Alistair Cooke’s America
A classic from what now seems like the Golden Age of TV documentaries, Alistair Cooke’s America (America: A Personal History of the United States) was first broadcast in 1972-3 and it remains, along with the contemporary The World at War, an example of how documentaries should be made.
There’s none of the flashy editing, wobbly camera-work, over-intrusive music or costumed actors prancing around in the mode of Simon Schama’s fussy History of Britain for example.
Here there is just scenery, the odd map or illustration and – most importantly – Cooke himself talking directly and unhurriedly to camera.
1. The First Impact is a personal memoir of Cooke’s infatuation with the United States – through early contacts as a child and as a visiting fellow after university – and its effect on his life.
2. The New Found Land follows the lives, settlements, and influence of the Spanish in the west and the French in the east.
3. Home from Home relates the settlement of America by English dissenters and adventurers in the 16th and 17th centuries, from the Jamestown Settlement to the Pilgrim Fathers.
4. Making a Revolution looks at the War of Independence, the struggle to break free of British control.
5. Inventing a Nation chronicles the forging of the nation through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the great debate between the national and individual state governments.
6. Gone West is about the pioneers, from Daniel Boone to the “Forty-Niners”; expansion through the Louisiana Purchase; and the dispossession of Native Americans.
7. A Firebell in the Night tells of slavery and life in the Southern states and of the events, causes, and effects of the Civil War.
8. Domesticating a Wilderness deals with the great push westward by the settlers, including the Mormons; the crossing of the continent by railroad; the myth of the cowboy; the domestication of the land by settlers local and foreign; and the final conquest of the Native Americans after much warfare.
9. Money on the Land addresses the rise and effects of business and technology, touching Chicago, the reaper, Edison, oil, Rockefeller and Carnegie, and the moneyed classes.
10. The Huddled Masses covers the rise and influence of mass immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the current “melting pot”.
11. The Promise Fulfilled and the Promise Broken surveys life, prosperity, and politics in the 1920s, leading to the Great Depression and the rise of the New Deal.
12. Arsenal examines the rise of the reluctant United States to world military power, the growth of the United Nations, and the United States as a nuclear power.
13. The More Abundant Life concludes the series by looking at contemporary America in the 1960s and early 1970s, and how it had diverged from the original aims of the settlers, and its hope for the future.
This documentary is available for preview only. Buy the DVD at Amazon.com.