History People Are Talking About Archives 11-25-03 to 12-9-03History Being Talked About
The Man Who Invented Reality TV: Presidential Filmmaker Robert Drew (posted 12-8-03)
Paul Farhi, writing in the Washington
Post (Dec. 6, 2003)
Long before "K Street," before "The War Room" or "The Candidate," and way before anyone had heard of "reality TV," there was "Primary," a little documentary that was the father of them all.
Robert Drew's film -- newly released on DVD (Docurama, $24.95) -- was ostensibly a detailed look at the Wisconsin Democratic primary battle of April 1960 between Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy. But it was the style, as much as the substance, that made "Primary" a pioneering work of film and journalism. It was, as Drew himself grandly refers to it, "a new kind of history."
For the first time, the documentary camera moved with its subjects, following them down receiving lines and into back rooms, even accompanying them on car rides in the gray Wisconsin spring. There were no interviews in the traditional sense, no subtitles, no March-of-Time theatrics. Narration was pared to a few dozen words. The camera and sound simply caught the candidates and their caretakers in the act of being themselves. Today, the film's naturalistic style is taken for granted in documentaries, and in dramas like "The Blair Witch Project." But in its time, it was a technical and stylistic breakthrough, the American version of what European filmmakers had started calling "cinema verite."
While its sound is shaky and its black-and-white photography often splotchy (even in its new digital form), "Primary" is ultra-modern in another important sense. Drew and his team of talented technicians had unrivaled access to Kennedy and Humphrey, and captured them in ways that contemporary media-savvy candidates would never permit. As crude as the film's technical quality is, it reveals a paradox of modern campaign coverage: We see more now, but we learn less.
As Drew's camera watches, the stolid Humphrey stands on a sidewalk in a Wisconsin town, handing out his business card -- business cards! -- to indifferent passersby. At one point, he tousles a young boy's hair and flatters a would-be voter by telling him he's "a lucky man" to have married his wife. At another juncture, Humphrey sits in the passenger seat of a car en route to a campaign stop, first dozing, then droning on about the spring thaw. Dressed in his baggy overcoat and hat, the future vice president comes across as earnest, corny and dull -- in other words, unelectable by today's TV standards.
By contrast, the scenes of Kennedy, who would win the primary, are kinetic. He is mobbed everywhere, particularly by children. His magnetism is best captured by a brief, post-Elvis/pre-Beatles shot of bobby-socks-wearing teenage girls rushing up a street to meet him. In one memorable sequence, Kennedy stands in a receiving line. But instead of focusing on the candidate, Drew's cameraman, Ricky Leacock, follows a beautiful young woman as she approaches. Just as she takes Kennedy's hand, her face melts into an expression of pure desire -- and then she winks at him. The footage seems to foretell Kennedy's future White House indiscretions. It also calls to mind the much-replayed clip of Bill Clinton greeting Monica Lewinsky in a Rose Garden ceremony.
"Primary" is equally seduced by Jackie Kennedy. Just 30, and pregnant with JFK Jr. at the time, she exudes her usual glamour, but her trademark fireproof composure is punctured by Leacock's camera. Before a major campaign rally on the eve of the primary, he catches her standing on the podium, her gloved fingers twiddling furiously behind her back. On another busy receiving line, the camera finds Jackie discreetly working the cramps out of her aching hand.
Politicization of Australian National Museum Costs Director Her Job (posted 12-8-03)
Christopher Kremmer, writing in the Australian Age (Dec. 6, 2003)
It was a typically confronting day on the board of the National Museum of Australia. The debate had turned to the return of indigenous human remains to Aboriginal communities - a process pioneered by museum director Dawn Casey - when a member of the governing council interjected.
Human remains, Aboriginal or otherwise, were a vital part of a good museum, said David Barnett, a conservative member of the council. They must continue to be displayed, so that people could study the history of human evolution.
Casey, the daughter of a poor Aboriginal family from Far North Queensland, said nothing. She did not expect Barnett to sympathise with Aboriginal cultural practices concerning the living or the dead. He was already on record as describing the Stolen Generation as a "victim episode".
"He told me once that it had been necessary to separate the children because, from Port Augusta to Broome, their parents were killing and starving them," Casey recalls with a deep sigh. Her own extended family had suffered from the forced separation of children and parents.
