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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 25 March 2017
This is one of my favourate movies & the quality of this DVD from Entertainment USA increases this enjoyment thanks you will see me again real soon
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on 9 January 2005
For the first ten minutes of Spellbound you could be forgiven for assuming that this is another sarcastic slice of American life from Christopher Guest - some of the characters featured in the opening scenes could so easily have been plucked from 'Best in Show'. But as the laughter subsides, you realise that this truly is a very watchable documentary and a great insight into what is an important part of American society for thousands of kids (and their scary parents) - the national Spelling Bee.
The documentary follows eight kids from very different social and economic backgrounds as they prepare for, and then compete in the Bee. The dedication and determination shown by the competitors is extraordinary, whilst the pressure they are put under during the actual contest makes you wonder whether it is all worth it.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable documentary which reveals a snapshot of American life rarely touched upon and little known about in the UK.
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Hitchcock did not direct this and it does not star Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Spellbound (1945) and Spellbound (2002) have in common the fact that they both won Academy Awards and both are spellbinding.

Director Jeffrey Blitz's approach to making this most interesting documentary is straight-forward: pick eight contestants. Produce a mini-documentary on each one of them with scenes from family life, school. Interview their teachers, their parents, and some of their friends so that we get to know the contestants. Show the town they live in and the land they grew up on. Cut each mini-documentary to a few minutes and run them one after the other before taking us to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Film the spelling bee and show the eight in action along with some of the other 242 or so who made it to the Capitol. Start with round one. Show the officials, the people who read the words to the contestants and answer questions about the words, such as word origin, definition, pronunciation, and root. Show the eager parents. Show the kids on stage with wrinkled brow and sweaty hands--well, you can't show the sweaty hands, although one mother reported that her hands got all wet when her daughter's turn came and then got all dry afterwards. Get some shots of the kids talking. Show the faces with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

And guess what? The film plays itself. It's a natural. We identify with the contestants, perhaps have our favorite. The tension builds. The hour and a half flies by. The spelling bee is a great spectator sport!

Another thing I liked about this was the fact that although the eager parents would put your usual stage moms or little league dads to shame in the way they pushed their kids, when it was over, it was over. A couple of the kids said they were disappointed not to have won, but what a relief it was not to have to study the dictionary anymore! Of course there is always next year, but unlike baseball and the Broadway stage, you can grow too old to compete in the spelling bee--although now that I think about it, I wouldn't be surprised to find that they have adult spelling bees, maybe even spelling bees for senior citizens.

Another nice thing is the view Blitz gives us of the Heartland. The film amounts to a glimpse of America the melting pot near the beginning of the 21st Century (the contest is from 1999).

Also educational were insights into the way the kids learned to be excellent spellers. They memorized, yes, but they also learned which letters were likely to be correct for certain sounds based on the language of origin of the word. Greek words--there a lot of scientific Greek words in the dictionary--almost always have every letter pronounced (although watch out for those silent leading "m's"!). French words are just the opposite. I used to teach honors English and I can tell you that half the kids could out-spell me. The best kid I had just seemed to do it naturally. I realized however after talking to him that his approach was phonetic to start. That was the default. Every word that could be spelled correctly phonetically he noted and put aside in his mind. (His habit was to notice the spelling of every new word he encountered.) If the word was not spelled phonetically, it was an exception and he noted why it was an exception and dreamed up some mnemonic--silent leading m!--device to remember the exception. I could never spell a word like "lieutenant" (French) until I also developed a mnemonic device. In this case I made a sentence out of the word: "Lie-u-tenant" or I found the little words within: "lie," ... "ten," "ant."

Spellbound won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2002, and it's that good. People and especially young people can identify (or not!) with kids their own age, and they can choose their favorites to root for.
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on 17 March 2014
This description is misleading : the picture is that of the DVD I would have expected to receive but it doesn't match the description (VHS) ...And I got a VHS which is totally beside the point....Of course, I have been kindly informed of a refund but I still don't know how to get what I want.

