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The Intellectual's Top 26 Biographies on DVD or VHS

Gerard D. Launay
 
The Jesse Owens Story
The Jesse Owens Story
"This is the black athlete who broke racial barriers before Joe Louis, before Jackie Robinson.  Mr. Owens gave the world speed, grace, and dignity. As a film it touched me in ways that "Chariots of Fire" did not...although both are impressive cinematic events."
A Touch of Greatness
A Touch of Greatness
"During 1955-1965, a brilliant New York school teacher, Albert Cullum, developed revolutionary techniques to turn his 5th graders into great learners and humanists. This is the real thing - not fiction like  "The Paper Chase", "Up the Down Staircase", or "To Sir with Love."  If you prefer documentaries on education, two other favorites are "Arguing the World" (USA) and "A Small Act" (Kenya)."
American Experience: Around the World in 72 Days
American Experience: Around the World in 72 Days
"By age 25, a woman was the nation's first stunt journalist and crusading reporter. Other movies about courageous female reporters: "Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice"  - exposing widespread southern lynching of black men; Louise Brooks - documenting the Russian Revolution in "Reds"; Ruth Gruber - assisting Jewish World War II survivors enter America in "Haven."
The Agony and the Ecstasy
The Agony and the Ecstasy
"People will quibble that the movie takes liberties with the facts...yet, the epic battle of egos between the Pope and Michelangelo was real and dramatic. [Those who usually associate Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments" will be surprised how good he is in playing the greatest artist of the Renaissance]"
NOVA: Einstein's Big Idea
NOVA: Einstein's Big Idea
"Einstein's genius and his E= MC2 equation are explored in the context of the contributions of the physicists that preceded him:  Faraday for the electromagnetic theory, Maxwell for his principle of the constancy of the speed of light, Lavoisier for the idea of conservation of mass, and others. Also on the history of science - well worth watching - are "Sky Monsters" (or) "Meteors: Fire in the Sky."
Patton (Cinema Classics Collection)
Patton (Cinema Classics Collection)
"A brilliant portrayal of the American World War II general who terrorized the enemy as well as his own troops.  Another vastly intelligent military biography - "Richard Burton's Alexander the Great" - focuses on the loneliness of a ruler, the poison of power, and the substantial family conflicts of the Macedonian general."
Birdman of Alcatraz
Birdman of Alcatraz
"One of my favorite movies when I was growing up. It's a story about a man who takes life - who later in his jail experience learns to respect it. (Disclaimer: important facts have been changed from the true life history of the prisoner]. For prison biographies that involve the death penalty, choose "Dead Man Walking", "In Cold Blood", or "I Want to Live."
Beowulf
Beowulf
"If you have ever wondered what a minstrel sounded like, as he weaves his story of the epic heroes of yore...this is it!    Spellbinding oral literature on DVD?  Try "Charles Dickens Anton Lesser" with his fabulous narration of Dickens "Christmas Carol"...."Jack Aranson's Moby Dick"....and finally James Mason's reading of the horror short story  "Tell-Tale Heart" in the DVD "UPA Collection."
Gorillas in the Mist
Gorillas in the Mist
"Scientist Dian Fossey gave her life (literally) to save mountain gorillas, these especially rare and intelligent beings.  ApesRUs: "Jane Goodall's Return to Gombe" (or) "Disneynature Chimpanzee" and its "Monkey Kingdom" (or) the mini-series "Dark Days in Monkey City." Even the sci/fi - "Rise of Planet of the Apes" - underscores the similarities to our primate cousins."
Sins of Our Mothers [VHS]
Sins of Our Mothers [VHS]
"The tale of Oedipus is Greek Myth.  But a similar tragedy really took place...in 19th century New England. You can learn most of the story in a novel by Judith Rossner called "Emmeline. [This is part of the great "American Experience" series which includes "The Fatal Flood", "Emma Goldman", "Eugene O'Neill", "Murder of the Century", "New York Underground", and (of course) "Ishi - the Last Yahi."
The Great White Hope
The Great White Hope
"James Earl Jones' powerful physical performance makes us feel the triumphs and pain of the first Black heavyweight of the world - a boxer, a champion who lived his own definition of manhood despite what blacks and whites expected of him.  You must, absolutely must, compare this film with Ken Burn's outstanding documentary of the same boxer entitled "Unforgivable Blackness."
A Man for All Seasons (Special Edition)
A Man for All Seasons (Special Edition)
"Paul Scofield gives an immense performance as Sir Thomas More who would not despoil his Catholic values to appease his king Henry VIII.  Gorgeous historical dramas of other deeply spiritual dissenters of the Renaissance are the mini-series "St. Theresa of Avila" and "John Wycliffe - The Morning Star."
Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
"Mystic, nun, musician, herbalist  - Hildegard was a profound thinker during the Middle Ages centuries ahead of her time. [See it alongside "Hildegard Von Bingen in Portrait"]. One of the film's strengths is that it avoids overly sentimental treatment in the style of "The Reluctant Saint" or "Song of Bernadette." On women herbal healers, check out "Juliette of the Herbs."
