Four Seasons Total Landscaping: The documentary

Yes, you read that correctly.

There will be a documentary about the Philadelphia site of Rudy Giuliani’s infamous election fraud press conference. Here is Tom Grater at Deadline:

Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the innocuous small business in Pennsylvania that shot to prominence when it became the unlikely stage for a press conference fronted by Rudy Giuliani four days after the U.S. presidential election, will be the subject of a feature doc giving a first-hand account of the rollercoaster series of events.

The project – Four Seasons Total Documentary – comes from Christopher Stoudt (Camp ALEC) who is teaming with producers Glen Zipper (Undefeated) and Sean Stuart (What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali). Chris Paonessa and Kevin Lincoln are also producers.

The doc promises to give a first-hand account of the bizarre sequence of events that saw the company become the stage for a key moment in the explosive aftermath of the election, which saw Donald Trump’s team make unfounded accusations of electoral fraud. There was speculation that the Trump campaign had accidentally booked the venue, mistaking it for the nearby Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, where the city’s votes were being counted.

Read the rest here.

Maybe this Super Bowl will make the final cut:

Some quick thoughts on the CNN documentary “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President”

I’ve always been a Jimmy Carter fan, so I was eager to watch Mary Wharton‘s documentary “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President” last Sunday night. On one level, it did not disappoint. I knew very little about Carter’s relationship with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash, and Jimmy Buffett. For example, the part of the documentary that covered the 1976 Democratic primary was fascinating. The Allmans, Cash, Nelson, and Buffett backed Carter. The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt backed California governor Jerry Brown. It was no contest. Carter and his southern rockers crushed Brown and helped the Georgia peanut farmer win the presidency against Gerald Ford in November.

As you see above, the documentary includes interviews with some heavy hitters, including Carter and his son Chip. The former president tells some hilarious stories about his relationship with some of these artists, including one about Chip smoking pot on the roof of the White House with Willie Nelson.

This is a great documentary, but I wish Wharton would have said more about how Carter thought about the connections between his love of popular music and his evangelical faith. Wharton includes footage of Carter teaching Sunday School. She occasionally shows the interior and exterior of Carter’s church in Plains, Georgia. She includes a clip of Carter talking about how he explained his Christian faith to Bob Dylan when the folk hero visited the Georgia governor’s mansion. Carter also seems to have had an influence on the faith-based music and activism of Bono. But the faith angle is too peripheral to the story Wharton tells. For example, what did Carter and Dylan talk about? Did Carter have a theology of popular culture that allowed him to reconcile rock music with his Christian faith? How did he respond to his evangelical critics, the kind of critics who would eventually rally against him to form the Christian Right and boost Ronald Reagan’s victory over Carter in the 1980 election? Christianity shaped Carter’s moral core, but Wharton doesn’t seem interested in how his Christianity informed his love of Dylan, Nelson, Cash, etc. This was a missed opportunity.

Court evangelicals rally around a new pro-Trump documentary titled “Trump 2024: The World After Trump”

The documentary will appear in September. Court evangelicals Paula White, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, Jack Hibbs, Eric Metaxas, Tony Perkins, Samuel Rodriguez, and Jack Graham are involved. This trailer is so over-the-top that some of it could pass for a anti-Trump parody of the Christian Right.

Here is Peter Montgomery at Right Wing Watch:

One of the primary target audiences for the movie is Christians who may be fed up with Trump’s divisive rhetoric and may be considering staying away from the polls or voting for Joe Biden in hopes that Biden ​may return the country to a sense of normalcy. The movie will try to convince those people that God is using Trump the way that God always uses flawed, imperfect people—and that ​though Trump may sometimes come across as a jerk, he is an effective champion of “biblical values.” The film will end with a virtual “altar call” inviting viewers to pray for salvation.

Read the rest here. For the record, Joe Biden is not a socialist.

I tried to offer a Christian response to this kind of propaganda in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Believe Me 3d

Episode 69: Be Like Mike?

Podcast

Did you watch “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls? In this episode of the podcast, Baylor University sports historian Paul Putz helps us make sense of it. Join us for a conversation about Jordan’s place in NBA history, the role of the black athlete in American culture, and some thoughts on how the stories of athletes like Jordan provide a window into our own identities as human beings. (NOTE: This episode was recorded BEFORE the anti-racism protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death).

