The Greatest Story Ever Sold

If you enjoyed the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, then you’ll like his latest DVD, POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Since fewer people are watching commercials these days, advertisers have had to get more creative in advertising their products. One of common techniques used is product placement in movies and television.  In this entertaining DVD Spurlock attempts to make a movie about product placement funded solely by companies using product placement in his movie!. It is a humorous, yet informative look at how advertising affects movies and TV without us even being aware of it much of the time. Spurlock takes the viewer through the entire process of making his movie:  the initial steps of trying to get companies as sponsors, consulting lawyers, meeting with corporate executives, creating promotional materials for his movie, etc. Along the way, he interviews a number of different people in the business to get their opinions on how/if movie makers are selling themselves out to advertisers. I found myself chuckling at many different blatant and often ridiculous product placements in the movie .Plus, Spurlock gives a great picture of the contractual obligations movie makers enter into when they sign on for product placement. For instance, Spurlock must now agree to stay in a certain hotel chain, drink only his sponsor’s drink on camera, do an interview on a specific airline, wear sponsors’ clothing, and even take a bath with a pony. Although the viewer gets the feeling Spurlock does not agree with this type of advertising, he remains fairly objective throughout and respectful to those he interviews and with whom he meets.

 

Single-Handed 2

>Set in the stark and breathtakingly beautiful Connemara area of Ireland, this DVD set continues the story of Jack Driscoll, Sergeant in the local Garda. As one of two policemen in the remote and rural area, Jack is enmeshed in the events of the local community and his work and private lives are intertwined. He is following in his fathers footsteps as the local garda, but is constantly trying to distance himself from the corruption and influence that his father wielded in the community. Jack has grown up in this community and knows the local residents and their families well, making it more difficult for him to investigate crimes.  Intelligently written and with compelling stories and complex characters, this police drama differs from many others as it lacks car chases and shootings, instead emphasizing relationships and the dark undercurrents in the community. This set contains 3 2-part stories, all with plot twists and turns, and with excellent acting by the cast. Single-Handed 2 is an engrossing drama about a man trying to maintain his honor when surrounded by corruption–an excellent drama from Irish television. MPL also has the first episodes of Single-Handed available.

