Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Simple Gifts

A Boxed-set Review

The tune from the old Shaker hymn 'Simple Gifts', as incorporated into Aaron Coplands 'Appalachian Spring' is used as the theme of The Edward R. Murrow Collection. This selection is appropriate not only because it was the theme music for the last news program that Murrow worked on, CBS Reports, but because the phrase 'simple gifts' amply captures the straight forward talents and uncomplecated style that helped make Murrow such a good, and now legendary reporter. This legend has been recently enhanced by George Clooneys solid film Good Night and Good Luck, which is what inspired me to view this boxed-set.

The Edward R. Murrow Collection I viewed is simply the DVD transfer of a mid-90's VHS set of the same title, it consestes of 4 discs. The first Disc is hosted by the late Charles Kuralt and contains a two-part PBS documentary from the early 90's on Murrow and his legacy. This first disc provides good background for the other DVD's but also kind of spoils them as it contains clips of some of their best moments. Disc two hosted by Mike Wallace is the best of See It Now, Murrows groundbreaking 50's evening news program, of special interest on this disc are interviews with Grandma Moses and Louie Armstrong.

Disc Three is the real meat of the set if you where fascinated by the Murrow/McCarthy feud chronicled in Good Night, and Good Luck. Hosted by Walter Cronkiet this disc contains segments from and several complete episodes of See It Now that dealt with the unreputable Joe McCarthy. This includes the Senators lengthy response to Murrows claims and the famed broadcasters rebuttal to McCarthys counter-charges. Interestingly McCarthys speech on the program has the man coming off as ego-centric but not entirely uninformed, Murrow however calmly undoes anything his advisary may have accomplished with his half-hour on air in only a matter of minutes.

The Final disc (hosted by Dan Rather) contains the powerful documentary Harvest of Shame that aired on CBS Reports at Thanksgiving 1960, just a few months before Murrow left the network to head the US Information Agency for the Kennedy Administration. This look at the plight of migrant works still stings as sadly little has changed. On the whole not a set for great entertainment, but informative and enlightening, as well as one of the few chances you'll probably ever get to watch vintage 50's news broadcasts in some detail.


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