Literary Streaming Media

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Title descriptions are provided by Films Media Group

A Prologue to Chaucer
A scholarly program that reaches out to students of The Canterbury Tales to relate its characters and themes to everyday life in late-14th-century England. Period art of exceptional richness is combined with location photography that retraces the April pilgrimage to Archbishop Becket's shrine at Canterbury; excerpts are read from various tales; and the famous beginning is heard in Middle English. Written by Velma B. Richmond, produced by the University of California, Berkeley. (29 minutes)
Alice Walker and The Color Purple: Inside a Modern American Classic
This masterfully filmed interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author juxtaposes her comments and literary recitations with dramatic interpretations from Steven Spielberg's film. Walker reveals the characters as actual people from her childhood. Describing the work as honoring the dignity of all people, especially black women, Walker offers the novel as an example of the power of art as a weapon against racism and sexism. The importance of interpreting literary tradition in the context of history and culture is examined. Director Steven Spielberg is also interviewed. A BBC Production. (62 minutes)
Alice Walker: "Everyday Use"
Maggie sees the old family quilt—an heirloom already promised to her—as something with practical utility as well as tradition. Her educated, social activist sister wants to hang it on the wall as folk art. With whom will their mother side? A study in class differences and the reclamation of Black history, Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" is beautifully realized in this dramatization. (26 minutes)
Ancient Greece
Whether looking at Western language, history, or institutions, no other civilization has so greatly influenced our contemporary world. This program re-creates the Greek world, from the morning market to the evening symposiums, from burial rituals to the Olympics. Beginning with Homer's account of the Trojan War, this program explores Greek civilization using 3-D re-creations of the Parthenon and Agora, maps, and commentary by scholars to provide insight into the daily lives of Greek citizens. (46 minutes)
Ancient Rome
At its zenith, the Roman Empire included North Africa, Spain, France, and Britain. The wealth that these conquests generated allowed Roman citizens to live in a sumptuous world of beautifully decorated homes and opulent cities. In this program, scholars discuss Roman unification of Europe, Roman culture and institutions, and the family structure. The role of the army as a major force in Roman society and politics, along with its military structure and tactics, are discussed. The Christianization of Rome and the enduring legacy of Roman Law and institutions in Western government today are also analyzed. 3-D re-creations of the Coliseum and Pompeii allow students to see Rome as it was before the empire collapsed. (49 minutes)
Antigone is perhaps the most easily accessible of all the great classical tragedies, its theme clear and up-to-date: the conflict between moral and political law. Now the tale of Oedipus and his family comes to its end—he, his wife Jocasta, his sons, and now, at the last, his daughter, all dead. Antigone is not the only victim in the play; Creon too comes to a tragic downfall—although he repents in time, bureaucratic ritual results in the deaths of Creon's son and wife, burdening him with guilt as well as grief. With Juliet Stevenson, John Shrapnel, and John Gielgud. (111 minutes)
August Wilson: The American Dream, in Black and White
In this incisive program, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson returns home to the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1990 to review his life and career. Archival footage and interviews with Wilson, former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, fellow writers, and others provide insights into the African-American experience, from the Great Black Migration to more recent times. Scenes from Jitney, Ma Rainey' Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Two Trains Running reveal the impact of the oral tradition and the blues on Wilson' poetic prose, a skillful blend of art and authenticity. (52 minutes)
Birth Struggle of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
This documentary from the CBS News Archives examines the stormy passage of civil rights bill H.R. 7152 through the House of Representatives. The program, filmed in 1964, begins with a report on the controversial bill' history, from its introduction by John F. Kennedy to the eve of its debate on the Senate floor. Following that report, Eric Sevareid moderates as Senators Hubert Humphrey and Strom Thurmond engage in a live television debate on the bill' merits. Footage of John and Robert Kennedy, Justice Department officials Nicholas Katzenbach and Burke Marshall, President Lyndon Johnson, and the racial clashes of the early 1960s captures the tension and drama surrounding the most comprehensive civil rights law since Reconstruction. Produced by CBS NEWS. (55 minutes)Christianity and Judaism
Because we are removed from spirituality today, Smith believes we find it difficult to understand the true meaning of Christianity. Smith explains that Christianity wouldn't have existed if its “spirit had not been real and dense and palpable and evident to everyone around.” Smith finds the intimate relationship between the Jews and their God “a living conversation between the human and the divine that goes on generation after generation.” Through his son-in-law, Smith came to admire the beauty of the weekly Jewish Shabbat, and when his daughter died, he found solace in Jewish mourning rituals. The DVD version of this program also includes a special video introduction by Mr. Moyers. (57 minutes)
Emily Dickinson
