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Unchained Memories (2003)

Roscoe Lee Browne , Ruby Dee  |  NR |  DVD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Roscoe Lee Browne, Ruby Dee, Latanya Richardson, Courtney B. Vance, Angela Bassett
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: September 2, 2008
  • Run Time: 75 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00007M5KT
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,930 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Unchained Memories" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Original slave narrative audio recording of Fountain Hughes
  • Biographies of the ex-slaves
  • Weblinks

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

When the Civil War ended in 1865, more than four million slaves were set free. Over 70 years later, the memories of some 2,000 slave-era survivors were transcribed and preserved by the Library of Congress. These first-person anecdotes, ranging from the brutal to the bittersweet, have been brought to vivid life in this unique HBO documentary special, featuring the on-camera voices of over a dozen top African-American actors.

The material used for this beautifully made HBO documentary dates back to the 1930s, when journalists conducted thousands of interviews with former slaves who'd been emancipated at the end of the Civil War. A selection of these faithfully transcribed "slave narratives" are vividly read (acted, really) here by a host of distinguished performers, ranging from Samuel L. Jackson to Oprah Winfrey, from Don Cheadle to Angela Bassett, with narration by Whoopi Goldberg. Since there's obviously no film available from the slave period, the producers use artfully edited photos, file footage, some atmospheric new film, and shots of the performers in action to bring the material to life. Add all of that to the DVD bonus features (text bios of individual slaves and a couple of lengthy audio segments), and you have a moving record of bitter, weary, yet resilient and quietly proud people living with memories that never would, or could, fade. --Sam Graham

