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Alistair Cooke's America [DVD]

62 customer reviews

Price: £14.80 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £20. Details
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Product details

  • Actors: Alistair Cooke
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: 2 Entertain Video
  • DVD Release Date: 18 Oct. 2004
  • Run Time: 650 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0002PC3AS
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,661 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Reviews

Product Description

This 1972 TV documentary series offers a personal view of the history and development of the USA by esteemed Anglo-American journalist Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004 at the age of 95 after a long and illustrious broadcasting career. Combining specially-shot and archive film with photographs, paintings and sketches, the series starts with the colonial period, continues through the revolutionary war and pioneer expansionist eras, looks at the global conflicts and economic domination of the 20th century, and concludes with a study of the social upheavals and counter-culture revolutions of the 1960s and early 70s. The series was born as a spin-off of Cooke's exceptionally long-running (58 years) radio slot, Letter From America.

From Amazon.co.uk

A classic from what now seems like the Golden Age of TV documentaries, Alistair Cooke’s America 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. Over 13 leisurely hours, he narrates a "personal history" of his adopted country, beginning with his own arrival as a fresh young Cambridge graduate in the 1930s before taking us back to the very foundations of America, its colonisation, the war of Independence (told in an admirably non-partisan way) and so on through momentous and turbulent decades right up to the early 1970s, where Civil Rights and protest movements are high on the agenda.

Throughout, Cooke interweaves anecdotes and digressions into the main narrative, charming the viewer with his storytelling precisely in the manner so beloved of listeners to his admirable Letter from America. By the end he has a warning that, although delivered in 1973, remains as telling today as it did then: America, like Ancient Rome as depicted by Gibbon in his Decline and Fall, stands poised between its remarkable vitality and its equally remarkable capacity for decadence. Whether, like Rome, the USA becomes a victim of its own internal divisions or somehow manages to pull back from the brink still remains to be seen.

On the DVD: This four-disc set is neatly presented in digipack format, and includes a Pebble Mill at One interview with Cooke in which he discusses the series. --Mark Walker

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Mr. HP Bennett on 20 Aug. 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This major piece of television was produced in the early 1970's and was billed as "A Personal History of the USA" by Alastair Cooke. It has aged very well and indeed should be compulsory viewing for the modern documentary maker as it is a classic in terms of style and presentation. Modern TV programmes feature presenters making one line pieces to camera and then moving off stage right. Cooke is a natural teacher - he talks to the camera without notes, without autocue, and he talks with great authority, like a favourite uncle. He speakes for several minutes at a time - mostly fluently but sometimes with the odd fluff or stumble which you tolerate as it makes it feel more conversational. Like his famous "Letter from America" - he is talking to you, the viewer, as if you are the only person in his sphere. The content is fascinating and it certainly has helped this reviewer's understanding of the history of the USA - the men and women who moved west in the late 19th century and carved a life out of a virgin land; the constitution, the relationship beteween the federal government and the states,the inventors like Edison and John Deere; the money men like Vanderbilt and JP Morgan; the philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie.

This is classic stuff - and highly recommended. It was made by the BBC when they made excellent series like this one, as well as "Civilisation" by Kenneth Clark and Jacob Bronowski's "Ascent of Man". It seems to me that today only David Attenborough can hold a candle to any of these giants and we, the licence payer of the BBC are all the poorer for it.

Rent it, buy it, but above all - watch it!
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By L. M Young on 28 Oct. 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I fell in love with this series when it was first shown on American television in 1972-1973. I was fifteen years old, mad about history, and immediately embraced this marvelous narrative accompanied by location visits, old paintings and prints, and period music. When videotapes of television series began to be sold, I would have gladly paid almost any price for AMERICA, but it was sold only to libraries and educational institutions. I unashamedly borrowed the series from the library and copied it off for my own use and played the tapes over and over until they were worn out. Now I have had the opportunity to legitimately purchase the series, and what a beautiful job has been done on the episodes: the color is bright and beautiful and the sound impressive for a 30+ year old series. I have watched this series so many times and am now seeing details that only a clear picture can provide. Thank you, BBC, for finally making my dreams come true!
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Dan Redford on 13 Nov. 2005
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Without doubt this is the finest documentary I have ever seen. This is Alistair Cooke at his most regal best. A perfect Christmas present. If I had to live on a desert island and could take only one DVD this would be it.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. Morgan VINE VOICE on 27 Nov. 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
As the previous reviewer has given such a comprehensive review, there's not much I can add other than having seen the series when it was first broadcast in 1973, I just had to buy this set - and I'm jolly glad I did! Cooke was the self-effacing master of his profession, and each episode is just so easy and so darned enjoyable to watch and so informative. I never knew history could be this interesting! I just wish we could see this sort of quality TV these days, but alas I fear we will never see such again.
If you enjoyed listening to Alistair Cooke's Letter From America when it was broadcast on BBC Radio 4, then just buy this set... you will NOT regret it!
Thoroughly recommended!
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Mr. K. P. Rogers VINE VOICE on 28 Oct. 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The BBC used to produce wonderful documentary series, and this, Alistair Cooke's America: A Personal View, is widely regarded as the best documentary series ever produced, anywhere! It was hailed upon its first airing on both sides of the Atlantic as a masterpeice, and so praised was it that Mr Cooke was invited to speak to a joint session of the Unites States' Congress during the bicentennial Independence celebrations; a truly rare privilage only once previously accorded to a non-American: Winston Churchill.
So, what have we got with this series? Mr Cooke presents his own history of the US, from the arrival of the British, through independence, the settlements throughout the US, the role of government in shaping the US and the 'modern' US (remember it was filmed in the 1970s). We also have wonderful visuals, beautifully illustrating the points he's making.
A lot of the presentation is face-to-camera, which is, these days, a lost art. Too often, modern directors go for stupifying accompanying music, dizzying camera movements, et. al. However, here we have the best of everything. Nothing distracts from that Mr Cooke is saying, and it is all shot in a wonderful colour picture.
As with his long-running radio programme, he never forgets the little stories that sometimes inform a lot more than the big, well-known, historical events, and these bring life to the picture and themes he's discussing.
I cannot recommend this enough: it is an amazing series and I reckon it's essential viewing, especially to the current crop of documentary makers.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 14 May 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I've rented this and watched it with my wife. I can genuinely say that it is compelling. I echo the statements made by others concerning the brilliance of Cooke's presentation - it is the 'personal history' claimed in the title. The style is at times detached - as you'd expect of a historian - yet is never cold. Although made 35 years ago, by the nature of its content, little has obviously aged in a manner that makes it feel out of date or irrelevant. It's only as you reach the last episode when Cooke looks at the USA of that time - the 1970's - that you realise that a great deal has happened since. If only he had been commissioned to provide one additional episode later in his life, when the Cold War was behind us, replaced by the modern threats we know only too well.
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