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American Experience: Woodrow Wilson
American Experience Woodrow Wilson
Actors: Rene Auberjonois, Louis Auchincloss, John Morton Blum, Blair Brown, Victoria Bissell Brown
Directors: Mitch Wilson, Carl Byker
Genres: Drama, Television
NR     2002     3hr 0min

A gifted orator, Woodrow Wilson was supremely confident before crowds, yet uneasy in small groups. An intellectual with inflexible moral principles, he led America into World War I, threatening all that he cherished. This ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Rene Auberjonois, Louis Auchincloss, John Morton Blum, Blair Brown, Victoria Bissell Brown
Directors: Mitch Wilson, Carl Byker
Creators: Mitch Wilson, Carl Byker, Isaac Mizrahi, David Mrazek, Richard Kassebaum
Genres: Drama, Television
Sub-Genres: Drama, Drama
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 08/27/2002
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 3hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Worthy but dull as ditchwater
sceptical, not cynical | Co. Durham, UK | 06/05/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is a very worthy documentary on an unusually important President. I like the way in which Wilson the lecherous academic (an understudied type) is described as a man of passion towards women, and openly laughed when his visit to one woman was described as "we don't know how far he went with her - from what we know of him, probably very far". There is also a lot of stalking about by a man in glasses - or is this the actual Wilson (did they have colour movies in 1912)?

One interesting question temporarily raised in the movie concerned how an academic in his ivory tower could handle some of the most corrupt politicians in America. One answer not given is Wilson's own - that his own experience of academic politics made the New Jersey bosses appear to him as mere amateurs.

This film raises all sorts of historical questions in an interesting set of side-movies attached to the main documentary, though they are only brief (how come La Follette never gets a mention?) But you get the sense of a film made for schools. A turbulent period of American history passes before our eyes, but as in a school lesson disturbing questions are not raised.

Did Wilson's earlier political ideas play a role in his political activity? All you get is a brief comment that Wilson's early writings show his concern for a greater role for the State. So why wasn't he a Bull Moose progressive like Roosevelt? Having said that, the programme does bring out the political differences between Wilson and Roosevelt in 1912. Perhaps this indicates that Wilson's writings on The State were therefore more complex? You wouldn't find out here, any more than you would find out in a school textbook.

Why did a progressive like Wilson preside over a period of imperial expansion which would have been described as dollar dilplomacy under his predecessors? Does it have any connection with the Wilsonian vision of the neo-cons of today??

A Red Scare, with its roots in wartime hysteria, is shown as in a US History textbook; but wasn't Wilson, who presided over the worst excesses in the abuse of civil rights in US history, seen as a great progressive President? What is this Progressivism, which can launch social reform while having people arrested merely for saying openly that the war was being fought for profits?

You'll never find out by reading a US History textbook for schools. And you'll never find out by watching this documentary (honourable exception - the appearance by historian Walter la Feber).

Ouch, a lot of work went in this documentary..I can tell, and the makers will hate me if they ever read this. But a lot of work goes into textbooks. Still as dull as ditchwater."
Heather L. Parisi | St. Augustine, FL USA | 08/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)





On both Disks an incredibly comprehensive and easily accessed set of features is included to enhance one's appreciation and comprehension of the presentation.

-*Mini documentaries on: race relations, women's suffrage, labor rights etc. were very helpful in understanding the times.

-* 'Video' Profiles of key figures in Wilson's life including antagonist 'Henry Cabot Lodge', allies 'Lloyd George' & 'Clemenceau', and Women's Suffrage Leaders and more.

-* Interviews with the filmmakers and scholars

-*Jacob Riis photo gallery

-*World War I poster art gallery

-*A scholar's forum on Wilson's legacy - basically this was a series of answers [by eight historians] to the question of why Woodrow Wilson is historically important?


This is the kind of documentary that is not likely to be on your frequent viewing shelf, unless you are a motivated student of history. Therefore, since this DVD is both expensive to purchase and available in many public libraries, you may consider viewing a borrowed or rented copy before you buy it.
Too much focus on "passion," not enough on ideas
Kerry Walters | Lewisburg, PA USA | 10/23/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This 2-disk history of the life and times of Woodrow Wilson is well-intended but flawed. The producers and writers spend way too much time on Wilson's pre-presidential career and provide a swift account of his presidential terms that leave more questions unanswered than not. There's too much emphasis on Wilson as a "passionate man"--so much that sometimes the biofilm feels uncomfortably like a gossipy video celebrity column. A lot of time is spent on Wilson's health, certainly an important issue but not deserving as much attention as it gets.

What's the opportunity cost of all this? Three come immediately to mind. First, although we're told that Wilson was a "progressive" candidate for the governorship of new Jersey and, afterwards, the White House, we're not given any good idea of what it meant to be a "progressive." All that we're told is that progressives felt that there was an oligarchy oppressing the working class, Second--and this, I think, is the single biggest failing of the film--the film in no way tries to account for the gross discrepancy between Wilson's "progressivism" and his endorsement of what was arguably the worst assault on civil liberties in this country's history. How could a president who preached the almost transcendental value of democracy agree to the Espionage and Sedition Acts which imprisoned or exiled thousands of people? Third, the film mentions Wilson's 14 Points, but says nothing about what they were--except for the last one, calling for the establishment of a League of Nations. What a bizarre oversight!

The upshot is that we learn a lot from the film about Wilson's private life but next to nothing about his intellectual life or his public policy positions. Disappointing."