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars powerful November 18, 2003
A film by Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon
This HBO documentary is a powerful film. In the 1930�s the United States government commissioned journalists to conduct interviews with those former slaves who were still living. The result was a collection of more than 16 volumes of interviews, the words of former slaves about their experiences. The interviews were transcribed with the way these men and women spoke, in their vernacular. This film is a documentary made up of actors reading some of these interviews to tell the story of slavery and what it was like for these men and women. The documentary uses photos and old video footage to augment the slave narratives. Along with the photos and video footage, we also see the actors reading the narratives, speaking in character. This film is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and features readings by: Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle, Samuel L Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Jasmine Guy, Ossie Davis, Courtney B Vance, Alfe Woodard, and others.
The strongest part of this film, as you might expect, is hearing the words of the former slaves and see photographs from that time. This is powerful, powerful stuff. What is less effective is seeing the actors read the narratives. They are perfectly in character, but seeing the actors sitting there delivering the lines is less powerful than just hearing it. Unfortunately, the film also shows the actors right before and after they read the narratives. While the actors are very moved by what they have read and they are very respectful towards the material, it takes us out of the moment and pulls back from the power of the words. This only happens a couple of times, fortunately.
I would definitely recommend this film, especially to high school and college students. This should be part of the curriculum and not be ignored or skipped over, like the subject often is. These narratives are powerful and moving. Highly recommended.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is wonderful! March 2, 2003
It is hard watching stories on this subject. It is so much pain. Sometimes, it is very uncomfortable. You think, how could someone do such things. But, this somehow, felt like listening to a story from your mother, your grandmother or sister. (Hence the narrative part lives up to its name).
As I was being educated about my ancestors, I could not help but feel pride. I felt the depts of thier pain by listening to these narratives.
These people, lived without shoes, ate very little, got whipped for the smallest of "crimes," but managed to survive, and to care for one another and to build families--if only for a little while.
I bought this DVD and will buy the book. Too bad they did not offer it in a set.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful and fulfilling experience. December 1, 2003
I recently enjoyed seeing the DVD of this documentary reading from the Slave Narratives that is in the Library of Congress. These are readings from former slaves interviewed as part of a writing project sponsored by the federal government work program in the 1930s. This is one of those gems that would have been lost if not for the misery of the Great Depression and with the initiate of Roosevelt's employment projects.
The readings are by a variety of actors each of whom give dimension to the printed words. However, much of what is in the texts was so well expressed by the former slaves that even a monotone reading would have been enlightening. My favorite is of the man who risked his life rowing run away slaves to Ohio. He began only because his first passenger was so beautiful that he forgot his fear and thought of her the whole way. From this experience, he regularly took others despite his own enslavement. Later, his experience allowed him to free himself and his family.
The language and atmosphere of the times are fully experienced in this documentary. I would wish for those with romantic ideas of the ante bellum period to view this film and read from the text instead of encasing themselves in southern sympathy novels and pseudo history books. However, I would have liked to have seen a copy of the movie minus the actors preparations for their readings. It's not a serious problem for me, but I am only curious to compare whether the flow of the film would have improved or not. It was as though the filmmaker didn't trust the audience to know how they should react and used the actors to guide the viewer. Or perhaps they wanted to show the celebrities so as to better sell the film.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Painful, Real and Touching June 18, 2003
The casting was perfect and the real emotion of the stars and readers seemed genuine. There is no greater history lesson on the birth of a country and its evolution than to hear first hand stories of an enslaved people. Well worth viewing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars voices from the past January 24, 2007
The end of the Civil War in 1865 freed about 4 million slaves in America, a significant number of whom lived into the 1940s. During the Depression, the Federal Writers Project hired people to interview and record first person narratives from these former slaves, the last first-hand resource that could document their experiences. Today the Library of Congress houses 2,000 such interviews, in their original "dialect" and broken English, in the simply-titled Slave Narratives. This film uses original still photographs, contemporary re-enactments, slave music, a running commentary by Whoopi Goldberg, and, most notably and thus the film's title, dramatic readings of those original slave narratives by contemporary African-American actors and actresses like Oprah Winfrey. In just over an hour you learn about the daily horrors of slave life from those who lived to tell of it--relentless work, horrendous housing and diet, the denial of education, sexual violence, and how the "masters" used Christianity to keep their slaves passive. This is a deeply moving film about our nation's very recent past. I recommend watching it in conjunction with the seven-part PBS documentary on the civil rights movement called Eyes on the Prize.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Testimoney!
Can't even find the words to describe this. Trials, tragedy & triumphant wrap up in one. I love being a part of such a great history.
Published 6 months ago by CARMEL CLARKE
5.0 out of 5 stars A teacher's essential tool
When teaching the painful past of savers this film opens up the opportunity to hear the stories from those who experienced it. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Kristine Courtial
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked this documentry
Unchained Memories provides an accurate description of slavery. I was lectured by a professor who conducted some of the interviews.
Published 19 months ago by John Truesdell, Jr
5.0 out of 5 stars Unchained Memories
Excellent documentary about slavery, first-hand, from the mouths of slaves who survived, and lived to tell about it. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Anna-Lisa
5.0 out of 5 stars must see
primary source documentation of the horrors of slavery and the courage and resourcefulness of the people who survived it. Read more
Published 20 months ago by mike wormsley
5.0 out of 5 stars Unchained Memories
This was an excellent documentary that takes you into the world of the Civil war-era slave--their joys, their trials, their suffering. Read more
Published on August 22, 2012 by RA
5.0 out of 5 stars Voice Actors Bring These Stories To Life
When this HBO documentary was first released in 2003, I had already been using Julius Lester's book "To Be a Slave" for nearly twenty years in my sophomore English classroom. Read more
Published on April 21, 2012 by Steve Vrana
4.0 out of 5 stars Often powerful and moving documentary
Various wonderful actors, from Samuel Jackson to Ruby Dee read the
actual transcripts of former slaves' memories of their experiences, as
recorded by the Library of... Read more
Published on March 8, 2012 by K. Gordon
5.0 out of 5 stars BUY IT TODAY!
The most amazing moment is watching the actors as they take on the various characters, as they begin to channel the voice they have been chosen to represent. Read more
Published on February 19, 2012 by Marilyn Parry
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Video!
This is a great DVD! I used it in my African-American Studies class and it really drove home what slavery was like for my students.
Published on April 3, 2011 by R. H. Teach
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