As she prepares to leave her post this week, Casey is reflecting on her own long journey, from school drop-out to accomplished public servant, and on what she considers to be a growing threat to the integrity of Australia's great cultural institutions.
When Casey looked around the boardroom table that day, she saw a phalanx of the Prime Minister's men staring back at her. "If you appoint a chairman who's a current member of the executive of a political party and a councillor who's the Prime Minister's biographer, and another councillor who has written speeches for the Prime Minister then, of course, you will get the strong perception of political interference," she says.
There's nothing trumped-up about her. She plays by the rules. She doesn't use her race as a crutch.
In a series of interviews with The Age over the past six weeks, Casey has spoken frankly for the first time about the museum's debilitating internal struggles over claims that it has misrepresented Australian history....
The National Museum is, quite literally, the house that Dawn built. In 1997, she joined the $152 million project as construction manager. As director from 1999 onwards, she drove architects, builders and staff harder than her dad ever drove cattle, completing the ultra-modern building on the shores of Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin on time and on budget.
"She did an amazing job," concedes Tony Staley, a former federal president of the Liberal Party and chairman of the museum council since 1999.
But Casey found herself being reluctantly drawn into the so-called "history wars".
In October 2000, five months before the museum opened, Barnett fired his opening salvo in a memo written to Staley. In it, he warned that political correctness - "which, as we saw at the (Olympic) Games opening ceremony, is taking hold" - infected the "quite alarming" labels that explained the museum's exhibits.
Staley, the veteran Victorian Liberal, handled the crisis adroitly, calling on an independent historian, Graeme Davison, to review the labels. Some labels were changed but Davison rejected claims of systematic bias.
"David (Barnett) gives the impression - which I am sure he does not really hold - that the museum should follow the historical views of the government of the day," Davison reported to Staley.
Complaints continued. Barnett took the director to task over a display concerning the 1967 national referendum, at which Australians voted to give Aborigines the vote. The display showed Labor leader Gough Whitlam campaigning for the "Yes" campaign. Barnett told the director that the referendum had been brought on by a Coalition government.
The complaint sparked a wild goose chase for photographs of Liberal ministers campaigning for the "Yes" vote. Casey says staff couldn't find any because, while the Liberals had introduced the referendum, they ran dead on the issue. Despite that, the exhibit was later removed.
One day in mid-2001, Casey received a telephone call from Pearson. "You should take note, Dawn. I have had a senior person contact me about the museum's display of the diary of an Italian internee who was a supporter of Mussolini," she recalls him saying. "You should change it."
Pearson declined to comment, but The Age has been told he was concerned the exhibit might damage the museum's reputation in the Italian community.
Professor Kay Saunders, a University of Queensland historian who advised the museum and attended occasional board meetings, believes some board members strayed into areas that are the rightful prerogative of management. "You had some council members who thought they were there to reshape the total content of the museum," Saunders says.
She blames two board members - Barnett, who co-wrote a biography of John Howard, and the conservative columnist and former Howard speechwriter Christopher Pearson - for creating a "destructive" atmosphere on the board.
"There were articles in the press, extremely critical internal memos . . . I even had a phone call from Christopher demanding that we change a certain display in the museum. It went on and on and on."...
Historian Travels from London in Search of Records Concerning "Wild Bill" Hickok (posted 12-8-03)
From an account by the Associated Press (Dec. 4, 2003):
About a mile north of the public square where "Wild Bill" Hickok killed a gambler who insulted his honor sits a red brick building that could hold an interesting footnote to the legend of the man known for his skill with a pistol.
The building is home to the Greene County Archives. It is where historians hope to find a record showing that only six months before the deadly shooting, Hickok and his victim helped post bond for a mutual friend.
Davis "Dave" Tutt, who was slow to the draw that day, was no enemy of Hickok, said Joseph Rosa, who has written books on Hickok and is considered a leading authority. The men were friends, and the face-to-face shootout might not have happened at all, but the events of July 21, 1865, spun inexorably out of control.
Rosa recently traveled from his home in London and spent four days at the archives, poring through boxes of musty, century-old documents. He was looking for a record of the bond posted for Larkin Russell, who was charged with stealing four geldings.