Best regards.
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on 17 March 2004
This extraordinary documentary follows eight youngsters as they prepare for the 1999 annual National Spelling Bee. If you've ever watched it on ESPN, then you've seen the unique spellers who often last to the final stages. "Spellbound" highlights brilliantly the ways in which these youngsters and their families are exceptional. The eight youngsters, their families, and their hometowns are profiled separately; these narratives are by turns funny, inspiring, and heart-wrenching. Among the more amazing stories is Angela Arevivar, whose parents came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico and don't speak English. Her father, however, sees clearly that Angela's success justifies leaving his home country, and he accompanies her proudly to the bee. Aside from these emotionally resonant stories, young Harry Altman nearly steals the show with his wacky humor, including his bizarre imitation of a musical robot.
After introducing the youths and their families, the documentary accounts the actual bee. The tension is nearly unbearable when the spellers are given a difficult word, and seeing them eliminated is heart-wrenching. The documentary swells to a remarkable finale, due to the skillful editing by Yana Gorskaya and the debut work of director, Jeffrey Blitz. In addition, "Spellbound" is filled with amazing triumphs and heart-breakers. Hearing Ashley White's single, disadvantaged mother explain that the greatest moment of her life was seeing her daughter crowned champion at the city spelling bee is sure to leave a lump in your throat. Another warm moment is when a mother discusses how her child is somewhat of an outcast in her school but that she's popular at the bee. These children have managed to find ways of belonging and succeeding despite their quirks, which elevates further the amazing nature of their accomplishments.
"Spellbound" was Oscar-nominated for best documentary in 2003, losing to the flashier but less deserving "Bowling for Columbine." A truly excellent documentary exposes fundamental truths about us or our nation, and "Spellbound" certainly passes this litmus test. By following youngsters from a variety of backgrounds, nothing short of the American Dream is revealed. Ultimately, "Spellbound" is fantastic and perhaps the most touching and profound documentary of its kind since "Hoop Dreams." A most highly recommended film experience!
Extras: 1) Biographies and "where are they now" information for each speller. 2) A fascinating commentary featuring the director, producer, and editor. 3) Synopses of three spelling bee contestants who were not featured in the final cut of the documentary. The stories of these three spellers are probably not as compelling as the eight youngsters highlighted in the main documentary, although young Bradley Feldman's unrequited crush on his teen-aged spelling coach is terrific.
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on 21 September 2005
Not the classic 1945 Hitchcock thriller, but a much darker, more horrifying production altogether. "Spellbound" follows the torments of a handful of American children as they strive to win the annual national spelling competition.
The film begins by offering a fly-on-the-wall commentary on US lifestyles, but as the competition hots up, you are slowly drawn into the high pressure excitement of the final. We're introduced to the stars of the show - Angela is a bright, creative, vital lassie, daughter of Mexican immigrants. She shows delight at achievement - her parents have struggled to give their children a better chance in life.
Nupur comes from an Indian family and embodies the Indian work ethic. You sense the integrational aspect of the spelling competition - if you're a newcomer to this society, it's best to participate unquestioningly in the established rituals and processes if you want to be accepted. In the UK, there is orthodox commitment to multi-culturalism: in the USA, it's about being visibly and vocally American!
But school is boring. Away from Beverley Hills, American High Schools are not glamorous. There are fat kids here. There is poverty. There is ignorance. No Buffy or teenage television images of school. No elegance. The schools look like dumps.
We meet Teddy, a bit of a loner. Emily is competitive, wants to be valued as really good at something, but sees the irony of being able to spell a word whose meaning she does not know and which she will never use. Her mother describes the spelling competition as a form of child abuse!
And the competitors are subjected to relentless tutoring by teachers and parents. It's the worst aspect of learning by rote - dunning word after word into receptive minds. The intensity of the young people's lifestyle is obvious. We find Ashley, not well off by any means. And Neil, from an affluent Indian family - committed to the American dream, a school athlete but following in his sister's footsteps (she came fifth in the national finals).
April is from a blue collar family - her parents don't have the resources, so she has to work on her own, showing quiet determination ... and ironic awareness of the sheer tedium of her task. And then there's Harry, hyperactive, mercurial, intense.
There is no commentary. We meet the contestants, hear their own words, watch their real lives unfold before us, subject to only our own judgement of purpose and meaning. Which, of course, doesn't mean that the film makers don't have values or feelings. It's all in the editing, in the selection of material and its juxtaposition, defining the character of the contributors by editing their contributions.
And then it's the big final - after loads of local media coverage and celebrity, there are 249 regional winners alone in the big city ... regimented into white shirts and dehumanised by the placards hanging round their necks ... these are numbers, these are contestants, these are runners in the race. Are they still children? Are they still individuals?
A girl has kittens spelling 'lycanthrope', the blood draining from her face. Camera close-ups show the sweat and tension, the nervous tics, the joy at getting that next word right, of progressing to the next level of torture. These are circus performers - they just have to make up their mind whether they are performing animals or gladiators.
But you can sense that the kids are learning to show off, to become performers. They are no longer themselves, they are embryonic celebrities - once they're famous, will someone finally notice them and not just their performance? And there are those who express a sense of relief at being knocked out, at being allowed to escape back to the real world. And for others ... emotional collapse. You wonder how long it will be before they overcome a sense of failure, before the nightmares end.
And the torment continues. Weird, frozen expressions on the handful of survivors, the pressure cooker atmosphere getting more and more oppressive. Relief when it's over, "I can throw away the book!"
This is a film about making performers out of children, about using them as playthings and benchmarks of adult achievement. It's organised by a major company, it attracts vast publicity - it's as American as mom's supermarket bought burger. Riveting, painful in places, and far more horrific than anything Hitchcock made.
