Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune (1/23/12) 90-minutes
One of the most politically activist singer-songwriters to emerge in the 1960’s anti-Viet Nam war era, Ochs was inspired by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, but also by Elvis Presley and John Wayne. He was a journalism student in college, which, perhaps, informed the extent of his protest lyrics – always witty, topical and insightful, always slightly haunting – such songs as I Ain’t Marching Anymore, Love Me I’m a Liberal, Outside of a Small Circle of Friends, Power and the Glory, The War Is Over – and There but for Fortune, famously covered by Joan Baez – are inseparable from those times. Ochs was vocal and visible, at political rallies, the Newport Folk Festival and the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. A cohort of Bob Dylan’s and Abbie Hoffman’s, his ultimate disillusionment with the government and several of his heroes – and a familial tendency to bi-polar disease – led to his tragic suicide in April 1976.
Cab Calloway: Sketches (2/27/12) 60-minutes
Hi de hi de hi de ho … the popular refrain from Minnie the Moocher was his signature song and Harlem’s famous Cotton Club was his home stage. A singer, dancer and band leader, he was an exceptional figure in the history of jazz – a consummate musician, he charmed audiences across the world with boundless energy, bravado and elegant showmanship. His back glide dance step is the precursor to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and his scatting lyrics find their legacy in today’s hip-hop and rap. An ambassador for his race, Calloway was the first black musician to tour the segregationist South, as early as 1932. At the top of his game in the jazz and swing eras of the 30s and ‘40s, he toured as Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess, forever putting his personal stamp on It Ain’t Necessarily So. His career flagged until he was rediscovered in the 1980‘s Blues Brothers and even on Sesame Street, becoming a new cult hero of sorts.
Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound (3/6/12) 90-minutes
Told often from her perspective, but supported by a rich performance and historical archive, the centerpiece of this film is Baez’ many years as a musician, her power as an artist, those who influenced her and those she influenced. From her earliest recordings, Baez introduced ever wider audiences to the songs of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash and, of course, Bob Dylan – before she began writing her own music. The thread of the film is a series of pointed, intimate, unscripted conversations between Baez and those whose lives paralleled hers, revealing the details of her story organically and in context. With Bonnie Raitt, we see how a Quaker upbringing shaped their world views; with Vaclav Havel, we learn of their work with Amnesty International. Without gimmicks, this film is true to the purity of Baez’ voice and illuminates her music.
Harper Lee: Hey, Boo! (4/2/12) 60-minutes
Reading To Kill a Mockingbird has been a national pastime for five decades – still selling nearly a million copies a year, its classic popularity and power are a common reference. And the courtroom image of Gregory Peck, as the passionate Atticus Finch, gave us an enduring picture for the novel’s message. Behind it all was a young Southern girl named Nelle Harper Lee, who once said she wanted to be Alabama’s Jane Austen. Hey, Boo explores her life and unravels its mysteries, particularly why she never published again. Illuminated with family photos, revealing personal letters and an exclusive interview with her sister, Alice Finch Lee (100 years old,) the film is steeped in the texture of the novel’s Deep South and the social changes it inspired. Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Anna Quindlen, Scott Turow, Oprah Winfrey and Andrew Young reflect on how Mockingbird shaped their lives.
Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel (4/2/12) 60-minutes
No ordinary writer, and no ordinary woman – Gone With the Wind created two of the world’s greatest lovers, Scarlett and Rhett, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and has sold more than 30 million copies. Born into Atlanta’s upper crust in 1900, Mitchell challenged stifling social restrictions at every turn. A charismatic force to be reckoned with, she had a great sense of humor, was one of Georgia’s first newspaper women and was extremely generous with the money she made from Gone With the Wind. She struggled with the changing role of women and the liberation of African Americans but also suffered from lifelong bouts of depression, until a tragic accident lead to her death in 1949. This film examines the amazing endurance of Gone With the Wind and reveals the seminal events of Mitchell’s life through dramatic re-enactments based on her letters, as scenes from the movie weave together her life and her work.
Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (5/14/12) 120-minutes
He was seen by more people than anyone else in American history – a fixture of national life,
a piece of the cultural furniture, a part of the Zeitgeist. In exploring the career, the complexities and contradictions of the biggest star television has ever produced, AMERICAN MASTERS had the estate’s first-time-ever cooperation and permission – unrestricted entrée into his personal archives and, perhaps, Carson’s greatest legacy – all episodes of The Tonight Show from 1970 – 1992. Clues about his life, stories about his childhood and early days in the business can be found there – as well as in the expansive family albums and memorabilia. Original interviews with friends, colleagues, his wives and the many performers who appeared, or began, on The Tonight Show, offer additional texture and context – Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Jay Leno and David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon, Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin
The Day Carl Sandburg Died (9/24/12) 90-minutes
For much of the 20th century, his name was synonymous with the American experience – a spokesman on behalf of ‘the people.’ He became one of the most successful writers in the English language, using his unique life – from impoverished beginnings on the prairie of Illinois to the halls of Congress to the Ed Sullivan Show – in his free verse poetry. His was a classic American tale of success – a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, a biographer – most notably of Abraham Lincoln – a journalist, children’s storyteller, folk song collector, novelist and autobiographer. But Sandburg’s story is not without controversy. After his death in 1967, his literary legacy faded and his poems, once taught in schools across America, were dismissed under the weight of massive critical attack. We capture the burgeoning resurgence of interest in Sandburg and his contributions.
Inventing David Geffen (11/20/12) 2-hours
Notoriously press and camera-shy, Geffen reveals himself for the first time in this unflinching portrait of a complex and compelling man. His far-reaching influence – as agent and manager, record industry mogul, Hollywood and Broadway producer, billionaire philanthropist – helped shape American popular culture for the past 4 decades. He launched the early successes of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Tom Cruise and Guns N’ Roses; he co-founded Dream Works, the first new Hollywood studio in more than 50 years; he produced Cats and Dreamgirls; is one of the largest contributors to the fight against AIDS and has become an important political voice. This dealmaker extraordinaire is witty, self-aware and candid. He and everyone from Yoko Ono and Cher, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, Steven Spielberg and Barry Diller, David Crosby and Neil Young, Elton John and Rahm Emanuel illuminate his rich and riveting story.
Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance (12/28/12) 90-minutes
Documenting how the Joffrey revolutionized American ballet – combining modern dance with classic technique, art with social statement and rock music with traditional choreography – this film is a palpable expression of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino’s vision and artistry. From a company that began with six dancers touring the United States in a borrowed station wagon in 1956, they grew to international prominence, transforming the face of dance with originality and bold, edgy new perspectives that challenged conventions. They gained extensive media attention, appearing everywhere from the Kennedy White House to the Ed Sullivan Show. This film weaves a wealth of rare archival footage with excerpts from many seminal Joffrey dances, shows the full history of the company, their struggles against financial or artistic setbacks and how they resur-rected and reinvented themselves. Narrated by Mandy Patinkin.