“As a real-life compilation of historic moments, it’s beyond compare; as an overview of the social and political forces of the 20th century, it’s compelling viewing and an exceptional glimpse of the geniuses who have shaped the modern world.”
I love reading. I don’t tell you this so you have a better understanding of my psyche (that’s just frosting.) Instead it’s divulged because if you do not share this love you will hate at least half of this documentary set.
In Their Own Words is a collection of documentary shorts shown on the BBC. This collection was brought about in part by the Open University, and you can readily see why. These programs are just like a college lecture: packed with so much information a glance at the clock had me amazed at how little time had passed considering all I was learning.
The downside of this is that each set of documentaries is a picture with the people of interest merely providing brushstrokes towards the completed canvas. Any subject, Margaret Mead, J.R.R. Tolkien, Susan Sontag or the like, would be able to (and oftentimes do) merit their own hour or more of footage. So their inclusion here is to further another objective.
Disc One is “Great Novelists.” The title is a bit misleading as the three documentaries are actually about the evolution of the British novel as it pertains to British history at the time, which is broken down into three periods: 1919-1939, 1945-1969, and 1970-1990. Despite the misnomer I found each hour to be very informative and packed with just enough information so as not to overwhelm me.
Disc Two showcases “Great Thinkers” of the 20th century and again, is all about British people. This time it’s theorists in various fields from psychology to economics. While I found disc one to be more entertaining, that doesn’t take away from the very educational and personally relevant nature of the episodes on the disc. The ideas of Dr. Benjamin Spock, Jane Goodall, and John Maynard Keynes changed the world.
As the tech specs go, it’s important to note first that the aspect ratio changes depending on the footage shown, going from archival 1.33:1 to the modern 16:9. As with any show featuring relics from the past you can expect a range of video problems such as grain, dirt, scratches, dull palettes and the like but I find the fact they’re in a documentary as reason enough to excuse all of them. Indeed they lend the air of historical realism to the pieces they inhabit. The audio was a bit choppy at times and especially when I was hearing really special pieces of tape (George Orwell) I wish they had not chosen to include other bits of soundtrack, as it detracted and distracted.
The special features were hit and miss. The biographies were pretty disposable but the booklet included was really interesting. The website I was directed to could have kept me busy for a good long while, as there were lots of essays, Q&A’s, and of course other videos I could purchase.
You’re only going to want In Their Own Words, if you are interested in British history, British novelists, or British geniuses. If so, this will be a worthwhile addition to your collection.