A Century of Memories: The RMS Titanic

>By Marcia Allen
Technical Services & Collections Manager

    She was the pride of the White Star Line.  Built over the course of two years in the shipyards of Belfast, the RMS Titanic was not only the largest ship afloat at the time, but she was also labeled “unsinkable,” due partly to her watertight compartments. On her maiden voyage she carried a wide mix of passengers: steerage quarters were filled with new immigrants, and upper levels hosted the wealthy and famous.  She sailed on April 10, 1912 and ran into disaster in the North Atlantic in the late hours of April 15, 1912.  While her initial collision with an iceberg was not considered lethal, the fact that some five of her 16 airtight compartments were compromised proved fatal.   In a little over two hours, the ship foundered and sank, leaving some 1500 people of over 2200 passengers to perish in the icy sea.
    This month marks the 100th anniversary of that terrible tragedy.  For those who curious to learn more, there are countless resources available designed to inform about the ship’s specifications, the passenger lists, and the even the resulting courtroom investigations. We can read of survivor testimonials and burial sites for the unfortunate, as well as efforts to salvage the wreckage.
    Of course, Walter Lord’s 1955 fascinating book, entitled A Night to Remember, remains a classic.  Lord’s account follows the passengers and the crew as each faced the disaster in his or her own fashion. Destined to become a film of the same name, this story remains among the more famous of the retellings.
    Dr. Robert Ballard is considered a scientific authority on the event, given his expertise in locating and exploring the wreckage.  With the aid of a small robotic submarine, Ballard was able to locate the debris field that others had been unable to pinpoint for so long.  Titanic Revealed, a haunting dvd documentary, recalls Ballard’s original discovery.  Ballard also assembled an excellent picture book of photographs taken during his exploration.  Called Titanic: The Last Great Images, the book offers us eerie glimpses of the crusted bow and the battered remains of children’s shoes found on the ocean floor.  The book also offers period photos taken both during the ship’s construction and as she departed.
    Another beautifully arranged book of photographs, Titanic: An Illustrated History, involves the work of author Don Lynch.  Among other highlights, Lynch presents a foldout of the ship’s layout and interior shots of the first class staircase, the second-class public rooms and the third-class dining room.  The book also supplies a valuable overview of the tragedy as it unfolded.  Readers can even see the position of various lifeboats over the course of the sinking.
    For those who seek a more personal look at the tragedy, Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage seems the perfect book.  Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Shelia Jemima assembled this fine collection of letters, photos and testimonials.  Of particular interest are the personal recollections supplied by the many survivors and the heartbreaking photographs of various memorials, such as the White Star Company’s church service in Southampton.
    For those who wish to do more reading on the event, Stephanie Barczewski’s Titanic: A Night Remembered includes detailed biographies of some of the dead.  Among them are the ship’s captain, Edward Smith, and band member Wallace Hartley, who played music to the end.
And Brad Matsen, author of Titanic’s Last Secrets, adds more to what we know by retelling the explorations of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, who not only investigated the wreckage of the Titanic, but also the remains of the Britannic. 
     Interested in one of this year’s titles?  Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson is one of the finer offerings.  Wilson’s take is unique, however, in that he conveys the dismal lives of the survivors after the collision. So many suffered from what we now recognize as survivors’ guilt.   For example, Madeleine Astor, widow of John Jacob Astor, went on to marry several more times and eventually lost her portion of the Astor fortune.  Duff Gordon, one of the many wealthy, never overcame rumors that he had paid lifeboat rowers to ignore those struggling in the icy waters.
     Reflection on the fate of the Titanic leads to thoughts on the nature of heroism, vulnerability, and randomness of chance.  The library has an excellent collection of titles that can offer you more about that fateful trip aboard the pride of the White Star Line.  

The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest

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Wildest Dream tells the story of George Mallory and his quest to climb Mt. Everest. In the early 1900′s, Mallory took part in three expeditions to attempt to summit the highest mountain in the world. On his third attempt in 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner Sandy Irvine both disappeared, their last known location only a few hundred meters from the summit. In 1999, mountaineer Conrad Anker and his team of climbers discovered the body of Mallory, with his personal effects remaining intact in his pack. The body was located where Mallory appeared to suffer a fall, broke a leg and froze to death. Irvine’s body has never been located. The only item missing from Mallory’s effects is a photograph of his wife, which he promised to leave on the summit of the mountain. Anker’s life becomes entwined with the legend of Mallory as he tries to re-create Mallory’s climb in order to see if it was possible that Mallory could have reached the summit. He and his partner Leo Houlding go to the extreme of removing a ladder installed in the 1970′s at the second step to the summit and free-climbing that portion of the mountain on the route that Mallory would have taken. This DVD alternates between original footage of Mallory’s expedition and following Anker’s harrowing climb up to the summit of Everest.The story is enhanced by readings from letters sent between Mallory and his wife Ruth. Was Mallory the first to summit Everest? The mystery may never be resolved, but this exciting DVD offers many insights into the psyche of mountaineers as well as into man and the legend that is George Mallory.

The Cure for the Downton Abbey Blues

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by Susan Withee
Adult Services Manager

