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American Experience: John Brown's Holy War
American Experience John Brown's Holy War
Actor: Joe Morton
Director: Robert Kenner
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2005     1hr 30min


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Movie Details

Actor: Joe Morton
Director: Robert Kenner
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Biography
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 01/31/2005
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Alfred Johnson | boston, ma | 03/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"From fairly early in my youth I knew the name John Brown and was swept up by the romance surrounding his exploits at Harpers Ferry. For example, I knew that the great anthem of the Civil War -The Battle Hymn of the Republic- had a prior existence as a tribute to John Brown and that Union soldiers marched to that song as they headed south. I was then, however, neither familiar with the import of his exploits for the black liberation struggle nor knew much about the specifics of the politics of the various tendencies in the struggle against slavery. I certainly knew nothing then of Brown's (and his sons) prior military exploits in the Kansas `proxy' wars against the expansion of slavery. Later study filled in some of those gaps and has only strengthened my strong bond with his memory. Know this, as I reach the age at which John Brown was executed I still retain my youthful admiration for him. In the context of the turmoil of the times he was the most courageous and audacious revolutionary in the struggle for the abolition of slavery in America. Almost 150 years after his death this writer is proud to stand in the tradition of John Brown.

This documentary, for friend and foe alike, brings out the main issues of John Brown's personal life and the political turmoil of his times. As usual in such endeavors the producers attempt to give an even-handed account by bringing in historians and others from many perspectives. And that is fine, especially for defenders of Brown, in these times when many right-wing tendencies have tried to invoke his name for their unworthy causes and the term 'terrorist' is freely bantered about. In a sense this documentary, unintentionally I am sure, bringS him back to his proper place as an avenging angel for the progress of humankind.

And what of the issues of Brown's life and times. The documentary covers it all pretty well; his Calvinist upbringing and early abhorrence of slavery, including serving as a stationmaster in the Underground Railroad; his failures in various business ventures; his `monomaniacal' view that slavery must be abolished, arms in hand; his guerilla fights in defense of Free-State Kansas, including the controversial murders of some pro-slavery forces there; his strategic and tactical military errors at Harpers Ferry; his stoic and resolute demeanor in face of his execution; and, of course, his subsequent legend. For those not familiar with John Brown this is a quick primer which should be supplemented with some reading. There are an abundant number of books on his life to learn more.
Good context
Privacy Hawk | Rochester, NY USA | 04/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I often borrowed this video to use in my U.S. History courses at nearby colleges, and finally decided I should own it. I have some quibbles with its presentation, both in terms of production and scripting, but it never fails to ignite some discussion in class.
Brown's personal history is presented at length, reaching all the way back to his childhood on the Jacksonian frontier. With all the time taken telling stories about his failed businesses, experiences with escaped slaves, and his psychological angst, one would have expected a bit more about Jacksonian America... but again, I quibble. One of the strengths is adjacent to this flaw... it allows a glimpse into the isolation and poverty that formed his world view.
The middle section is filled with what amounts to personal anecdotes, which may cause a lapse of attention for many students and those less familiar with the figures and events. As a matter of pacing, this section seems to plod. Not a problem for me, mind you, but younger people lose focus-- sadly. The actual strife in Kansas and Harpers Ferry are quite well presented. The conclusions are aptly enough focused on assessing Brown as a leader, his importance in the abolitionist movement, the runup to the Civil War, and finally a discussion of his mental state. All worth thinking about.
As cinema, this has rough edges, I think. As pure history it has some holes. But overall I think this is very useful as a window into a time that many find difficult to understand."
The American Experience
Spencer Swindler | Harrisburg, NC | 01/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This DVD comes so highly recommended because it looks at John Brown from so many perspectives. Whether you love, like, dislike, or hate John Brown you will enjoy watching this documentary. If you are interested in 19th century American History, war, religion, or just enjoy biographies it doesn't get much better than this."