"If it does (turn up), that would be fantastic because you'll have both Hickok's and Tutt's signature on the same piece of paper," Rosa said. "That's really what it's all about."
Rosa, 70, has spent some 50 years sorting through faded court papers, coroners' reports, news clippings and other documents about Hickok, a farmer's son from Troy Grove, Ill., who became a scout and spy for the Union Army and a deputy U.S. Marshal. He has talked to Hickok relatives.
His interest in Hickok grew from watching Western movies as a boy. He became drawn to the man born James Butler Hickok who, legend had it, tamed two lawless Kansas towns and dabbled in gambling before being fatally shot in 1876 while playing cards in Deadwood, S.D.
But the movies and available literature were at odds about Hickok and his reputation during the Civil War.
"I got into studying this, and things didn't make sense," Rosa said. "Every story, every film, I got a different version. I started wondering what was the truth."
Many stories claimed he killed hundreds of men. They were wrong.
"He earned the nickname 'Wild Bill' during the Civil War for his actions against Confederate bushwhackers and other 'rebels,"' Rosa said.
In 1865, Hickok and Tutt got into a row after Tutt said Hickok owed him $35; Hickok maintained it was $25. When they failed to agree, Tutt took Hickok's gold pocket watch as collateral. Some time later, Tutt went to the town square, wearing Hickok's watch. Hickok became angry at the implication that he didn't pay his gambling debts. The men walked menacingly toward each other, and Tutt stopped not far from where a motor vehicle office stands today. Hickok was some 75 yards away.
"It has been repeated by several people that Hickok said: 'Dave, we've been friends for many years. You've helped me out many times, and you're the last person I wish to fall out with,"' Rosa said.
Tutt reached for his gun, but not faster than Hickok. With one shot to the chest, Tutt was dead.
Debunking the Myth of the Samurai (posted 12-8-03)
Stefan Lovgren, writing in the National Geographic (Dec. 2, 2003):
Mythology colors all history. Sometimes, legend and lore merely embellish the past. Other times, mythology may actually devour history. Such is the case with the samurai, the military aristocracy of feudal Japan.
The samurai are known as strong and courageous warriors, schooled with swords. In reality, they were an elitist and (for two centuries) idle class that spent more time drinking and gambling than cutting down enemies on the battlefield.
But it's the ideals to which they aspireddiscipline, loyalty, and benevolencethat endured and shaped the romantic image of the samurai that is now ingrained in the Japanese cultural psyche.
That's in large part thanks to the movies. From Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece The Seven Samurai to the new Hollywood epic, The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise, the movie samurai are usually noble and heroic characters.
Ed Zwick, the cerebral director and co-writer of The Last Samurai, makes no apologies for embracing idealism over reality for his movie. He says each version has its uses in storytelling.
"It's as important to celebrate what's poetic and idealized as it is to understand the reality," Zwick said in a telephone interview. "We're inspired by the mythologizing of the samurai as heroes."
The Last Samurai is the fictional tale of a broken United States Civil War veteran (Cruise) who travels as a mercenary to Japan soon after the overthrow of the old Shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule in 1868. He ultimately rediscovers his honor by joining a samurai rebellion against the encroaching world of the West.
The dawn of what's known as the Meiji era was a time of change as Japan emerged from 200 years of self-imposed isolation and began to shed some of its traditions. The samurai had served as a standing army with no one to fight for the last 200 years. Now they represented the past.
"It's a country that tries to modernize itself in a hurry," said Harold Bolitho, a professor of Japanese history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It wants to get rid of a non-productive class of samurai to replace it with an effective fighting force. It wants to stand up as an independent nation and not be pushed around by Britain or the United States."...
"The samurai were very much backward-looking and no more courageous or loyal or wise than anybody else," said Bolitho. "They were just more privileged. In the end they fight for those privileges, and they are defeated by the new Japan. It's the new Japan overcoming the old Japan."
Myths of Dunkirk Debunked (posted 12-8-03)
Tom Leonard, writing in the news.telegraph.co.uk (Dec. 5, 2003):
The BBC is to expose some of the myths surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk in a new drama documentary.
