American Experience’s four-hour miniseries, “The Circus,”tells the story of one of the most popular and influential forms of entertainment in American history.
Through the intertwined stories of several of the most innovative and influential impresarios of the late nineteenth century, this series reveals the circus was a uniquely American entertainment form created by a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation; that it embraced and was made possible by Western imperialism; that its history was shaped by a tension between its unconventional entertainment and prevailing standards of respectability; and that its promise for ordinary people was the possibility for personal reinvention.
For many Americans, the circus embodied the improbable and the impossible, the exotic and the spectacular.
Drawing upon a vast and richly visual archive and featuring a host of performers, historians, and aficionados, “The Circus” follows the rise and fall of the gigantic, traveling tented railroad circus and brings to life an era when Circus Day would shut down a town and its stars were among the most famous people in the country.
Documentary is eerily pertinent in light of today’s immigration crisis.
On July 17, 1917, 1,200 miners of mostly Eastern-European and Mexican descent were rounded up by a group of 2,000 armed and deputized citizens and forced out of the small town of Bisbee, Arizona for striking against Phelps Dodge.
The roundup, organized by Phelps Dodge, the American mining company that owned the copper mines in the town, had the miners transported to the New Mexico desert in cattle cars and left them stranded with no provisions and threats against returning to Bisbee.
Bisbee, located seven miles north of the Mexican border, is filled with old mines (the last of which was shut down in 1975) that made the town one of the richest in the state during the World War I era.
It also serves as the subject of Robert Greene’s Sundance-premiered documentary “Bisbee ‘17.” Greene traveled to the town on the centennial of the deportation to revisit part of the town’s history that is rarely, if ever, talked about.
Interviews with town residents, shots of the town, its landscape, and the huge copper mine that was turned into a tourist attraction in the 1970s, along with footage of town-wide preparations to reenact the events, are mixed together to tell the story of this border town and its forgotten ethnic cleansing.
“The Chinese Exclusion Act,” premiering tonight as part of PBS’s “American Experience,” was in the works well before the election of Donald Trump. But it feels as if it were made for a moment when border walls and immigration controls are topics of daily conversation.
Directed by the PBS stalwart Ric Burns and his longtime collaborator Li-Shin Yu, the documentary is centered on the 1882 act of the title, the first American law to restrict the immigration of a particular ethnic group and ban its members from citizenship.
Throughout the film, the contemporary parallels smack you in the face. Chinese laborers, imported to build the western side of the transcontinental railroad, are seen as a threat when the railroad is finished and the post-Civil War depression of the 1870s drives up white unemployment. A presidential candidate (Rutherford B. Hayes) exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment loses the popular vote but wins the electoral vote. Principled opposition to a citizenship ban (mostly from Republicans) is finally outweighed by the need to court Southern lawmakers readmitted to Congress after Reconstruction.
It seems like nary a month goes by without some new Kennedy content being sent out into the world; we’ve heard just about everything there is to know about John, Jackie, and even Ted.
Now, as the 50-year anniversary of his assassination approaches, Netflix puts the spotlight on Robert F. Kennedy and brings us “Bobby Kennedy for President,” a docuseries chronicling the career of the would-be president whose life was tragically cut short.
Combining archival footage with high-profile interviews, director Dawn Porter does something truly special with the four-part documentary series.
Rather than attempting to encapsulate Kennedy’s entire life in extreme detail, she wisely hones in on only the essentials and his career as U.S. Attorney General through his short-lived run for president in 1968.