Middletown (1982/Documentary TV Mini-Series/Icarus Films DVD
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B- Episodes: B
been years since I have seen the documentary mini-series Middletown,
first shown on PBS stations in 1982.
Various directors made the six installments that became a bigger hit
than many may remember. From Muncie, Indiana comes the
following tales, the town picked as the example of “Middletown
in a famous key writing decades before. [Key:
The Campaign (Tom Cohen) shows an ominous
mayoral race in which the incumbent Democrat is challenged by a Republican who
seems to be at a disadvantage until he starts riding a wave of Neo-Conservatism
in its infancy. This one has definitely
appreciated in value.
The Big Game (E.J. Vaughn) is about how
basketball at the local Muncie
School goes far beyond the school building and is
a very big deal to the whole community.
Happening before the game was transformed by big money; it is a portrait
of when the game was still a game and why that changed for better and worse.
Second Time Around (Peter Davis) gives us a couple
made of two people who were previously divorced at a time when this was still a
new thing in the 1970s and how the new couple has to deal with old baggage and
other unresolved issues. Much better
than any so-called “reality TV” and very raw.
Community Of Praise (Richard Leacock/Marisa Silver)
captures a Christian Fundamentalist family long before Neo-Conservatives and
their corporate sponsors (plus the Internet) made them a much less isolated
affair. Interesting, disturbing and sad,
no one could have imagined at the time we would be seeing and hearing more from
this part of the country.
Family Business (Tom Cohen) was the last of the broadcast
shows and maybe the best as a family struggles to keep their family business
going, which is a problem since it is a franchised business and is located away
from a main strip of fast food businesses.
Ex-Marine Howie Snider has bought into what is now a much smaller chain
and was larger then, but business is not as profitable as he expected a few
years in and the franchiser is ready to pull the rug out from under him. He turns to his family for help, but they
have their misgivings too. In this disc’s
only flaw, we never get an update on what happened, even if this is more about
the character study than their business.
Seventeen (Joel Demott/Jeff Kreines) runs
the longest at 118 minutes and was considered so controversial that it was
banned from PBS, so it instead was released theatrically and did business, plus
won the Grand Jury Prize at a new film festival called Sundance in 1985. Focusing on Seniors at Muncie’s Southside
High School, it few in the face of happy, mostly all-white, phony, “happy to go
to malls and spend all our money” artificial teen portraits of the time and
makes it a vital documentary record of the teens and future young generations
left behind by Neo-Conservatism.
the dramatic mini-series of the time (Roots,
Thorn Birds, Upstairs Downstairs, Rich
Man Poor Man) that get remembered all the time, the documentary series do
not, even with the many documentary cable/satellite channels out there, so
there are obviously some who wish Middletown
would simply disappear, but it will not, is not, should not and one worth going
out of your way for.
X 1 image comes from older transfers of the 16mm filming throughout all six
releases. Color can be muted and detail
lacking, but the prints are not in bad shape and a Blu-ray release is
ultimately possible if the material has even survived in this good shape. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is also as clean
as can be expected for the way these were produced, which is not bad
include a booklet inside the big DVD case with two essays (one by Peter Davies,
the other by Joseph S. Trimmer), while DVD 3 has an on camera Davies interview
that goes through all the shows, but should be seen after seeing the whole
- Nicholas Sheffo