Though overly self-congratulatory, ABC News Presents 25 on 20/20 is an irresistibly entertaining, sometimes fascinating highlight reel of Barbara Walters' many years as that news magazine's premier interviewer. Walters' long-popular run chatting with movie stars, politicians, and scandal-makers would seem a natural for DVD, yet this ABC News/Koch Vision release is the first of its kind.
25 on 20/20 was a recent special designed to cash in on Walters' impending departure from 20/20 after many years. Though it was treated as a Big Deal, Walters herself assured panicked viewers she was hardly going into hiding the way Garbo or Johnny Carson did in their retirement. Indeed, Walters intended and indeed still does show up regularly on the intensely annoying The View, and still usually scoops her colleagues with that latest hot interview.
The special is a pot pourri of highlights, much of it tantalizing but criminally short. The program is breathlessly edited for the short attention-span crowd, the effect like being part of a tour making a 20-minute stop at the British Museum. Still, the clips leave little doubt of Walters' great skill. Her widdle voice (imitated so unflatteringly by Gilda Radner), motherly confidant manner and, less obviously, thorough research and preparation, won her the kinds of interviews with the kinds of answers that are, at times, quite remarkable. Who but Barbara Walters could get away with asking Muammar Gadaffi his reaction to the American view that he's nuts?
To its credit, the special gives political/historical figures equal time with Monica Lewinsky and Martha Stewart, though the writers at times talk down to its audience with embarrassingly elementary narration: "[Nixon] was the president who lost his job because of a scandal called Watergate," etc.
Some footage is mushy and self-congratulatory. Did we really need to hear Fidel Castro complement Walters on her youthful appearance? Scenes of Walters interviewing Ronald Reagan are sappily underscored.
Despite these flaws, entertaining and/or fascinating stuff abounds, from the parents of would-be presidential assassin John Hinkley, Jr., trying to make sense of their son's actions, to Betty Ford's drunken haze of a White House interview, to an exhausted Rudolph Guiliani discussing 9/11 only days after that great tragedy.
Many will want to watch 25 on 20/20 for the celebrity interviews alone, and these do not disappointment, from Angelina Jolie's declaration that "My first sexual encounter, we brought knives out," to Anne Heche demonstrating her fluency with an extra-terrestrial language, to the inevitable Wacko Jacko excerpts.
Video & Audio
ABC News Presents 25 on 20/20 in its original full frame format. The image is exactly what one would expect, as is the mildly discrete stereo sound. The program has optional English subtitles.
In a wise move, the DVD includes incomplete but nevertheless Extended Interviews with Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Bob and Michelle Smithdas, a deaf-and-blind married couple whom Walters names as her most memorable interview. These longer, dated interviews are especially welcome, with a greater resonance than the fleeting excerpts shown in the special.
Also included is an utterly pointless The Art of Conversation, an interview with Walters which seems to have been filmed solely to plug the special -- Walters does little more than talk about what we've already watched. Somewhat better is a four-minute collection of Colleague Tributes with heavy hitters spanning all three networks.
This is one of those DVDs one watches while going through the bills or maybe folding the laundry. One look will be more than enough, but for what it is, 25 on 20/20 is an interesting DVD.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.