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David Halberstam's the Fifties

Music Video & Concerts and Television movie directed by Alex Gibney, Susan Motamed, and Tracy Dahlby

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The raw appearance of a decade known for proper appearances

  • Apr 17, 2002
To many, the sixties cannot be mentioned without prefacing it with the adjective turbulent. However, as can be seen from this tape, in the fifties, the turbulence was there, just subterranean and pressing hard towards the surface. Quite frankly, I do not understand how anyone could be nostalgic for that decade. You see in detail the paranoia against communism milked so well by Joe McCarthy, the incredible hatred blacks faced and how people were so dissatisfied in an era of unprecedented prosperity.
Without a doubt the most moving segments dealt with the civil rights movement in the south and the integration of the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. No one can look on those scenes of federal troops protecting black high school students from ferocious whites and not appreciate the fact that our society has moved so far beyond that. While saddened, I was proud that there were people in our nation who were willing to do whatever it took to enforce the federal laws under the constitution.
In a point surprising to me, the other segments that moved me most were the ones about the development and testing of the hydrogen bomb. As a weapon, it has no use other than to destroy cities and the scenes of shock waves from detonations would scare the creator herself. It really makes one understand how dangerous those times were.
There were certainly events in the fifties that are not covered in this tape. However, in it, you see all the rawness of the decade, even though so much of it is wrapped in flannel suits and restrictive social mores. It really was a time of difficult but essential change.

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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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About this movie


The 1950s are fast becoming what the 1960s were not all that long ago. Which is to say that the era that set the stage for the obviously upheaval-heavy '60s is getting its own undressing, and the interlocutors are finding all sorts of fascinating stuff. Historian David Halberstam, who logged time in the era as a journalist and civil rights struggle participant, helped nudge the era's current popularity with hisbook, which gives this exhaustive six-tape series its name. And given art historian Karal Ann Marling's consideration of the era as the dawn of "visual culture" in her ownbookon the 1950s, it's fitting that this set is so geared towards the visual. From its coverage of the McCarthy era and the baby boom to its study of the growth of affluence as a national ideal, the set roots many of its themes through the ways 1950s culture came together as a visual spectacle. First there is television ad-mogul Rosser Reeves and the leveraging of the television as a sales machine, then there's Richard Nixon's first career salvage job via television, then there are the running visual (and literary) constructions and interrogations of domesticity, and much more. Also prevalent in the set, though, is the concurrent rise of the "men's magazine" (i.e.,Playboy), the then-alluring first edition of theKinsey Report, and the spread of a manifest culture of desire--which in writing sounds amply intellectual but in viewing is fast-paced, compelling, and easy to engage for long periods of time. ...
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Genre: Television, Music, Musical
Runtime: 390 minutes
Studio: A&E Home Video
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