Title: Secrets of Underground London
Release Date: 21 May 2014
Director: Vicky Matthews and Gareth Sacala
Not secrets of the London Underground (although there are some) but of 2000+ years of history hidden beneath the surface of England’s capital. There’s a lot of nifty bits of subterranean trivia in this admittedly corny and sensationalist documentary, including:
- ruins of the Roman amphitheater
- Black Death plague pits
- the labyrinthine Chislehurst Caves where miners extracted chalk for rebuilding London after the Great Fire
- the innovative Victorian-era engineering of the Thames Tunnel
- London Underground stations used both as air raid stations and to hide treasures from the British Museum during World War II
- Churchill’s War Cabinet rooms
- the lost Fleet River
- the construction of an expansion of the British Museum into a new space four stories undergroun
Release Date: 2 October 2011
Director: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Production Co: Florentine Films
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary | History
This Ken Burns documentary illustrates the United States’ experiment with banning alcoholic beverages. The story is told in three parts.
Part I documents the adverse effect alcohol consumption had on Americans, especially men, who drank away their pay while women and children suffered poverty and abuse. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union organized to successfully (albeit temporarily) shut down saloons, and inadvertently providing a political outlet for women that helped the suffrage movement. On the other hand, alcohol played an important social role, especially in immigrant communities. The dark side of the temperance movement is that it was made up of rural and small-town Protestants from the mid-west and south who were prejudice against the immigrant groups in the big cities. The strongest opponents to prohibition were German-American brewers, so it was no surprise that anti-German sentiment during WWI helped sway the national opinion towards Prohibition.
Part II shows America under Prohibition. Interestingly enough, many people (including politicians who voted for the amendment) expected beer and wine to be permitted under Prohibition. The Anti-Saloon League under Wayne Wheeler are able to influence the drafting of the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition by banning all beverages with more than one-half of one-percent alcohol. There were many loopholes such as people who stocked up before the ban or those who could get prescriptions for medicinal alcohol. While many in the heartland were pleased to abstain, places like New York City exploded with illegal importation and distilling of liquors. These illegal activities were soon consolidated under organized crime bosses whose territorial battles contributed to notorious violence.
Part III illustrates the growing awareness that the levels of hypocrisy and unintended consequences of Prohibition, ultimately leading to repeal.
An interesting aspect of this documentary is it shows how the Prohibition story accompanies the increased role of women in American public life. The temperance movement was led by women. Mabel Walker Willebrandt enforced the Volstead Act in her duties as U.S. Assistant Attorney General. Lois Long documented the glamour and sexual liberation of speakeasy nightlife in her articles for the The New Yorker. And Pauline Sabin lead the political movement for repeal as head of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform.
Like Ken Burn’s other works, this was an excellent and informative documentary, richly illustrated with period photographs and films and words read from primary documents by actors and narrators. I learned a lot from this film.
Mr. Bjarnfreðarson (2009) ***
An Icelandic comedy that combines dark humor, fish-out-of-water stories, and self-discovery all in one entertainingly bizarre package. The titular character has been raised by his extremist socialist/feminist mother (the heavy-handiness of the stereotypes of the mother are my least favorite part of the movie) to an extent that he can’t fit in to every day society.
Heima (2007) ****
This concert follows the Icelandic band Sigur Ros on their heroic return to their homeland where they thank their country-folk with a series of free concerts. The setting for the concerts emphasize Iceland’s natural beauty and include local musicians all captured with amazing cinematography. So beautiful.
The Wind in the Willows (2005) **
An adaptation of the classic novel that starts off well but once Mole and Rat are left behind and it becomes all Mr. Toad it gets a bit silly and dull.
Finding Nemo (2003) *****
I introduced Peter to Pixar films with this classic and he received it well. Apparently, the sharks are funny.
Monsters, Inc. (2001) *****
Peter didn’t like this one as much as the monsters were scary and we had to turn it off when Sully is sledding down the Himalayas. I love it though.
The Fox & the Hound (1981) ****
I saw this movie in the theaters back when I was 7-years old and loved it. The story is much as I remembered it but the animation is pretty chintzy and I was surprised by how many of the voice actors were the same as “Winnie the Pooh.” Peter enjoyed it too, although from his perspective this was “The Bear Movie.” The bear is on screen for maybe five minutes, but it makes a big impression to a toddler.
One of my favorite films which I saw on the big screen at Brattle Theatre a few years back. This was the first time Susan saw it and I was surprised that I’d forgotten how dark and gory this post-apocalyptic cannibalistic black comedy was. Still, it is funny and amazing creative with possibly the best opening titles sequence ever as well as a couple of masterful set pieces.
Delicatessen title sequence:
Classic scene from Delicatessen used in trailer:
Mark Twain (2001)
A Ken Burns documentary about America’s great celebrity author, a man of many contradictions who lead a life both charmed and tragic. I didn’t know much about Mark Twain’s life beyond a few famous fables so I enjoyed learning about the man and his work in this well-filmed, well-narrated, and well-illustrated documentary.
The Great Escape (1963)
The ultimate WWII prisoner of war film is entertaining if a bit long. The Germans round up the most troublesome prisoners into one high-security camp and the Allied prisoners respond by planning the most daring escape ever. The film claims to be based on actual events although a lot of what happens is dramatized, compressed, and composite-ized beyond reality, so it’s best to watch this for it entertainment and symbolic value rather than for a history lesson.
Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the Eddie Izzard routine on The Great Escape while watching this:
The Historic Pubs of Dublin (2008)
For St. Patrick’s Day, I enjoyed this hour-long journey through the best pubs in Dublin with writer Frank McCourt. Pubs patronized by writers and revolutionaries are visited as well as good places to enjoy a pint, a whiskey, Irish trad, and some good craic are all visited. McCourt also leads the viewer to some of the top tourist attractions in Dublin, often conveniently proximite to a pub.