Dunkirk, a three-part BBC2 series which has cost £2.5 million, will "contain some truths that will be uncomfortable for people", said Alex Holmes, its director.
Chief among these will be the popular perception of the selfless courage of the "little boats" that went across the Channel to pick up survivors.
The series, based on interviews with survivors, will make clear that some who sailed the boats agreed to go because they were paid.
It will also highlight the British duplicitousness towards the French, the poor organisation of the British forces and the fact that "not all people in war behave with simple heroics".
"Dunkirk was the first example of spin," Holmes said. "The government took a near catastrophe and turned it into the rock on which the war effort was built."
His series was "not revisionist but accurate. The notion that everyone leapt into boats at the drop of a hat to save their fellow man isn't the whole story. There is great heroism but it is complex heroism."
Filmed in a documentary style as if a television crew is actually at the scene, the series mixes dramatic reconstruction with mock interviews with combatants and fly-on-the-wall footage of the War Cabinet.
New Light Shed on Salem Witch Trials by Scholars Unearthing the Original Transcripts (posted 12-8-03)
Jay Lindsay, writing for the Associated Press (Nov. 28, 2003):
The little that was known about Ann Dolliver suggested an unhappy life during wicked times.
Her husband, a layabout with an affinity for wine, deserted Ann and their child around 1683, according to court records. Nine years later, Dolliver was accused of being a witch.
But Dolliver may also have believed she was possessed and fought back with her own magic, according to Salem witch trial documents discovered in recent years. Dolliver crafted wax puppets of her imagined tormentors and damaged them, hoping to hurt her enemies or protect herself.
"She thought she was bewitched and she read in a book that was (the) way to afflict them (that) had afflicted her," according to records of a court examination, unearthed by University of Virginia professor Benjamin Ray.
Ray's work is part of five-year project by a team of scholars to update the trial transcript for the first time in 65 years. The project, which relies on original records whenever possible, aims to correct errors and find new documents that can add context to events and life to victims such as Dolliver.
"It puts a little meat onto (Dolliver's) bones, because she was really basically a name," Richard Trask, a historian and witch trials expert, said.
The work combines grinding research in dusty libraries with new technology, such as ultraviolet light and digital enhancement, that can reveal faded writing and information that was previously missed.
Rather than settle the record, the new information could fuel more speculation about the events of 1692, Trask said. So many papers are lost that the new clues barely begin to fill in the gaps, he said.
How Jonathan Edwards Changed America (posted 12-5-03)
Jay Tolson, writing in US News & World Report (Dec. 8, 2003):
What would Jonathan Edwards think of suburban Chicago's Willow Creek Community Church, where every weekend some 17,000 congregants arrive in their Chevy Tahoes and Toyota minivans to worship in the enormous brick-and-glass auditorium? More specifically, what would the 18th-century Puritan preacher who penned the fire-and-brimstone sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" make of "seeker-friendly" services that use "drama, multimedia, and contemporary music" to serve "individuals checking out what it really means to have a personal relationship with Jesus"? Gazing across the packed rows, would Edwards recognize the modern face of the religious movement that he played such a key role in launching?
On the 300th anniversary of the great theologian's birth, the questions are hardly academic....
Today, according to a Gallup survey, roughly 4 out of 10 Americans identify themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians....
Yet what exactly does an 18th-century New England Puritan have to do with a phenomenon that transcends denominational lines and emphasizes born-again conversion, Christ's redemptive role, the unerring authority of the Bible, and a commitment to taking the Gospel to others? The answer, quite simply, is a lot. George Marsden, a University of Notre Dame historian and author of Jonathan Edwards: A Life, put the matter squarely at a recent Library of Congress symposium: American history "recounted without its religious history or Edwards is like Moby Dick without the whale."
As a major promoter of the First Great Awakening, the religious revival that swept through the Colonies in the 1740s, Edwards modified his own highly orthodox Puritan-Calvinist heritage and unintentionally launched a new and distinctively American strain of Protestantism. That tradition became the dominant religious force in American culture and politics in the 19th century and up through the early 20th. Along the way, it touched just about every major social movement, from abolitionism to Prohibition. "It is the glory of American Christianity," says Nathan Hatch, provost of the University of Notre Dame and author of The Democratization of American Christianity, "and it is also the shame.&quo
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