If you’re one of the millions of viewers of the PBS Masterpiece series Downton Abbey, no doubt you’re feeling the first pangs of loss on the brink of tonight’s second-season finale.  Downton Abbey is an award-winning, lavishly-detailed period production and costume drama which has a stellar cast and a legion of fans.  The series’ first season opens in Edwardian England in 1912 at Downton Abbey, a stately English country house, and follow the lives of the wealthy Crawley family and their servants as the clouds of World War I loom and break.   Season two takes the story through the upheaval and tragedy of the war back to peacetime, but to a world where personal relationships, social structures, and politics have all been irrevocably altered.  Although season three is in production, scheduled to air first in Britain in autumn 2012 and later in the U.S, the coming months will be a long, long wait for diehard fans.  But it’s my happy task to tell you that Manhattan Public Library has plenty of diversions to help get you through the coming Downton-Abbey-less months. 
Firstly, if you’ve missed out on the series so far, you have plenty of time to catch up, starting with Downton Abbey’s first season on DVD and moving on to season two, both now at Manhattan Public Library.  There is also a companion book to the series, The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, filled with photographs and illustrations, production sketches and research.   Downton Abbey was filmed at Highclere Castle, the real-life ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon, and screenwriter Julian Fellowes drew inspiration from the history of the great home and the life of Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon during the same time period.  Read more about the Almina’s life and times and the history of the castle, including its use as a wartime hospital, in Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: the Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona, current Countess Carnarvon.  Downton Abbey fans can also check out Below Stairs: the Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell, a book which rocketed to best-seller status in the UK following the airing of Downton Abbey.          
While you’re waiting for DA season three, why not revisit that other classic PBS series focusing on the intertwined lives of the upper class and the servant class, Upstairs, Downstairs?  The library has all five seasons of the series, which originally aired in the 1970s and enjoyed an audience of nearly one billion viewers in over 40 countries.  Also set during the Edwardian Age, Upstairs, Downstairs takes place in a large London townhouse, home to the wealthy Bellamy family.  In its entirety, the combined seasons of this series offer an intimate view of the lives of both masters and servants from 1903 to 1930, as well as a panoramic overview of the social and technological changes taking place during those years.

    For a different and highly-entertaining twist on life in a great English country house, check out the 2001 Robert Altman film, mystery-drama-comedy Gosford Park.  This time landed gentry, their upstairs guests, and the downstairs servants gather for a “shooting party” in 1932 and are joined by members of the local village police constabulary as mayhem, drama, and high-jinks ensue.  In addition to the interdependence of privileged and servant classes, the film subtly explores changing sexual mores of the time and the impact of the First World War.  With a script by Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, the film features a large ensemble cast that includes the indomitable Maggie Smith as well as Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi, Clive Owen, Alan Bates, and others.
Or look for Flambards, another great series on DVD at the library, which was based on the novels of  K. M. Peyton and originally aired on PBS in 1980.  Orphaned heiress Christina Parsons is sent to live with her tyrannical, bitter Uncle Russel and his two sons at their neglected and decaying country estate, Flambards. Speculation is that Russell plans to marry her to brutal, fox-hunting-obsessed son Mark and then use her inheritance to restore Flambards and the family’s finances.   Christina, however, befriends second son, William, who is involved with early experiments in flight, hoping to become an aviator. 
    And finally, treat yourself to John Galsworthy’s absorbing, monumental work (in print or on DVD), The Forsyte Saga, which chronicles the lives and trials of generations of the upper-middle-class Forsyte family from 1906 into the 1920s.      

Life in a Day

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Filmmakers Ridley Scott & Kevin MacDonald combined and edited more than 80,000 videos submitted from people in 192 countries to tell the story of what life was like in the world on July 24th, 2010.  The film is a delightful mixture of the day-to-day with momentous occasions in the lives of individuals.  It is so powerful to watch morning rituals, one after another, as we do them differently in different places.  We also get to share such occasions as a teenager learning to shave with his dad and a family working together with the struggles of cancer.  As in real life, it’s not always easy to watch, but  Life in a Day kept me glued to the screen with fascination as I laughed, cried, and delighted in a world where we know each other a little better. 

Ides of March

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The release of this film in an election year provokes thought about our election system–the finances, the deals, the behind the scenes negotiations that candidates can be involved in along the way to winning an election. Stephen Meters (Ryan Gosling) is an idealistic  campaign worker for presidential candidate Gov. Morris (played by George Clooney)–a man with values and goals that Meter can believe in. As the campaign for the primary in Ohio goes on, deals are made and scandal is uncovered, leaving Meter disillusioned and cynical. Not an action movie, this drama concentrates on the flawed mechanisms of our political system, with excellent performances by Gosling and Clooney (who also directed the film) as well as Philp Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. The Ides of March is a film about politics but also about the people involved and how they are changed by the process of campaigning for election. The film has been nominated for an Academy Award for the Screenplay and was nominated for several Golden Globe Awards–Lead Actor for Ryan Gosling, Best Director for George Clooney and for Best Dramatic Film.

