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I watched "Roots" when I was fifteen years old, having absolutely *no* real-life experience to lend the series context - I lived in a sheltered, upper-middle class suburb, and had absolutely no exposure to any of this, except what I was taught in school. Having recently watched movies such as "Django Unchained," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" "Do the Right Thing," and "12 Years a Slave," I thought it was high time for *me* to do the right thing, and get back to the roots of all these movies - the original 1977 miniseries, which caused an incredible stir when it was released. It was hard to watch then, and I suspect it will be even harder to watch now that I have life's experiences behind me. I remember very well, about twenty years ago, a Jewish friend of mine watched all of "Shoah" - no small task - because he promised himself that he would, as a Jew, in order to educate himself and remember what happened to his people. For a similar - but opposite - reason, I'm watching Roots: Not because of what happened *to* my people, but because of what my people did *to* another race of innocents. Do I feel *personally* responsible for what occurred? I wasn't born yet, so how could I? Do I feel a responsibility for what occurred? Of course I do - primarily because it's still going on. A successful television broadcast is now considered to be about 10 million viewers - even though Roots got off to a relatively slow start, episode #1 was the only episode of the 8 - which ran every day for a week - that pulled in less than 30 million. It was remarkably successful, and well-received by both critics and the general public alike. Roots won 9 Emmy Awards with 28 nominations, and 1 Golden Globe Award with 2 nominations. Maybe I'm being a touch dramatic, but I hope this post inspires others to rewatch this important series. Amazon has the first episode for free, hoping to reel in viewers who will purchase the entire series for $34.99. I refuse to pay this, and am wondering if anyone knows where it can be viewed for less money. Alex Haley wrote the book (see below for additional information), and is implicitly credited as a Writer in all six episodes. There are simply too many stars in this series to do anything but add simple links for them - refer to their Wikipedia links for all the other work they've done - this would be a fool's errand for me to attempt. Jan 23 - Jan 29, 1977 - Episode List and Timetable Episode 1 - Directed by David Greene (Director of "Sebastian"), Written by William Blinn (Screenwriter of "Brian's Song") and Ernest Kinoy (Writer of "I Wouldn't Start from Here" on "Route 66") Featuring Edward Asner, O.J. Simpson, Ralph Waite, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Maya Angelou, Moses Gunn, Thalmus Rasulala, Hari Rhodes, William Watson, Renn Woods, Levar Burton, Cicely Tyson, Ernest Thomas, Rebecca Bess, Henry Butts, Episode 2 - Episode 3 - Episode 4 - Episode 5 - Episode 6 - When the first episode ended, the first thing I thought of was the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda: A few *morons* with letter openers brought down the World Trade Center, killing thousands in the process. It takes so little to do so much damage, and although slavery was a large institution, the protagonists in Episode 1 were just a few dozen idiots. Ironically, the victims of this crime against humanity were Muslim. I'm not sure how historically accurate that is (Alex Haley was caught plagiarizing parts of his book), but in Ghana, i,e., Northwest Africa, it's not impossible. "Miniseries: Roots Special" on pbs.org May 27, 2016 - "Roots: Behind the 1977 Series that Started a National Conversation" by Alynda Wheat on people.com
A very amusing piece of trivia occurs during the opening credits of "Peyton Place," the 1957 film of Grace Metalious' 1956 novel. As I was reading the credits, towards the end, up came: "CinemaScope Lenses by ... Bausch & Lomb" - I kid you not. It's probably a little less funny when you realize that Bausch & Lomb was founded over one-hundred years before that, in 1853! I doubt they were making contact lenses back then, but this is a prime example of a company adapting and surviving. I guess most people have heard of "Peyton Place," but very few people know what it is, other than "some television series my grandparents talked about." It was a major franchise, and was a tale of life in small-town New England, complete with "dirty little secrets," and very tawdry, un-New England-like, skeletons in closets (tawdry for the time and locale, anyway). And, of course, it was also this 1957 film starring Lana Turner as Constance MacKenzie, along with a host of other name stars such as Hope Lange (as Selena Cross), Lee Phillips (as Michael Rossi), and Lorne Greene (as the District Attorney). It was a 2 1/2-hour-long film, and a somewhat high-budget affair at $2 million, but it grossed over a dozen-times that amount. From the very first opening monologue by Allison MacKenzie (played by Diane Varsi), I was pretty much awestruck by the gorgeous cinematography, and instantly went to check to see if it had won any awards - sure enough, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography - if an amateur like me can tell that in the first minute of the film, that's