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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » American Experience - RFK
American Experience - RFK
Paramount // Unrated // October 5, 2004
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Shannon Nutt | posted November 11, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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THE DOCUMENTARY

It's hard to encapsulate the life of someone like Robert Kennedy into just two hours, but this American Experience production for PBS does a pretty good job of it, breaking the almost 2-hour presentation up into two parts: what happened before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and what happened after it.

The assassination of his older brother was essential to the kind of man Robert Kennedy turned out to be. In the first half of the documentary we see that RFK was often the ignored male in the Kennedy clan. He was small for his age, referred to by his father as a "runt," and wound up hanging out with his sisters more than his older brothers. But the Kennedy drive to excel affected him just as much as it affected the other members of his family, and by the time John F. Kennedy ran for the White House, Bobby had become not only his closest sibling, but his most trusted aide.

One trait about Robert Kennedy that sets him aside from most other politicians in history is the fact that the man always wore his emotions on his sleeve. The pain that came from his brother's death was physically visible in the years that followed, and so was Kennedy's change from a brash man of action (just look at the so-called "Rackets Committee" hearings where Kennedy berates Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa) to a more introspective and socially conscious man.

The only real problem with this documentary is that it doesn't offer any real new insight into Bobby Kennedy – it's more of an overview and introduction to his career. Therefore, this DVD benefits young students of history more than it does scholars, or even more casual viewers who actually lived through the events. One nice exception, however, is the fact that director David Grubin has been able to dig up a few moments of rarely seen footage – one where Bobby appears on Meet The Press and suggests some people might like to see him "off the earth," and another during a campaign motorcade where firecrackers go off and Kennedy flinches for just a second. Both prove to be eerie foreshadowing of what was to come.

THE DVD

Video:
The documentary is presented in the widescreen anamorphic format, at what I'm guessing is a 1.78:1 ratio (the box doesn't specify, so it's possible the ratio is 1.85:1). Although the quality of the video varies depending on whether old footage or new interviews are being shown, the overall transfer is quite good. No major complaints here.

Audio:
Audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby, which is more than serviceable for this presentation. There's nothing particularly dynamic about the sound – but there are no noticeable glitches or problems with it.

Extras:
I'm always a little surprised that documentary releases such as this one don't give us more archival footage when putting together the bonus features – and this release is no exception. We get two very short (about 5 minutes each) featurettes, an Interview With Filmmaker David Grubin, and a segment entitled What If RFK Had Lived? which provides some speculation as to what may have happened had RFK not been assassinated.

Also in the bonus material is an all-too-small 1968 Photo Gallery as well as info on how to connect to the RFK section of the PBS website, which offers a timeline of the events of RFK's life.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As documentaries go, RFK is a well-made one and worth a viewing. However, as noted above, it really doesn't cover anything that hasn't been covered before...and in more depth. So while this is a great starting point for the uninformed, it's not something that provides much new insight into one of American History's most notable men.
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