While many of her literary peers achieved notoriety, “the woman in white” remained virtually unknown—by choice. The self-imposed obscurity of Emily Dickinson is just one of many aspects of her life that this program explores. Blending daguerreotypes, paintings, manuscripts, excerpts from Dickinson' letters, and readings from nearly a dozen of her poems, this program presents the biography of one of America' most unique and influential voices in poetry. (20 minutes)
Eudora Welty: "A Worn Path"
On a "bright, frozen day" in Mississippi, 95-year-old Phoenix Jackson makes her mythic journey into town for the medicine her grandson needs. Touching upon themes of family, love, aging, and poverty, this dramatization of Eudora Welty' classic story "A Worn Path" provides both a heroic image of the human spirit enduring against tremendous odds and a poignant commentary on the African-American experience. An interview with Welty herself by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley concludes the program. (32 minutes)
Euripides: Medea
The stunning Kennedy Center production of Euripides' great classic about a woman driven by emotion beyond the brink of rationality. With Zoe Caldwell as Medea and Judith Anderson as the nurse. The English text is by Robinson Jeffers. (87 minutes)
Hamlet: A Critical Guide
Shakespeare' troubled character comes to life in this program in the capable hands of leading scholars, as they discuss the major themes of the play, its plot, and the actions of its main characters. Analyzing key scenes, scholars Russell Jackson and Stanley Wells of Stratford-upon-Avon offer insights into the underlying meaning of Hamlet' eloquent soliloquies, as well as the play' eight violent deaths, adultery, ghostly haunting, and ultimate tragic end. Death and revenge are explored as major themes of the work, as well as Shakespeare' playful inclusion of comedic relief. An analysis of Hamlet' relationships with his mother and Ophelia provides interesting insights into his multifaceted character. (31 minutes)
Hinduism and Buddhism
This program explores the two great religions to come from India. “The historian of religion can find almost anything he wants in India, enacted with intensity. What remains is to carry its insight into everyday life.” Smith uncovered the mysteries of multiphonic chanting among Tibetan lamas, previously unknown in the West. Characterizing these chants as “the holiest sound I have ever heard,” Smith reveals the chanting to be a form of meditation. Smith spent ten weeks with a Zen master silently meditating 8 hours a day, where he derived insights that help the viewer understand the way of Zen Buddhism. The DVD version of this program also includes a special video introduction by Mr. Moyers. (56 minutes) The DVD version can be viewed using a DVD player or computer DVD-ROM drive.
James Baldwin
This program covers Baldwin' life, from his youth in Harlem to later years as an expatriate in Paris to his death in 1987. Interviews with the author, his contemporaries, and critics create an intriguing portrait of Baldwin the man, the writer, and avid civil rights activist. The program explores Baldwin' views on the African-American experience through his writings, which include the novels Go Tell It on the Mountain and Tell Me How Long the Train' Been Gone and the play The Amen Corner. A BBC Production. (54 minutes)
John Steinbeck and the American Experience
This program is a comprehensive portrait of John Steinbeck and the America he depicted, providing students with an appreciation of one of the 20th century' definitive literary voices. Incorporating historic events ranging in magnitude from the devastating Dust Bowl to poignant local histories, Steinbeck portrayed a nation ravaged by poverty and injustice, in which his characters, often drawn from real life, grapple with conditions and events beyond their control. (45 minutes)
Kate Chopin: "The Joy That Kills"
This is the widely heralded adaptation of the short story by Kate Chopin, the late-19th-century writer whose work is only now receiving the major recognition it deserves. The setting is Kate Chopin' own world—the world of the upper-class Creole society that dominated New Orleans in the 1870s, a world with a strict code of behavior, one of whose strongest tenets required a wife to subordinate her will and her very being to her husband. Produced and directed by Tina Rathborne. (56 minutes)
Kate Chopin: Five Stories of an Hour
This program consists of five versions of the same short story, "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, who scandalized American readers in the late 19th century by questioning the social and marital mores of her time. The story examines the behavior and feelings of a woman on the day she is informed of her husband's death. The program includes a reading of the story by Zoe Wanamaker, plus dramatizations by playwrights Kathleen Potter, David Stafford, and Michelene Wandor. (26 minutes)
Langston Hughes: "Salvation"
"I was saved from sin when I was going on 13. But not really saved. It happened like this ¦" So begins this powerful dramatization of "Salvation," Langston Hughes' eloquent autobiographical story that illustrates how his aunt' well-meaning efforts to bring him into the spiritual fold resulted in a moral crisis. Calmly waiting for Jesus to appear to him in the hot, crowded church, young Langston' anticipation changes to confusion and disillusion when pressured to choose between being true to himself or fulfilling the expectations of the preacher, his aunt, and the rest of the congregation. (31 minutes)
Langston Hughes: His Life and Times
In this program, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker and renowned Langston Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad talk about "The Poet Laureate of Harlem" with award-winning filmmaker Bruce Schwartz. Together they discuss experiences that shaped young Langston, how he came to be a writer, the beauty of his writing style, his practice of reaching out to aspiring writers, and the Harlem Renaissance as a literary and cultural watershed. They also discuss the force of religion in Southern Christian African-American communities and "Salvation," Hughes' coming-of-age story deftly brought to the screen by Schwartz. (26 minutes)
