True Films

History

Cave of Forgotten Dreams


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Master documentarian Herzog invites you to join his rhapsody as he examines very recently discovered 30,000-year-old cave paintings — the most intact and pristine old paintings we know about. This film will move you back in time while he connects you with the neolithic painters who worked their art. Despite the vast time shift, and the geographic relocation, and the inaccessibility of the cave, you will feel, as Herzog intends, that these were painted by your uncle just last week. They will make sense and you’ll feel you made a journey. (The original was filmed in 3D which may be worth seeking out.)

– KK

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Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog
2010, 90 minutes
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

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Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:00 am | comments


Hearts and Minds


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A hard-hitting anti-war expose, aimed at the Vietnam War. By now the sheer folly, criminality, waste, brutality, and stupidity of the Vietnam War is evident, but back in 1974, when this powerful documentary was made, it was a brave step. This film does not pretend to be an even-handed analysis. Like a proto-Michael Moore film, it uses ironic juxtapositions to make its points. It does not counter with Viet Cong atrocities, which have their own foolish brutality, worthy of a similar film. Hearts and Minds ends up being a well-done, entertaining case against war anywhere.

(Just for balance I am eager to see a film making the case that the Vietnam War was a good idea. Nominations wanted.)

– KK

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Most dramatic moment with General Westmoreland

Hearts and Minds
Peter Davis (II)
1974, 112 min.
DVD, $25

Official website

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Posted February 18, 2009 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History


In the Year of the Pig


Passionate film made in 1968 — at the height of the Vietnam War — about how and why Vietnam was winning, and the US losing. Lots of revealing interviews and footage. The parallels to the Iraq War today are obvious and disturbing.

– KK

In the Year of the Pig
Emile de Antonio
1968, 103 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted March 31, 2008 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History


The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World


This French film (with English and German audio tracks) is about Paul Otlet, a Belgian Utopian little known in America. Otlet invented an international classification scheme called Universal Decimal Classification used for books, photographs and other documents. He invented microfilm. He invented the ubiquitous index card catalog used in most libraries. But as he says in the film, “I think in terms of the universal” and his ambitions were much larger. Otlet began organizing existing international organizations into one grand inter-organization — the Union of International Organizations — which inspired the League of Nations. His one failure was to build an ultimate World City in Europe, but it was not for a lack of trying.

But his most amazing invention (in retrospect) was his invention of hypertext, multi-media, and the web. He didn’t use these words of course. He called it the International Network for Universal Documentation. In his 1934 “Treatise of Documentation” or “The book on the book” he lays it out:

Before our very eyes an immense machinery for intellectual work is being constructed. This machinery will serve as a veritable mechanical and collective brain. A universal publication system condensing all of the fragmentary and individual data and kept constantly up to date must be assembled for each branch of the sciences and other activities. This network must link production centers distributors and users. Any person with data to be made known or propositions to present or defend will be able to do so. Or with a minimum of effort and a guarantee of quality safety will be able to obtain any information.

His concept of hyperlinking is illustrated in the film in this YouTube clip from this film:

Otlet outlined these grand visions of easily accessible knowledge and interconnected data many decades before Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson first articulated them. And more importantly, he actually built an analog hypertext system. As this really amazing film makes clear, he collected and cataloged as much of the world’s bibliographic knowledge as he could and then cross-indexed it. Rows and rows of card trays. At his peak he had 17 million index cards, and a system of search and retrieval.

Later in the same monograph Otlet writes, “Phonographs, radio, television, telephone — these instruments taken as substitutes for the book will in fact become the new book, the most powerful work for the diffusion of human thoughts. This will be the radiated library, and the televised book.”

The universal book was a part of the universal city, which was a part of the universal repository of all human knowledge, or what he called the Mundaneum. This was to contain, “All books, all articles, all memories, all published information. These would become chapters, sections, lines of a single and immense book, the book of universal science. It is this one book made up of individual books that must be made available to all.”

Still his vision expanded. “This connection would be unaffected by distance…and would become an annex to the brain, a sort of appended exodermic organ.” Information architect Alex Wright calls Otlet our “forgotten forefather.” He offers a great closing quote from Otlet:

Everything in the universe, and everything of man, would be registered at a distance as it was produced. In this way a moving image of the world will be established, a true mirror of his memory. From a distance, everyone will be able to read text, enlarged and limited to the desired subject, projected on an individual screen. In this way, everyone from his armchair will be able to contemplate creation, as a whole or in certain of its parts.

Otlet’s early universalism was part of the reason he became forgotten and obscure. When the Nazis invaded Belgium in WWII they were intensely skeptical of his pacifism and internationalism. They destroyed his archive. Because he wrote in French, and none of his major works have yet been translated into English, his work was never part of the standard English history of the web.

 

This short film will help to change that. A shorter documentary in French and English by his biographer, W. Boyd Raward, are available for free streaming on Open Source Movies, gives a few additional details of how his system worked, but this story is incomplete.