Out of the Zoo: “American Gospel”

American GospelAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reflects on her viewing of a the documentary American Gospel.  –JF

I spent a portion of my Saturday last week watching American Gospel: In Christ Alone in the lounge juxtaposed between Miller, Grantham, and Hess residences. The said lounge is affectionately named “the fishbowl” by Messiah students because of its’ floor-to-ceiling windows. I heard about American Gospel over the summer when my old youth pastor Kenneth Price  shared his admiration of it on Facebook (read more about Kenneth’s impact on my life in one of my previous blog posts). I had been meaning to watch the documentary since then, so when one of my house-mates told me she was planning to watch it one afternoon, I opted to join her.

I could go on and on about all the points American Gospel argues, but I’ll let you watch the two and a half hour documentary on your own time. As for me though, I’m glad I remembered to bring my journal because I ended up with four and a half pages of notes. The film primarily takes a shot at the American prosperity gospel–a movement with figureheads like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and Todd White who espouse the false doctrine that faith in Jesus will always result in an easy life full of blessings and miraculous healing. It calls such doctrine dangerous and false. If you don’t agree, please take it up with Ray Comfort or Matt Chandler or one of the documentary’s many contributors, not with me.

American Gospel emphasizes the reality that when we come to faith, while we may get to witness miraculous healing or experience prosperity, what we are really called to do is to suffer, endure trials, die to ourselves, and to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

American Gospel also got me thinking about my future as a history teacher. Christians who expect following Jesus will be easy are like educators who believe their students will never talk back or forget a homework assignment. If teachers decided to start teaching because they thought it would be a painless or affluent undertaking they would have abandoned their posts long ago. Proponents of prosperity gospel are like historians who think they will always be able to construct a perfect, concise narrative every time, confidently tying up every loose end in a neat bow. Instead, the reality is that historians are to dive deep into the messiness of the past and meet challenges as they come–and they will come.

Some people believe that the right path to take is the easiest one, or the one that will fetch the most earthly wealth or happiness. They think one’s choices should be contingent on their own wants and desires. If I thought like this I wouldn’t have gone to college for a history degree, and I certainly wouldn’t be working towards a career in education. If David wanted to take the easy route he would have never faced Goliath. If the Apostle Paul shared this view his name would probably still be Saul. If Jesus decided to live an easy life he certainly wouldn’t have sacrificed himself for us on the cross. So instead of taking the easy way out, we are called to follow Christ’s example, keeping our eyes on him through every tragedy and every triumph.

The *Western Stars* Documentary is Coming

Springsteen’s most recent album, Western Stars, will be the subject of a music documentary that Warner Brothers will release this Fall.  Here is Variety:

Warner Bros. has nabbed global rights to “Western Stars,” the upcoming music documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen. The film will be released on the big screen and will open in theaters this fall after its world premiere at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album in five years and the film marks his directorial debut. It weaves in archival footage along with Springsteen’s narration, and shows him performing all 13 songs on the album, alongside a band and a full orchestra, in a nearly 100-year-old barn on the singer’s property.

The film was also overseen by Thom Zimny, a frequent Springsteen collaborator. Zimny directed the Boss in “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Bruce Springsteen: Hunter of Invisible Game” (2014), and picked up a Grammy Award for “Wings on Wheels: The Making of Born to Run” (2005).

“Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Picture Group. “With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.”

Read the rest here.

Naples

When Journalists Used the “tools of a novelist to tell a news story”

breslin

I need to see the HBO documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.  I grew up reading Jimmy Breslin’s columns in the New York Daily News and his writing was one of the reasons I wanted to grow-up to become a journalist.

Eric Cortellessa reviews the documentary at Washington Monthly.  Here is a taste:

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artistsmight be the perfect film for today’s generation of aspiring journalists. The documentary, which premiered on HBO Monday night, has a kind of romance that only the young—at least at heart—can fully internalize.

The New York City newspaper columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill were both larger-than-life personalities who made journalism seem more glamorous than it normally is. (Hamill dated Jackie Onassis and Shirley MacLaine and hung out with Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.) The two writers—who bore witness to some of American history’s greatest tragedies and inflection points—lived by an unwritten code that journalism is a public service. That kind of idealism isn’t rare for a budding ink-stained wretch, but Breslin and Hamill’s approach to fulfilling it was: one of Breslin’s most memorable columns was an interview with the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. This was, as the sportswriter Mike Lupica says in the film, an example of using “the tools of a novelist to tell a news story.”

Read the rest here.