Buck

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Buck Brannaman spends his life traveling throughout the U.S. teaching people to communicate with their horses.  A consultant on The Horse Whisperer, Brannaman has a quiet way of calming horses and showing them what is expected of them.  In the inspiring documentary Buck we get to follow his story as he grows from an abused child to a man who’s lessons touch the lives of horses and the people who ride them.

Thanksgiving Has a Tasty History to Feast On

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            The fallholiday season is upon us, with Halloween past and Thanksgiving coming up.  I like Thanksgiving; for a holiday, it’sstraightforward and uncomplicated.  Simplyput, we take time off from our daily preoccupations to recognize and givethanks for our blessings.  Compared tosome other holidays (I’m talking about you, Christmas!), it’s relatively freeof the labor-intensive traditions, frenetic activities, and crippling expendituresthat can get in the way of enjoyment, not to mention spiritual gratification.  Granted, Thanksgiving can be trying in itsown way.  When organizing festive familygatherings, there’s always a risk of logistical chaos and inter-personal drama,and, what with prodigious food preparation and consumption followed by hours ofdigestive recovery and kitchen clean-up, it can all overwhelm and exhaust.  But the day can also be celebrated with asimple shared meal, quiet reflection and rest, even solitude or a privategetaway, and when it all comes together well, Thanksgiving can be personallymeaningful and spiritually strengthening.
            The storyof the first Thanksgiving does have its own traditional baggage, though, a mythologyrooted in history but grown over the centuries to barely resemble the actualevents.  It’s a reassuring and cherishedstory, but, as is nearly always the case with history, the truth turns out tobe far more complicated and vastly more interesting than the myth.  This year, as part of your celebration of theseason, pick up one of the following books that illuminate the real story ofthe Mayflower Pilgrims and expand our understanding of our country’scomplicated, fascinating history. 
            Mayflower:a story of courage, community, and war by Nathaniel Philbrick details thehistory of the Pilgrims as Separatists in Englandand as religious refugees in Holland, thenfollows their voyage on the Mayflower, chronicles the settlement and earlyyears of the Plymouthcolony, and examines relations between European settlers and  Native Americans.  Philbrick adds depth to what we know offamiliar historical figures like William Bradford, Chief Massasoit, Squanto, MilesStandish, Priscilla Mullins, John Alden, Edward Winslow, and numerous secondarycharacters, revealing unexpected and surprising historical details.      
            In Makinghaste from Babylon:the Mayflower Pilgrims and their world, another richly-detailed historicoverview, author and Englishman Nick Bunker writes about the Mayflower Pilgrimsas Englishmen themselves and places them in the context of the political worldin which they lived.  An exhaustivelydetailed recounting of the first years of settlement, this book, according toPublishers Weekly, “scoops up every relevantcharacter and links all to the basic tale of indomitable courage, religiousfaith, commercial ambition, international rivalry, and domestic politics.”  
            If you onlyhave time for a short read and want a more condensed recounting of the story ofthe Mayflower Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, Glenn Alan Cheney has hitthe high points and given a broad overview in his well-researched and organizedhistory of 1620-1621, Thanksgiving: the Pilgrims’ first year in America.  An easily-read and enjoyable page-turner, it isnevertheless written in evocative, descriptive prose.  As one reviewer said, the book is “full of surprising information, and sympathetic to thehumanity of all the participants.” 
            TheMayflower Papers: selected writings of colonial New England edited by Nathanieland Thomas Philbrick is a compilation of 17th century primary sourcematerial about the Pilgrims, the Mayflower voyage, and the founding of the Plymouth colony.  It contains Of Plymouth Plantation byGovernor William Bradford, the seminal first-person account of the founding ofthe settlement.  Written in theElizabethan English of the times, it is not easy reading but is a detailed,emotional recounting of an enterprise that took immense courage, devotion, andfortitude.  In addition, this anthologycontains Mourt’s Relation, an account of the colony’s first year in New England which relates the celebration of the firstThanksgiving in autumn 1621, and Good News from New England, a continuation of the history, both byEdward Winslow. 
            The Timesof Their Lives: life, love, and death in Plymouth Colony by leading Plymouth archaeologist JamesDeetz is a social history that is especially strong in its descriptions of thedaily lives and society of the colony. Drawing on the archaeological evidence, it touches on crime, food, sex,legalities, and material culture, and upends many of our misconceptions aboutPilgrim society.  
            Twooutstanding video documentaries of the Mayflower journey, Plymouthsettlement, and the first Thanksgiving are: Desperate crossing: the untold story of the Mayflower, an A&Epresentation from 2007; and We shall remain: America through native eyes :D isc 1 Massasoit, part of a 2009 PBS series.