The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World
(L’Homme qui voulait classer le Monde)
By Francoise Levie
2002, 60 min.

Available from Memento Productions

(Note: The only way to purchase this film is to send 35 Euros in cash to the filmmakers. No credit card nor PayPal.  It will take a few weeks delivery. Sadly I was unable to play this DVD on my DVD player. This may be because the video is in PAL, or more likely because I have an old player. It was viewable on a computer DVD.)

Posted October 10, 2007 at 3:19 pm | comments
| in category History


China: A Century of Revolution


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The three most important factors in the future of this planet are China, China, and China. China is the wild card. As it goes, so will the world. But the future of China cannot be glimpsed unless you have some clue of its recent past. This fantastic 3-part series is a fast-paced, extremely photogenic story of the madness that has possessed China this last century. You watch, horrified and mesmerized, as it lurches from one insane obsession to another. Is its current all-consuming devotion to commercialism and capitalism yet another bout of madness, or its final release? You’ll have a better idea after this film. I have not found a better one-stop source for understanding China today than this series (and I married into the Chinese).

– KK

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China: Century of Revolution
by Sue Williams
2000 (re-issued in 2007), 360 min.
$20, DVD, 3 discs

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Posted November 29, 2006 at 2:00 pm | comments
| in category History


Lewis & Clark


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Well done reconstruction of Lewis and Clark’s scientific/exploratory expedition to the northwest by master historical documentarian Ken Burns. Thorough, fascinating, important.

– KK

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Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery
Directed by Ken Burns
1997, 240 min.
$18, DVD

Available from PBS

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Posted July 3, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History


In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great


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This program is how classical history should be taught. Amateur historian Michael Woods demonstrates the power of knowledge gained when you live out the past exactly. Forcing himself to follow the actual footpaths of Alexander the Great on his 10,000 mile march — at least as much as politics, research, and geography would allow — Woods uncovers all kinds of insights about Alexander’s personality and tactics, while providing viewers an amazing journey of their own — starting with caravans in the Sudan and ending with caravans in Pakistan, gliding across river crossings in Russia and in river boats down India, stretching from the mountains of Macedonia to the mountains of Afghanistan. Beautifully written, expertly hosted, magnificently filmed, and wonderfully enlightening — this BBC-produced film is simply the best short course (3 hours) in ancient history that I’ve yet seen.

– KK

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In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great
Directed by David Wallace
1998, 240 min.
$90, DVD

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Posted April 24, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History


Guns, Germs, and Steel


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An all-out five star dramatization of Jared Diamond’s best selling non-fiction book of the same name. His main argument — that geographical differences are responsible for the unfair and uneven distribution of wealth among nations today — is compressed into three very intense hours, with as much quality as one could hope for. Much of the book’s subtlety and continuous barrage of evidence is lost, but for readers and newbies alike, this polished series is a great survey of one of the most important ideas in a long while. I read the book carefully and enjoyed the emotional delivery of the logical argument in this documentary.

– KK

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Guns, Germs, and Steel
Narrated by Peter Coyote
2005, 180 min.
$5, Amazon Instant Video

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Related Book: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000VDUWMC/ref=nosim/kkorg-20

Posted November 19, 2005 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History


Silk Road


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Even in Marco Polo’s time the Silk Road between Europe and China wove through vast desert wildernesses and sparsely populated steppes. It was a tough and lonely journey then, and unlike most travels in 2004, it still is a journey through grand nothingness. Because it has always been so remote, the ruins of those ancient days lay near our modern touch now. One can still find bits of silk hundreds of years old fluttering in the sand at ruins on the old road. In 1979 the Chinese government and NHK, the Japanese TV station, teamed up to make a well-financed expedition to explore the Silk Road within the Chinese borders, and the resulting documentary remains the best orientation to what remains of that ancient route. The big surprise is the extent of Buddhism in the lands we now imagine as classically Islamic. Think of those Buddhists’ statues in Afghanistan. At times this 12-hour (!) extravagant travelogue plods as slow as a Chinese propaganda movie, and the soundtrack is inexplicably scored by the new age celebrity musician Kitaro, but Central Asia is looming on the horizon as the political hot-spot of this new century, so better get your maps out as the caravan trudges along.

– KK

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Silk Road
1990, 600 min.
$190, DVD (used)

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Posted September 22, 2004 at 3:04 am | comments
| in category History


Civilisation


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Civilization as seen through the eyes of art and architecture. While art is the narrow focus, the vista in Kenneth Clark’s view is as vast as 2,000 years of western history. The continuity of this long-view is a treat. I can’t think of any other factual video with an equal span of attention.

– KK

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Civilisation - The Complete Series
Directed by Michael Gill and Peter Montagnon
1969, 670 min.
$58, DVD (4 discs)

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Posted June 1, 2004 at 12:23 pm | comments
| in category History