saying something - the shots and the camera work are just beautiful. In fact, Peyton Place received nine Academy Award nominations (winning none, but that's still quite a feat). The car Michael Rossi was driving looked older than a 1957 model, and the film had a clever way of revealing its time period when Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan) bent over to pick up his morning paper (just a few seconds later, a close look at the car's license plate says 1941). I also realize that, as huge of a name as Lana Turner is, I wouldn't have recognized her if she had walked by me on a sidewalk. I thought I knew what she looked like, but I guess I didn't. I'm both pleased, and dismayed, to see a person of color 12:43 into this film. I'm sorry to introduce race into such an idyllic setting as Peyton Place (which is a town, not a street or mansion), but I'm keenly aware of such things - it breaks my heart that they stuck a token "darkie" (who may not even be black) in the back-corner of the classroom. I won't say anything more about this, as this film was released only three years after Brown vs. Board of Education, and that's just the way things were in this pathetic society. Onward. My initial impression, after about thirteen minutes, is that "if you like "Pride and Prejudice," you'll like Peyton Place." Jane Austen's fine novel, published in 1813, has legions of fans, and an almost cult-like following - I think I may have read it twice, but I've certainly read it once, and this film has the same kind of "feel" )to it. A beautiful quote, that could not ring any more true, by Peyton Place High School teacher, Miss Elsie Thornton (Mildred Dunnock): "A person doesn't always get what she deserves - remember it. If there's anything in life you want, go and get it; don't wait for anybody to give it to you." My question: What if you're unable to go and get it? I guess you're just out of luck. An hour into Peyton Place, it seems very much like a soap opera, and I don't mean that in a bad way - it's definitely a "slice of life" movie so far, with lots of character development, and not much action or plot to speak of - at least, not yet. But it's very good at delving into its characters and their relationships, and that's enough to maintain my interest, although two-and-a-half hours might be a long time - we'll see. This film means a lot to me, because a major sub-plot involves the Peyton Place High School class of 1941, and that's the year both of my parents graduated from high school as well, so the setting is exa)ctly contemporary to my parents in their youth. Well, so much for the "soap opera" aspect - there is some *very* controversial subject matter dealt with in this film. I've never actually watched a soap opera, so I suspect there's some pretty racy subject matter dealt with in them, too - but this was 1957. Wow. With about thirty minutes to go in the film, my guess - never having seen a soap opera - is that this is essentially a "racy soap opera" for the time. The fact that I like it so much shows how starved I am for films with actual character development - building people about whom I actually care, instead of waiting for the next zombie to jump out, or the next gruesome death to occur. Do I sound like an old fart pining away for the "gold old days?" Good, because that's exactly what I want to sound like (lily-white cast notwithstanding). I don't know if this is a "good movie" so much as a movie that had some standards and some people working on it who cared about its characters - it sure *seems* like a good movie to me, at least in terms of character development. The old chestnut of "it ain't what it seems" has been used to death in the past 59 years, and I'm not sure how novel it was in 1957 (though it was certainly *a* novel in 1956 (I am sorry)), but it's a timeless theme, and it's well executed here. It's just *so* refreshing to see some people for 2 1/2 hours that I'm actually vested in, instead of bracing myself for the next stabbing. Okay, I just finished watching Peyton Place. My entire life, growing up, I had heard the name "Peyton Place," and didn't know what it was - I assumed it was some lame TV soap opera (and it may have been). But this movie was *great*. If it wasn't nominated for a Best Picture award, I'd be surprised - in fact, I'm going to look right now: Yep, it was nominated for Best Picture, exactly as it should have been. This was a truly worthy film - I'm not saying it was "better" than "Bridge over the River Kwai" (also a great film, which won the Academy Award), but it was at that level. If you haven't seen Peyton Place, *especially* if you've read "Pride and Prejudice" and loved it (I still think there are some vague similarities between the two), *watch this movie*! What a wonderful film this was, and I'm so glad I finally saw it, instead of wrongly thinking the name was exclusively some vague, meaningless, daytime soap, which is what I've spent my entire life thinking. Yep, the old fart speaks: They don't make 'em like this anymore. Even though there was only one darkie sitting in the corner of the classroom, who was the only person of color throughout the entire movie. What a shame. But, God, what a good movie this was. Invest the two-and-a-half hours necessary to watch "Peyton Place," and please chime in here after you do.