they're folk tunes. All in all he composed some 200 songs, including "Oh! Susanna" "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," and "Camptown Races." Though he virtually invented popular music as we recognize it today, Foster's personal life was tragic and contradiction-riddled. His marriage was largely unhappy, he never made much money from his work and he died at the age of 37 a nearly penniless alcoholic on the Bowery in New York.
Summer of Love

Summer of Love

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In the summer of 1967, thousands of young people from across the country flocked to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district to join in the hippie experience, only to discover that what they had come for was already disappearing. By 1968 the celebration of free love, music, and an alternative lifestyle had descended into a maelstrom of drug abuse, broken dreams, and occasional violence. Through interviews with a broad range of individuals who lived through the summer of love-police officers walking the beat, teenage runaways who left home without looking back, non-hippie residents who resented the invasion of their community, and scholars who stil have difficulty interpreting the phenomenon-this American Experience offers a complex portrait of the notorious event that many consider the peak of the 1960s counter-culture movement.

That Rhythm, Those Blues (no website available)
The evolution of rhythm and blues from the 1940s into the 50s.
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The evolution of rhythm and blues through the careers of singers Ruth Brown and Charles Brown, from the 1940s into the 50s, with contemporary performances by both.
The Battle Over Citizen Kane

The Battle Over Citizen Kane
The fight between boy-genius Orson Welles and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
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A thinly-veiled portrait of the immensely powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the movie created a buzz long before it was released. Most people thought it the work of a genius, but Hearst set out to destroy the director, Orson Welles, and suppress the movie. Just a year earlier Welles had terrorized the east coast with a radio broadcast simulating an alien invasion. But now the 24-year-old boy-genius had taken on one of the most powerful men in America.
The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
The family whose songs and style remain the most copied and influential in American folk and country music.
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Their music solaced a nation during the darkest days of the depression. The words to their songs captured the painful and moving stories of poor America's history and proved that simple songs about ordinary people are as timeless, moving and relevant as the most studied classics in history. The Carter Family's songs and style remain the most copied in American folk and country music, influencing artists across all genres including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt and Sheryl Crow.The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken explores the lives of A. P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, following their story through 1943, when they stopped playing and recording together. The film includes rarely-seen photographs, memorabilia, and archival footage that chronicles the life and music of the famous and influential trio.The Carters lived the poverty and heartbreak of the poor rural America they sang of, and, through music, brought a dignity and understanding to an often-misunderstood culture. Carter Family songs like "Wildwood Flower," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Worried Man Blues" laid the foundations for country, folk and bluegrass music.
The Quiz Show Scandal

The Quiz Show Scandal
A look at the formative years of television and the scandal's impact on the TV business and a naive America.
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When CBS premiered The $64,000 Question in 1955, the show was more than a hit; it was a national phenomenon. More quiz shows followed. What the audience was to learn, much later, was that many of these shows were fixed. Slowly, painfully, the deceit unravelled. A look at the formative years of television and the scandal's impact on the TV business and a naive America.

Views of a Vanishing Frontier (no website available)
The journey of Prince Maximilian, German naturalist, and artist Karl Bodmer, who explored the Mississippi River area from 1832-34.
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The journey of Prince Maximilian, German naturalist, and artist Karl Bodmer, who explored the Mississippi River area from 1832-34, meticulously documenting in paintings and journals the landscape, plants and life of Native Americans.
Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman
Today one of the most-recognized figures in American literary history, poet Walt Whitman was denounced by critics in his own time.
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On a hot summer day in 1855, a 36-year-old writer emerged from an undistinguished printer's shop in Brooklyn, New York, carrying a slim volume of his work. To family, friends and neighbors, Walter Whitman, Jr., may have been just a too-old bachelor who lived in his parents' attic, but as he walked the city streets that day, he knew something of himself they could not imagine. With his book of a dozen poems, Leaves of Grass, he was about to introduce America to a savior. Ominous events were on the horizon in America, and Walt Whitman offered up his poetry and his persona as a perfect reflection of the America he saw; it was daring, noble, naive, brutish, sexual, frightening and flawed.
THEMATIC: Popular Culture:

Arts and Entertainment  |   Crime and Punishment  |  
The Great Depression  |   Immigrant Experience  |   Spiritualism  |   Sports

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