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Civilisation: The Complete Series

4.2 out of 5 stars 148 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The eminent art historian Sir Kenneth Clark was commissioned to write and present an epic examination of Western European culture, defining what he considered to be the crucial phases of its development. Civilisation: A Personal View by Lord Clark would be more than two years in the making, with filming in over 100 locations across 13 countries. The lavish series was hailed as a masterpiece when it was first transmitted in 1969.


Civilisation, A Personal View by Lord Clark, may be the definitive documentary series of the past 50 years. Aired in 1969, this ambitious British undertaking which spanned an "80,000 mile journey visiting 13 countries, 117 locations, 18 libraries, and 118 museums," not only reconfigured the public view of documentary style, but also cemented BBC Two and its new Controller, David Attenborough, in history. In watching this thirteen-episode series, one clearly sees how Attenborough, as well as narrator Kenneth Clark, pioneered the direct-gaze speaking style of the narrator along with the concept of placing the narrator in the setting he refers to. In episode one, The Skin of Our Teeth, Clark stands in front of Notre Dame to question first, if civilization worth preserving, and secondly, what the difference between art and culture is. Heavy. In subsequent episodes, cultural history is viewed through an art historical lens. Especially wonderful is The Worship of Nature, discussing 18th century England's obsession with landscape painting in relation to religious beliefs of the period. Deep philosophy colors each 50-minute segment. This DVD set includes an interview with Attenborough. Undeniably educational, Civilisation feels eternally significant, and improves with repeated viewing. --Trinie Dalton

Special Features

  • The complete series on four discs
  • Sir David Attenborough remembers the making of Civilisation
  • Photo gallery of behind-the-scenes stills
  • Specially written 36-page illustrated booklet

Product Details

  • Actors: Kenneth Clark
  • Directors: Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon
  • Format: Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: BBC Warner
  • DVD Release Date: June 27, 2006
  • Run Time: 670 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000F0UUKA
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,817 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Civilisation: The Complete Series" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charlton Griffin on July 26, 2006
Format: DVD
If you have never seen this series before and are interested in art history, you just landed in a honey jar. Clark takes us on a 1,500 year journey through Western Civilization starting roughly at the end of the Roman Empire and ending in mid 20th century. He tells us straight out that his aim was to follow the history of Western European civilization as seen through the eyes of its artists. Why the limitation to only Western European civilization? Apparently, Lord Clark wanted to keep the series to a manageable length. The series is over 13 hours long as it is, and one can only wonder what it would have gone on to become had he included the Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Asian, African and Pre-Columbian cultures. The mind boggles. With Civilisation, Clark has done an incredible job of showing us the amazing cultural legacy left by our European forebears. And at the end he reminds us that this is only a fraction of what was actually achieved. You will recognize many of these works. Others will not be so familiar. But they carry the weight of historical significance, and everyone with at least a four year college education should be aware of the general drift of Clark's presentation. He finished this program for the BBC in 1969. It was an immediate success and you can also find the book of the same name which was a popular spinoff of the series. I recommend it also. The series came along in the midst of some of the most tumultuous scenes of civic strife of the last 50 years. Against this background, Clark laid out his thesis that Western civilization has consisted of a series of catastrophes and rebirths. He indicates that our depression over the events of the twentieth century should not lead us into abandoning the cultural legacy which has been bequeathed to us.Read more ›
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Lucid, engaging, and comprehensive does not adequately describe Sir Kenneth Clark's magnificent survey into Western Civilization. For a series over 40 years old, the audio is remastered, the transfers are remarkably clean, and the content and opinions of the host hardly seem dated. Clark effectively interweaves music, art, science and architecture into a broad sweeping portrait that defines Western thought. For those critics who find Clark's praise for Western art either superficial or superfluous have probably been watching and listening to the typical PBS tripe directed to an audience with a junior high vocabulary with an attention span to match.

Clark is a splendid presenter and teacher whose enthusiasm for his work clearly shows. It's all here, from the ancient Greeks to the modern age (well actually, circa 1969 when the series was made), while "Civilization" is a wonderful introduction to the "humanities"--something that they used to teach in college, but now supplanted by courses and programs of dubious relevance and replete with politically correct content.

If you snoozed during your mandatory art or humanities courses in college or just found them as an opportunity to catch up on some other homework during lecture, let Sir Kenneth Clark explain to you why these things still matter today and help to define our culture and our lives. For slightly more than what you would pay for one class at a local community college, you can enjoy a most superlative achievement in truly "higher education."

Unlike the virtually unletterd commentators and hosts on the "History Channel" who apparently utter a profound "Wow, cool!
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In March 2001 I reviewed the VHS version of this classic. In recent years, I have lobbied for its release in the US in DVD. I joined Steve Lubetkin's blog last year to lobby the BBC, and now it is here. It is remarkable that this work of art about works of art has stood tall all these years against the plethora of programming that has sought unsuccessfully to surpass it. For all of us who know this series so well, it is not just a program; it is a document that families should pass on as necessary for a liberal education. Since it first came to America in the late '60's, nothing has married art, music, literature and a literate world view in the way Lord Clark showed us it was possible to do. That you may not share all his "personal views" is irrelevant. What matters is that what he puts before you will change and enlarge you. This must not be missed.
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"Civilisation, A Personal View" by Kenneth Clark

Created in the 1960,s, this series continues to be a classic television series for those who want to be informed and entertained by a highly, knowledgeable and respected art historian, Kenneth Clark.

Mr. Clark does assume that he is talking to a viewer, who is educated, well-read, and has passionate interest in the history, issues, and flow of western civilization from the end of ancient Rome until the 1960's. As the subtitle, "A Personal View" and his commentary makes perfectly clear, he is presenting his knowledgeable view of the history of western civilization. Drawing upon his years of study and experience, his presentations are carefully crafted to have balance as well as clearly presenting his own personal analysis and conclusions as others. It is obvious that he is not in the entertainment business, but his manner is one of a learned host who is presenting an overview of western of civilization from the point of view of its art. The breath and depth of the subject matter is excellent and is highly recommended today as it was 30 years ago.

Finally, this excellent series is now available on DVD. On the technical side, the image quality DVD is in general very good but it is unfortunate that there are some scenes that do not have the quality that this series deserves.

(At bit of trivia - One of the supporting actors in a brief scene from Hamlet is none other than Patrick Stuart.)

----------> Blu-ray Version Update (March 21, 2013)-Did NOT work. <------------------------
The DVD set of Civilisation has a number of instances where the video quality is lacking. I was looking forward to the Blu-ray disc set that is digitally restored and re-mastered.
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