American Experience: War of the Worlds
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What really grated on me, though, were the amateurish recreations of listeners reporting their experiences. These are shot in distressed black and white (like "News On The March" footage), but you know instantly that they're contemporary, over-the-top, rather dinner-theatre-ish performances (with one exception at the end), not remotely convincing as period footage. This is in lamentable contrast to the event being celebrated, in which actors like Frank Readick and Ray Collins really managed to sound like non-actors, to sensational effect.
The film is well done. I especially appreciated all the old film footage and still photographs. However, I did not much care for the actors who read letters written at the time, though they all did a fine job. In my view, simple voice-overs would have been equally effective, if not more so. Despite that, the film offers a great deal of information regarding a signal event in broadcast history. It is also an important part of the story of the man who would go on to create one of the most influential movies of all time, Citizen Kane.
This was not the only radio dramatization of "The War of the Worlds," there are others not mentioned on the DVD. The more infamous example was the broadcast during February, 1949 in Quito, Ecuador. It created a mass panic among the citizens of Quito! When they learned that it was a radio play, they were not amused.
Reportedly a mob formed and a riot broke out. The building where the radio station was located in was set on fire. Tragically, a few people were killed as a result. For more information about this incident, you might enter terms like Quito, "War of the Worlds, and "radio hoax" into the search engine of your choice.
I watched this PBS AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary on Tuesday, October 29, 2013, on Washington, D.C. affiliate WETA - the eve of the 75th Anniversary of the original broadcast on the Columbia Broadcasting System (not "Service," as the documentary claims). I received the DVD on November 1, 2013.
The documentary is a fine behind-the-scenes look at the documentary and the panic it caused. There are interviews with Welles' daughter, Chris Welles Feder, director Peter Bogdanovich, and several others, along with recreations, played by actors, of reactions of people who heard the broadcast.
Not much in the way of extras, except for a few outtakes, a brief "making-of" segment, and some of the letters written to Welles.
A good documentary, though I think 2 hours would have given it justice.
The program includes dramatizations of comments sent in by listeners at the time. These are somewhat interesting since they are first-person accounts from people who were seriously frightened by the radio show. The presentation is a little strange since they are shot as interviews in period dress, on a period-furnished set. I was a bit confused at first until I realized that they had to be present-day actors. Some of them chew the scenery a bit, which seems over the top. I guess not even PBS is immune from the pressure to put these staged re-enactments into documentaries that in former days would only use historical material.
Overall, though, this is still worth watching if you are interested in this episode and/or Orson Welles.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This documentary evokes quite effectively the crazed atmosphere associated with the broadcast of "War of the Worlds" in 1938. The episode is quite fascinating. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Stephen J. Whitfield
Wriiten from survivors years ago and THE last survivor. It also breaks it down and uses some of the original script. Wonderful!!Published 17 months ago by Bones Kelley-McCoy
We bought this after watching this on P B S. We enjoyed it so much we decided we needed to own it.Published 22 months ago by Charlene
This is based on the broadcast, but applies to the DVD, also. The rogram has a quick scroll of newspaper articles about public reaction to the broadcast. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Pig Pickens
A superb way of getting at one of the 20th centuries most important moments in terms of mass media. Very well done.Published 23 months ago by R. Browning