The life story of Louisa May Alcott based on her writings as well as those of family, friends and associates.

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Won 27 Primetime Emmys. Another 21 wins & 60 nominations. See more awards »

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Since its premiere in 1986, this Emmy-winning documentary series has presented hundreds of hours comprising profiles of outstanding American cultural artists. Past subjects have included Charles Chaplin, Helen Hayes, pop icon Andy Warhol, singer Billie Holiday and composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein. Written by Jwelch5742

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23 June 1986 (USA)  »

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best Gershwin documentary
13 June 2006 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

A fine documentary both as a presentation of the composer's life as well as his music including many observations and opinions. It is interesting that Virgil Thomson's negative remarks are given at some length but these are expressions of envy in my opinion. I don't recall his exact remarks but they are to the effect that all of Gershwin's serious music, consists merely of strung-together show-tunes.

While I agree that the "Rhapsody in Blue" is not satisfactory as a "classical" work, it's form is too diffuse and the composer didn't really know what he was doing at this time, I think he made up for it later on and then some. (His Second Rhapsody has never had the fame of the "Rhapsody in Blue" but is, to my mind, much more satisfying as a concert work.) Mr. Thomson's contributions to the American opera may be considerable with his two Gertrude Stein collaborations but can, in no way, compete with the infinitely greater Porgy and Bess which is probably the greatest American opera of all time.

A minor quibble: Morris and Rose Gershwin did not have two older sons named "Ira" and "George" but rather "Israel" and "Jacob"; they both changed their names fairly early on.

Many of the usual "musical-documentary gang" are here including Kitty Carlisle Hart, one of the geriatrics wonders of the world. At age 95, she was, of this writing, still able to clearly express herself even taking part in the recent pledge break for PBS. (She died April 2007.) Others include the late Kay Swift, George's "girlfriend" and sometimes collaborator and the two "Michaels", Feinstein and Tilson Thomas both looking rather young here. In fact, MTT has made a specialty of the Second Rhapsody, playing and conducting it from the keyboard a la Bernstein.

Many film excerpts from "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris" are presented though there is an obvious effort to avoid showing Robert Alda as George in the first film. (Oscar Levant, George's friend and disciple who appears in both films, is shown at some length.) The music is presented in chronological order and this works very well here.


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