*In God We Trump*

268x0wThis is the name of filmmaker Chris Maloney’s new documentary.  Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton talks with Maloney.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Tara Isabella Burton

So we’ve established that white evangelicals were willing to vote for Trump, even if it was by “holding their noses.” But I’m curious, next, about what justifications evangelicals have offered to defend that vote. From the “end justifies the means” logic to, say, the propagandistic notion that Trump was chosen by God directly, it seems we’ve seen a few different defenses. Can you tell me more about them?

Christopher Maloney

That’s the question that’s at the center of the film. Certainly the Supreme Court was a really big part of it. Like [in making the film] I heard Christians, more than once, explain that, yeah, you know, Trump is maybe not a very good guy, but he’s going to change the court and then we won’t have legalized abortion anymore.

Or there’s the argument made by [prominent prosperity gospel preacher and Trump advisor] Paula White, that Trump “became a Christian” in 2015. So that’s how we can justify giving him our vote.

The most extreme narrative is, I looked at so much footage of television preachers saying that God had told them that he had chosen Trump to be the president. And so if he was God’s choice, every other thing that came up that they might object to about him was irrelevant because we don’t have to understand God’s choices. God works in mysterious ways. So if he’s chosen this guy to be president, some preacher on TV believes it, and then the preachers who pastor churches who watched that show then take the message from that and then pass it on to the congregation. That was a much bigger part of it than I think most people realized.

An interesting thing is that Kenneth Copeland, who’s one of those influential TV preachers, he had said, I believe, that same thing about Ted Cruz at one point when he thought Ted Cruz was going to get the nomination, like God chose Ted Cruz. And then when Trump got the nomination, instead it changed to “well, God chose Trump.”

Read the entire interview here.

Here is the teaser:

And here is a longer clip:

More Reviews of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War”

Nam

See our original list of reviews here.

A conservative State Department veteran says the documentary is “no profile in courage.

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried reflects on the documentary.

Salar Mohandesi says the documentary “seeks a premature closure.”

Maurice Isserman wants more on the peace movement.

Interview with a historian who advised Burns and Novick.

Thoughts from a professor of teacher education.

Sociologist Martin Wenglinsky weighs-in.

Raymond Schroth offers a Catholic perspective.

Reviews of Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War”

Nam

I am not an expert on the Vietnam War.  I have not taught this subject in nearly sixteen years.  As a result, I am no position to offer a critique or review of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s PBS documentary, The Vietnam War.  I have now watched the first two episodes and about half of the third episode.  I am enjoying it immensely and learning a lot of new information.

I have also been reading reviews to get a sense of what historians of the era and other commentators have to say. Here are a few that caught my eye:

L.D. Burnett likes it.

Andrew Bacevich says that the series “doesn’t answer the questions about the Vietnam War that many are seeking.”

James Fallows at The Atlantic

Jeremy Kuzmarov says the documentary is “misleading

George Will thinks it is a masterpiece

Jerry Lembcke also thinks it is “flawed

Tim Lacy thinks Burns and Novick do a nice job covering the Diem regime

The Daring Women of Philadelphia

Daring Women

I am in Philadelphia today.  This morning I was interviewed for a documentary film on women, religion, and anti-slavery in the early American Republic (1789-1848) titled “The Daring Women of Philadelphia.”  The Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmakers at History Making Productions are producing the film.

I don’t pretend to be a historian of women in the early republic.   There will be many other historians in the film who will speak authoritatively on this topic.  I was asked to participate for the purpose of providing general background information about the Second Great Awakening, benevolent societies, and the religious impetus behind moral reforms movements in the early 1800s.  I have no idea if anything I said was useful or will make the cut, but it was fun talking about Charles Finney’s visit to Philadelphia, the Orthodox-Hicksite Quaker schism, Lucretia Mott, “moral suasion,” and the American Bible Society (of course).

Stay tuned.

“An Outrage”: A Forthcoming Documentary Film on Lynching in America

Some of you may recall that in the Fall 2015 I taught an online graduate course on Colonial North America through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  I was invited to teach the course by Lance Warren and had the privilege of working closely during the filming of the course with Lance and his spouse Hannah Ayers.

Since then Lance and Hannah have left Gilder Lehrman to pursue their passion for documentary film work. They are in the final stages of a project on lynching in America. Lance and Hannah spent most of the summer traveling thousands of miles conducting interviews with historians and activists and talking with descendants of people who had been lynched in the Deep South.

The title of the film is “An Outrage.”  You can read more about it here or follow the film’s Twitter account @AnOutrageFilm

A few hours ago Lance and Hannah released the first minute of the film.  Here it is:

“An Outrage” will premiere in early 2017.  Stay tuned.