Dont See It Now
“Golden Age” sometimes seems like an incessant reference in criticism and the like, one that often indicates more the lack of iconoclastic risk in the present than an intrinsic brilliance in the past. But in regards to the Golden Age of television documentary, both bold risk and brilliance combined at the dawn of the invention of TV with the legendary programming of Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly on CBS. Sadly, investigative commentary on the tube, with some exceptions of course, seems to have since declined almost as if a dangerous coal slowly extinguished. But to look at the recently released four DVD set entitled The Edward R. Murrow Collection (available at docurama.com and other retailers) is to understand the intensity and sheer quality that this TV franchise held more than half a century ago. The collection includes the best of the documentary series (or closer to what would become a “news magazine”) See It Now that includes interviews with JFK, a young Fidel Castro and Louis Armstrong, as well as Harvest of Shame, a trenchant documentary expose on the plight of migrant farm workers broadcast on Thanksgiving night 1960 and which many Americans, so unfamiliar with what was happening in their own country, refused to believe was true.
Perhaps most important and strangely disconcerting is the disc The McCarthy Years, which begins with Murrow’s famous report about Lt. Milo Radulovich, who was unduly discharged from the Air Force solely because his father and sister supposedly read “subversive” literature. The Radulovich story began the showdown between Murrow and Senator McCarthy that soon developed into a full confrontation. In one brilliant segment, Murrow uses McCarthy’s own words from recordings and archived film clips to take the Senator apart with tactical brilliance and expose him as the shameless prevaricator he was. It’s strangely familiar to hear McCarthy talk of how the “extreme left wing” press attacked him, but refreshing to see Murrow refute him by going through all the major dailies to show that criticism hardly came from The Daily Worker but from thoroughly mainstream papers. Furthermore, to see McCarthy in action with all his bluster, desperation, and demagoguery (especially when he goes after Murrow in a rebuttal) is uncomfortable, not least because he has a tenor that is familiar at all levels of our current government. Murrow and Friendly told stories of ordinary Americans that often became powerful commentaries on social and political issues rather than the kind of self-help-crime-fear-tragedy story that pervades what remains of “news magazines” these days. The investigative and critical pieces that they produced for mass consumption during a time of chilling political machination were instrumental in bringing about the opening of society that occurred in the following decade. Given the current political chill, it makes one nostalgic but also worried that, ironically, in 21st century America there may not be the venue to put up a similar challenge when another McCarthy arises.
Summer Docs on PBS
Beslan: Siege of School No. 1 (July 12 at 9 PM)
Part of the Wide Angle series (www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle), this 48-minute film does a good job of representing the harrowing scene that took place when Chechen terrorists took over a school in September 2004, holding more than 1,200 hostages for days. We learn that the main terrorist lost all his family in a Russian bombing raid and that many of the women who came with him didn’t realize they would be holding so many children captive. Maybe it’s the length of the film or the terms that Russian officials had in granting interviews, but one comes away with no real idea of how this horrific situation actually turned into a siege where 350 people died, half of them children, though one suspects Putin’s directive to “save the children at all costs” didn’t necessarily mean by negotiation.
The Brooklyn Connection (July 19th at 10 PM)
Part of this summer’s POV series (www.pov.org), The Brooklyn Connection is subtitled “How to Build a Guerrilla Army” and follows a Kosovan Muslim roofer in the County of Kings who raises money and buys arms to legally ship to Albania and smuggle into Kosovo to fight Serbians. He purchases a .50 caliber rifle in Pennsylvania saying he’s going on an elephant hunt and buys uniforms from a Hasid-run military surplus store. He attends fundraisers to shmooze with Wesley Clark and Richard Holbrook. He says that he can get anything to supply a guerrilla army shipped to him overnight in America and that gun dealers help him because he tells them he’s fighting a communist government. In one sense, it’s pretty astounding, especially after 9/11, and it makes one wonder not only if any weapons sold in the US have ended up with the insurgency in Iraq, but also if it would be as easy to outfit a leftist guerrilla army fighting a right-wing dictatorship.
Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock CriticBy George Grella
JUL-AUG 2021 | Music
To interpolate an old line about sports, fans hear with their hearts. Hopper is a critic who, like all of us, is originally a fan, and that delineating is often hazy and, in the space of this book, self-contradictorynot in the way that happens to us all, having an opinion about a thing and then later changing our minds, but in terms of values.
Lesia Khomenko: Full ScaleBy Annabel Keenan
APRIL 2023 | ArtSeen
For her first-ever U.S. solo show, Full Scale at Fridman Gallery, Ukrainian artist Lesia Khomenko considers the unique experience of witnessing and documenting a war from afar. Like the rest of Ukraine, Khomenkos life was upended when Russia invaded in February of 2022. As she fled the country, she left behind her physical world, as well as the less tangible aspects of daily life. Particularly crucial for Khomenko was the lack of information on the situation inside Ukraine and the loss of easy contact with her loved ones, including her husband, Max, who is fighting in the war.
Ambient AwarenessBy Scott Gutterman
APRIL 2023 | Music
Sometimes the mood is doom, or at least some inchoate but powerful feeling. This may be best expressed by phrases that loop and mutate slowly, thickly, allowing for extended immersion in a kind of amniotic environment. Here, the repetition, the lack of typical progression or resolution, the indeterminacy, becomes a path to freedom or release.
Dear Friends and ReadersBy Phong Bui
MARCH 2023 | Publisher's Message
Many of us may still remember how the great Athenian statesman Pericles proposed to melt the gold from the statue of Athena, patron goddess of the city, when the war against Sparta was exhausting all of Athenss funds. Which leads us to think about how a symbol can elicit such strong emotional responses from the nations citizens when it is at the risk of being desecrated.