Native Americans: Celebrating Traditions
Once forced to hide their heritage, Native Americans now enjoy both an acceptance and a celebration of their history and culture. By presenting the experiences of Native Americans from a wide array of fields including artisans, performers, and teachers, this program shows how many tribes are returning to the traditions and spirituality of their ancestors. Among those interviewed are Kevin Locke, award-winning Native American vocalist; Wilma Mankiller, the first woman in modern history to lead a tribe; and Richard West, Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. (30 minutes)
Oedipus the King
Sophocles often won the leading prize at the Dionysia, the principal dramatic festival of Athens; but Oedipus the King was a runner-up, winner of the second prize. Posterity, however, considers the play second to none. The play tells the beginning of the Oedipus saga, setting the stage and creating the characters who will continue the story to its conclusion in Antigone. With Michael Pennington, John Gielgud, and Claire Bloom. (2 hours)
Shakespeare and His Theatre: The Globe
A fifth of London' population in the year 1600 were regular playgoers. Examination of the Globe Theatre shows where they stood, how the stage was constructed, and how the special effects so beloved by the audience were achieved, from thunder and lightning to fairies flying through the air and ghosts emerging from the earth. Rehearsals were minimal and there was no producer or director—just the play, the actors, and the audience of two to three thousand, which could be kept under control only by the interest of the play itself. The program points out that Shakespeare himself wrote the plays to be adaptable: to different theaters when the company was on tour, and to different audiences, for example when an after-supper audience wishing to go to bed would necessitate major cuts in the play. (28 minutes)
The Gods Are Laughing: Aristophanes, His Life and Theatre
As irreverent and bawdy as Aristophanes, but with more accessible humor, this pseudo-biography juxtaposes elements of Aristophanic plays with the activities of contemporaneous people to show how Aristophanes became the father of political satire and why his theatrical innovations are still staples of the contemporary theatre. Aristophanes is shown as an artist living on the edge, who uses comedy to mock his enemies and wages a one-man campaign against those Athenians who revel in war and death; he is set off against his son, who wants to write to entertain; a coldly rational Socrates; Cephisophon, the Laurence Olivier of ancient Greece; the dictator, Cleon; and Aristophanes' skeptical mother, who prefers tragedy to comedy. Caution: contains sexual situations. (52 minutes)
The New England Transcendentalists
Expert interviews, dramatic re-creations at Walden Pond, and readings from major works are used to explore the evolution of the American Transcendentalist Movement in the early 19th century. The lives and writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau are examined to discover the spiritual foundations for America' first authentic literary voice. Experts include Harvard University Professor Lawrence Buell, University of South Carolina Professor Joel Myerson, and the authors of three current biographies on Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau. (27 minutes)
The Renaissance Stage
The intermediate step between the modern theatre and its classical antecedents was the Renaissance stage—an obvious, if by no means simple, step, for while texts of classical plays were more or less readily available, there was no knowledge of what Roman theatre had looked like and how plays had been performed. This program traces the earliest Renaissance attempts to stage classical drama through the application of medieval concepts of production; follows the deductions made from Vitruvius' De Architectura and the impetus provided by the appearance of dramas in Italian; the building of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza and the theatres in Ferrara and Parma; shows the varying uses of perspective in scene painting and the development of moveable scenery; and explains how, when the facade was eliminated and the door opened to reveal the scenery behind, the proscenium arch and the picture frame theatre were born. (30 minutes)
The Role of Theatre in Ancient Greece
This program looks at the theatres of Herodes Atticus, Epidaurus, Corinth (where Arion is said to have taught the dithyramb), and many others to explain the design of the ancient theatre, the synthesis of art forms that was ancient Greek drama, the origins of tragedy, the audience in classical times, the comparative roles of writer/director and actors, and the use of the surrounding landscape in many plays. (23 minutes)
The Yellow Wallpaper
Touted as one of the first major feminist writers, Charlotte Perkins Gilman spent her life fighting to liberate women from the yoke of domesticity. This is a stunning BBC dramatization of Gilman's autobiographical account of a woman driven to madness by the repressive mores of Victorian culture. Stephen Dillon as the husband, John, and Julia Watson as the despondent heroine give stellar performances in this production directed by the BBC's John Clive. (76 minutes)
Walt Whitman
A self-styled sketch runs, “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos.” He could have added journalist, carpenter, nurse, and one of the greatest poets in English. This program presents a unique literary biography, tracing Whitman' childhood, various careers, and the evolution of the masterpiece that proved his lifelong work, Leaves of Grass. A collage of photos, paintings, and manuscripts accompanies excerpts of letters from Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as readings from sections of Leaves of Grass, such as “Song of Myself,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” and “Native Moments.” (22 minutes) The DVD version can be viewed using a DVD player or computer DVD-ROM drive.