Gandhi (Widescreen Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
Gandhi (Widescreen Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
"The EPIC of one of the "great souls" of modern history. On my top 10 list.  Other universal humanitarians of the twentieth century?   Consider "Eyes on the Prize"  (Martin Luther King) - on civil rights.  Also "Albert Schweitzer: Restored and Uncut" about a French professor of theology who gave up teaching to study medicine, all so that he could live among and cure the wretched poor of Africa"
Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, The (Archives of the Planet)
Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, The (Archives of the Planet)
"He was a fabulously wealthy banker and a French-Jewish visionary. During 1908 - 1931, he bankrolled a private team of photographers to travel the globe to document important, rare, or disappearing cultures, dress, and customs. His goal - encourage inter-cultural exchange and peace. Albert Kahn created the richest treasure trove of early 20th century "color" photographs the world has ever seen."
Mughal-E-Azam (1960) (Hindi Film / Bollywood Movie / Indian Cinema DVD)
Mughal-E-Azam (1960) (Hindi Film / Bollywood Movie / Indian Cinema DVD)
"No list can ignore the largest film industry in the world - Bollywood. Favorites on India - "Nagina", "Umrao Jaan", "Alaipayuthey", & "The Tiger and the Flame"  (Bollywood);  "The Namesake", "Water", "Vanaja", "Clive of India", "Bandit Queen" (drama), "Story of India" or "PBS The Buddha" (documentary), and "Lord Mountbatten - the Last Viceroy" (miniseries)."
Citizen Kane (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Citizen Kane (Two-Disc Special Edition)
"Best film ever made? Orson Welles examines the life of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and enlarges it to Shakespearean dimensions. The  theme of influencing politics by manipulating fame and scandal through the media also informs Burt Lancaster's "Sweet Smell of Success", Bela Kovacs' "Park Row", Dustin Hoffman's "Wag the Dog", and Gary Cooper's "Meet John Doe."
Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics
Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics
"The writers and artists who invented Superman, Batman, and Wonder Women and the newer voices who changed the look, texture, and inner meaning of comic books.  Provokative essays on art and the values it promotes: "Paris was a Woman,  Salt of the Earth, Empires - The Medici, Andrei Rublev, Grab a Hunk of Lightning, The Eye Has To Travel, The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl."
Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Abe Lincoln in Illinois
"One of the few movie adaptations about our best President that gets it right. Raymond Massey reveals a Lincoln who radiates quiet dignity. For a portrait as brilliant tactician, your choice should be Daniel Day Lewis as "Lincoln". Postcript: If you have ever been curious why the Gettysburg address is so profoundly moving, you must experience Charles Laughton recite it in "Ruggles of Red Gap."
The Sicilian Girl
The Sicilian Girl
"(Absolutely realistic film on the Mafia). The viewer is made to feel he or she is watching actual events unfold over time. Only two other dramas, inspired by fact, had this effect on me: "Battleship Potemkin" on a mutiny of sailors in the context of the upcoming Russian Revolution (and) "Battle of Algiers" on terrorist tactics to force the French to leave Algeria."
Gauguin: The Full Story
Gauguin: The Full Story
"This DVD might change your opinions about Gauguin - whose art was profoundly symbolic, religious, and spiritually autobiographical. The two other "must-see biopics" on the French post-impressionist painters are "Lust for Life" (Van Gogh) and John Huston's "Moulin Rouge" (Toulouse-Lautrec). Both are in gorgeous Technicolor."
Lawrence of Arabia (Restored Version) [Blu-ray]
Lawrence of Arabia (Restored Version) [Blu-ray]
"When I was 9 years old in 1962, I saw this movie on a HUGE screen...and that is how I will always remember it.  After watching this spectacular epic, study the historical context  in "PBS Lawrence of Arabia: The Battle for the Arab World."
The Complete Up Series
The Complete Up Series
"This series tracks the lives of 14 different individuals - from all class backgrounds - as seven year olds, then fourteen year olds, then each and every seven years following. It was a favorite of Roger Ebert. The director also filmed "7 Up in South Africa" and (the superb) "7 Up in the Soviet Union.""
Yoo Hoo Mrs Goldberg
Yoo Hoo Mrs Goldberg
"Most important media personality you probably know nothing about.  She invented TV family comedy before "I Love Lucy" ever existed.  This extraordinary woman wrote new episodes, directed them, and acted in these just written sitcoms each and every day.  No one in TV ever equaled that! And you can still buy her Jewish cookbook."
Inherit the Wind
Inherit the Wind
"One of the most important intellectual conflicts of the 20th century was the trial between Darwin's view of evolution and the creation story of the Bible.  Spencer Tracy (as Clarence Darrow) and Frederic March (as William Jennings Bryan) battle it out in a court of law."
The Passion of Joan of Arc (The Criterion Collection)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (The Criterion Collection)
"Astonishing use of face close-ups as a means of telling a story. Yes, watching is a religious experience.  Think of it...this exceptional movie only existed in one negative found in a mental asylum in Norway.  It is made even more compelling by the musical score added to the images - titled "Voices of Light". On many 10 top lists."