by Susan Withee, Adult Services Manager

Single-Handed

>If you are looking for a decidedly different police drama, look no further than the DVD set Single-Handed. The three episodes tell the story of Jack Driscoll, who has returned to western Ireland to take over the rural police district from his father. Their style of policing is very different, although both recognize the fact that the police fill a different role in a rural setting than in an urban area. Jack still must deal with all of the vices in his small home town that were present in Dublin. The community is filled with secrets, mysteries and mistrust of authority, making it difficult for Jack to solve crimes. The acting is superb and the stories unfold in scenery that is spectacularly beautiful, in stark contrast with the dark stories being told. This is an excellent series!

Horatio Hornblower

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Take to the high seas with the British Navy and our brave hero Horatio Hornblower.  Based on the books by C.S. Forester, this film series created by A&E will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Join Horatio as he navigates the alliances and feuds among his fellow officers, faces the enemy, and rises through the ranks, all while being incredibly dashing and clever.  Full of adventure, this series is a rousing good time.

Dear Frankie

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Although it hasn’t been easy, Lizzie has maintained a safe and loving life for her son, Frankie, and her mother. After having responded to her son’s numerous letters in the guise of his father, she discovers that Frankie is expecting to meet him in person very soon. She hires a stranger to pose as his father, changing all of their lives in ways they never could have predicted. Dear Frankie is a beautiful, intense, and uplifting film.

The Bread, My Sweet

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I must confess that I originally picked up The Bread, My Sweet because, like many girls alive in the late 70’s, I still haven’t recovered from my crush on Chachi. I figured, at the very least, it would be an entertaining flick. It turned out, however, to be so much more. It has some of the same features of your typical romance. Dominic Pyzola makes good money as a corporate raider, but his true love is his Italian bakery where he makes amazing pastries with his brothers. The upstairs neighbors, Bella and Massimo, take care of them and keep them in line. When Dominic discovers Bella is sick, he is willing to do anything to make her happy, including marrying her wandering daughter Lucca. The Bread, My Sweet is a beautiful film filled with family, love, and amazing food.

Sherlock

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BBC is well known for creating quality entertainment and Sherlock is no exception. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson, this new adaptation is set in modern-day London, managing to maintain the familiar details from Doyle’s book while adding a modern atmosphere. Prepare for yourself for a fast-paced thrill with a British wit.

Doctor Who

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Interested in time travel and exploring the galaxy? Check out the DVD series Doctor Who. This adventure and humor-filled series from BBC was revived in 2005 after the first series was shown on British television from 1963 to 1989. The Doctor travels through time and space in his ship the Tardis–a blue police box–exploring new worlds and saving the Earth from alien threats. His travelling companions from Earth, beginning with Rose, are curious and adventuresome and offer the Doctor insights into human feelings and relationships. The Doctor delights in showing them the wonders of the universe. The Doctor’s character is fascinating–humor, excitement and frenetic intelligence are combined with bravery and wisdom. The element of time travels offers the characters the opportunity to interact with the likes of Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie. The show has won many British television awards and is currently in it’s 6th season on the BBC. Seasons 1 through 5 are available for check out at Manhattan Public Library. Other delightful BBC series available include Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen.