Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Cities > Special Interest > Industry > Politics > TV Mini-Series > Middletown (1982/Documentary TV Mini-Series/Icarus Films DVD Set)

Middletown (1982/Documentary TV Mini-Series/Icarus Films DVD Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Episodes: B



It has 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 America” in a famous key writing decades before.  [Key: Title (Director)]:


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 Central High 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.


For all 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.



The 1.33 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 throughout.


Extras 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 series.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com