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on 17 March 2004
Every year people across USA get to watch live the National Spelling Bee competition, which gathers the 249 "lucky" kids who survived from the total of 9 million who started the path. This movie presents the journey of eight kids to get to the Nationals, how their peers, parents and teachers react and how these children manage to handle the pressure.
One of the thoughts I had when I was watching this movie was how difficult it must be for some of these kids to live with the high expectations their inner circle imposes upon them. Of course, the burden is a lot heavier in some cases than in others, but in all the examples shown, one gets the idea that the level of nervousness is a lot higher than in any other activity the children may participate in. For example, in the case of football, there may be situations in a game in which a player is under pressure, but this usually does not last long, the kid has the support from other teammates and the responsibility shifts among players. In the case of the spelling bee, one mistake and it's over!
In some cases the expectations of the fathers are tremendous. Neil spells 7,000 to 8,000 words a day when he is close to a competition. His mother comments: "When you fight in a war everybody has the same goal". His father tutors him when he can, and pays for several tutors, one for each different root language. In my opinion this can only be detrimental for Neil, and you can see his fear every time he has to go up to the microphone and spell. On the other hand, you have kids like Harry, who is very talkative and joking all the time, plays the guitar and studies spelling only one hour to one and a half hours per day.
I enjoyed this movie because I think it may present a reality check for a lot of parents that have their kids in spelling competitions. The message I got from it was that if you keep an attitude that allows the kid to have fun while learning and doing the best he can, then you and your kid will be a lot happier than if you impose the competition as a job (or allow the child to take it that way).
For those of you that enjoyed watching the National Spelling Bee in the past, this will be an opportunity to view the highlights of the 1999 finals again. Whether you are interested in the effects that the competition have on the children or in the excitement of this contest, this is a movie that you will enjoy.
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on 2 June 2004
Do you know those surprising times that you go to the cinema to watch a documentary and it turns out to be way better than any film? For me, watching Spellbound was like this. I found it moving, sad, joyful and a film that offers a deeper view into the American way of life than most other films.
But be prepared to be shocked. The person I went to see it with absolutely hated it, she found it almost torturous to the children involved and went away feeling sullenly depressed.
So the same film can evoke two such contrary emotions? It must be good!!
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on 3 September 2004
Spellbound isn't just about the annual Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington. The movie is also a quite engaging portrait about the lives of everyday American kids. Deliberately chosen from different cultural and economic backgrounds, the eight children portrayed do a great job of showing the rich and diverse tapestry of the American family. Loosely divided into two sections, the first half deals in-depth with their home lives, containing interviews with their parents and siblings, their teachers, and also the children's' efforts to win their respective regional spelling competitions. The second half recounts the big day in Washington, where the suspense of the competition is ratcheted up a notch, and all the kids have to perform under a pressure with the judges, organizers and parents looking on.
The kids are of course terrific - some are in it for the fun and enjoyment while others are taking it very seriously with an unadulterated determination to win. Angela is a gangly brunette and daughter of Mexican laborers in Texas. Nupur lives in Tampa, Florida and is the daughter of immigrants from India. She's a veteran of the 1998 national spelling bee but was eliminated in the third round. Ted, the son of farming parents, is a big, soft-spoken math lover from Rella, Missouri. Emily is a suburban horse rider and singer in a girl's chorus from New Haven, Connecticut. Ashley is a cute and bubbly black girl with a brilliant smile from a poor part of Washington DC. Neil lives in San Clemente, California and is child of wealthy Indian immigrants. Neil trains hard and is pushed by his over achieving father. April is the adorably eccentric daughter of former factory worker, now pub owner in Amber, Pennsylvania. And Harry from Glen Rock, New Jersey is an endearingly extraverted jokester who likes to talk like a musical robot.
Viewers will probably find themselves trying to spell the words for themselves as the tension mounts and the competition heats up. This is a quiet, well-mannered competition where the heroes are loners and thinkers that have a love of words and wordplay. There are also no hard feelings when the various kids are eliminated and some of them feel positively relieved that they don't have to study the dictionary anymore. A couple of the kids work and train unbelievably hard to prepare but none of the parents seem overly obnoxious or pushy, they're just wonderfully supportive, and several are loveably kooky.
There are some nice additions to the film with interviews with past winners, and there are some great reaction shots with the kids acting triumphant as they leave the mike after getting a hard word right or looking crest-fallen when a wrongly spelt word takes them out of the competition. The viewer will really feel for the kids who look befuddled and tense as they encounter an unfamiliar word. Spellbound is great fun and is a film that the whole family can endlessly enjoy. Mike Leonard September 04.
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on 8 February 2015
Spelling bees only work with non-phonetic languages, like English, since there is also no consistency of spelling with such promiscuous tongues very happy to dip into foreign parts.

Surprising how it is often the easiest words tripping up the best spellers; the obscure ones usually presenting no problems whatsoever. Suspense comes from the difficulty of guessing the winner, since it is the stress of the contest that usually fails them rather than a lack of knowledge and practice. Your heart will go out to these kids as they struggle to spell out a word - when getting it wrong by only one letter loses them US$10,000.

The whole enterprise is worthwhile because knowing the meaning, root and word usage aids victory – it is not just another silly memory test. A subtle refection on the American Dream with some inevitably pushy parents.
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