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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Bill Moyers: In Search of the Constitution
Bill Moyers: In Search of the Constitution
Acorn Media // Unrated // February 15, 2011
List Price: $79.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 5, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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Review:

One wonders what the founding fathers would think of the state of the country today. There are countless issues that have cropped up as society has become more complex, but issues like the further commercialization of political speech (Huffington Post and its recent sale to AOL, among other such popular online political sites) and the divisiveness (I don't care whether anyone's liberal or conservative, but as the anger between the two parties seems to grow as the years pass, so does the pile-up of problems that this country is now facing) that politics brings may result in an interesting response if the founding fathers were able to see how various aspects of the constitution have evolved over time (such as the topic of free speech.)

In a world that becomes more and more complicated with each passing year, do we lose sight at times of the core beliefs that made this country great? Has our government, faced with lobbyists and other interest groups lost sight of what really matters?

As issues relating to health insurance, immigration and other important topics continue to flare in the media, it's interesting to take a step back to the core beliefs with Bill Moyers, the journalist whose career has spanned 40 years and who has spent time at NBC, CBS, PBS and many other outlets. Originally produced for the bicentennial, the 11-part series sees Moyers set out to find out what the constitution means to everyone from Supreme Court justices to the average person on the street.

The responses are varied and fascinating, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor - the first woman on the Supreme Court - giving a particularly insightful (and rather sweet) discussion of her experience, her role on the court and stories of the struggles that she went through during her journey (it's a remarkable accomplishment to be the first female in the male-dominated Supreme Court, but oddly enough her childhood ambition was to be a rancher), her inspirations and stories from her life in politics.Each of the 11 episodes in the series takes a look at a different story. Aside from O'Connor, there are also episodes that focus on associate Justice Lewis Powell, associate Justice Brennan and associate Justice Blackmun. While the justices offer their story and talk about their approach to handling important issues (privacy, discrimination, religion and more), we also hear from ordinary people (the episode "For the People", where ordinary people discuss their experiences fighting for their rights), philosophers ("Mortimer Adler: Teaching the Constitution") and historians ("In the Beginning").

The presentation is richly informative, well-edited and Moyers - not surprisingly - makes for an excellent interviewer. The issue - and this really isn't an issue for those interested in the material - is that the style of presentation has grown a bit dated at this point, and the amount of talking head interviews likely means that some viewers understandably will want to break viewing up into a few sittings. The series was originally broadcast on PBS and has the look and feel of a PBS doc from years ago.

I have to believe it would be a good idea to do a remake of this series with different subjects - I think taking another look at the Constitution from the prospective of today's faster-paced, tech-driven society and the differences in responses between then and now might be fascinating, and - as noted above - with a more complex society comes new questions and new problems. Again though, for "In Search of the Consitution", Moyers is an outstanding interviewer and has gathered together a set of subjects who are able to provide impressive insights and analysis of the subject matter through the window of their experiences.


The DVD

VIDEO: The 1.33:1 full-frame presentations look somewhat hazy/soft, as if the presentation - the source looks like a somewhat worn video copy. Considering the era, the presentation quality isn't troubling, but it does look its age. Colors look a touch muddy, but again, given the video source, the presentation is adequence.

SOUND: The stereo soundtrack is decent enough considering the production and era, but I thought speech wasn't precise and had to turn up the volume to a point higher than what I would consider normal.

EXTRAS: A 16-page booklet and updates on the participants.

Final Thoughts: While a touch dated at this point, "In Search of the Constitution" is an important documentary that I'd love to see revisited/updated for today. The DVD set provides adequate audio/video, along with a few minor extras. Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical docs.
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