Search - Chicago - City of the Century on DVD

Chicago - City of the Century
Chicago - City of the Century
Actor: Artist Not Provided
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2003     4hr 30min

Chicago: City of the Century tells how in just 60 years Chicago grew from a remote, swampy frontier town into one of the most explosively alive cities in the world. It's the story of the wealthy and the indigent, the heral...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Artist Not Provided
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: PBS Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 06/03/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/2003
Theatrical Release Date: 00/00/2003
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 4hr 30min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Great Doc, But Chicago Is About More than The Labor Movement
Patrick A. Hayden | Arlington, VA United States | 04/23/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"PBS's "Chicago, City of the Century" is most informative in it's first and second discs, as it tracks the growth of the city from trading outpost to major metropolis in just 30-odd years. I'm a Chicago native, have made frequent visits to the Chicago Historical Society, and I was constantly amazed at the sheer volumne of fascniating stories featured in the doc. Most interesting is the rise of the stockyards, how rail made Chicago into the biggest city in what was then still consider the "west", and the growth of labor unrest. Up through the econd disc, the filmmakers weave a story of immigration, innovation, entreprenureal genius and social unrest that explodes at the end of the second disc with the Haymarket Riot. Up until this point, the documentary has been chugging along.Then, the third disc, which spends it's entire 90 minute length on a period of about 5 years, and deals almose exlusively with labor issues, and sloughs off the great architectual achievements of those final years. The first hour is basically dedicated to the labor reforms going on in the city, the riots, the unrest. While the plutocrat vs. common man theme is compelling, the story of Chicago is indeed greater than that, and that greater story is lost as the filmmakers try to tie every event in Chicago to the labor movement. These leads to an utterly dissapointing final 30 minutes, which mostly deal with the Columbian World's Fair of 1893. Perhaps it's because I watched this documentary after finishing "The Devil in the White City", an authoritative volume on the fair, but the documentary gets much of the fair's history incorrect, especially the history of it's builders. The smaller stories that make the whole enterprise of the fair so fascinating are glazed over to accommadate the agenda of the doc, which is to make it all about labor. For one prime example, the documentary states that architect Louis Sullivan was a prime mover in getting the fair to Chicago. This is simply untrue. Lester Burnham and John Root were. Sullivan hated the fair and it's architecture. He was alone in this assessment. Also, in an attempt to tie the fair into the larger capital/labor theme, the documentary implies that the only people who seemed to want the fair in Chicago were the capitalists. These is absurd, as it was a matter of deep civic pride, from the lowliest stockyard worker to Potter Palmer himself. The civic pride is only given passing mention, as it may have distracted from the other theme of the doc, the dislike of all the various ethnic groups. In praising the fair, they were as one. Finally, the documentary states the Chicago's Mayor, Carter Harrison, was assasinated by a half-mad illiterate. He was wholy mad, and he was not illiterate. History needs to be precise, and this seems like a shameless attempt to add more sensationalism to the story.All in all, the first two discs are great, but the third suffers. Also, Chicago was vastly important in the 20th Century as well. The DVD package here is also pretty bare, with nothing spectacular to offer besides the doc, a trivia game, and a thinly filled fourth extra disc. By all means rent it, but leave the third disc alone. The documentary has developed an agenda that overwhelmes it's subject-the importance of the great city of Chicago"
Leaves You Hanging
Richard A. Ofstein MD | Jackson Hole, WY | 06/10/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I bought this DVD hoping it would be to Chicago history what Ric Burn's New York is to New York history. It started out that way but surprisingly and disappointingly ends at the turn of the century. There is nothing about 20th century Chicago. I was left feeling cheated (not financially but historically). The first three CDs were so good, I eagerly anticipated the fourth and last to pertain to the last 100 years. Instead, the fourth CD was special features. Despite the above, buy the DVD and enjoy the pre-20th century Chicago."
Another documentary you shouldn't miss
Darren Burton | Ogden, Utah United States | 06/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is another excellent documentary that I am interested in having all of my friends see. Among the many things you learn is that Chicago helped the city of New York become the economic powerhouse it is by routing all the grain produced in the midwest across the Great Lakes to the Erie Canal to the city of New York."
A good but not great survey of 19th century Chicago history
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 07/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is a very good but not ultimately spectacular history of 19th century Chicago history. I think the balance of the history is very solid, probably because it hues fairly close to Donald Miller's exceptional book that served as the basis for the series (Miller himself is one the most prominent commentator). One of the previous reviewers complained of the emphasis on the history of labor problems, almost implying that the series was close to nothing but a history of labor. The complaint is absurd: if anything, the importance of labor issues has been muted in the series. It plays a legitimate and major role in the series, just as it has in the history of Chicago. For the record, for two years, until my company relocated to new digs, I worked two blocks from the spot where Haymarket existed and where the most famous event in American labor took place. Curiously, only a small plaque marks the spot, though there is talk of a memorial.

I was especially happy that Jane Addams got her due. I consider Addams, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, to be one of the two most important women in American history. She virtually created the helping professions in American and in developing Hull House created modern social work. Anyone familiar with her has to admire her idealism, her compassion, her energy, and her effectiveness in bringing concrete help to tens of thousands. The series also spends a great deal of time on the central figures in developing the economic infrastructure of Chicago, in particular folks like Palmer, Swift, Marshall Field, Armour, and Montgomery Ward. All the key 19th century events receive their due, from Haymarket to the Fire to the famous World's Fair in Hyde Park. The section on the fire was especially good, providing an excellent account of how the fire spread because of the winds (for non-Chicagoans, the same kind of wind from the south or southwest that can create a launching pad for homerun hitters at Wrigley Field).

Nonetheless, the series has some major problems. First and foremost are the recreations. Though on the extras disc Donald Miller expresses satisfaction with the recreations, I think they greatly harm the series. I think Ken Burns established the model for the successful historical documentary in his various series, in which he never uses recreations or historically inappropriate photography. But this series often cuts from something that occurred, say, in 1869 to shots of Chicago in 2002. At the very least they should have used contemporary prints or maps or photos or drawings, not modern film. But the recreations were far worse. Whether offering scenes from the 1840s or the men charged as guilty in the Haymarket kangaroo court walking to the gallows, the film was seriously damaged by such ahistoricism. I think Miller's initial worries over recreations were completely justified and realized.

My only other complaint with the series is PBS's usual botching of the DVDs. Quite consistently, PBS puts out the worst DVDs I've ever seen. For instance, it is impossible usually to skip the endless recounting of corporate sponsors at the beginning of each episode. Also, the navigation is often primitive and often works only with hesitation.

I did, however, very much enjoy the extra documentary added to the set that explores the neighborhoods the L (Chicago's elevated train line) goes through. Each workday I get on the Brown line at Southport for my commute into the Loop, though sometimes opting for the Red line at Addison or Belmont. It was fun seeing the various parts of the city serves by each line."