American Masters: Season 17 (2002 - 2003)


Season 17
American Masters

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Episodes

Air date: Oct 2, 2002

This profile of Willie Nelson pieces together the country outlaw's life as it follows him on tour. Commenting: Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, Lyle Lovett, Dave Matthews and Kinky Friedman, as well as Nelson's sister Bobbie, daughters Amy and Paula, and members of his road "family." The profile also includes Nelson's own takes on a number of subjects. Among them: his past tax woes. "It was good for my image," he says dryly. "It helped the 'outlaw' thing along."

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Air date: Oct 30, 2002

A look at Lon Chaney profiles the silent-film actor and makeup genius who was "Hollywood's first character star," says historian Michael F. Blake, the author of three books on Chaney. Kenneth Branagh narrates this biography, which first aired on Turner Classic Movies in 2000. It features Chaney home movies and clips from Chaney's silent classics, including "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Also interviewed: Forrest Ackerman (Chaney's great-grandson).

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Air date: Jan 29, 2003

Established in 1905 for the encouragement and nurturing of young talent, the New York-based conservatory Juilliard has boasted such stellar alumni as Kevin Kline, Wynton Marsalis, Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve, Christine Baranski, Laura Linney, and Kelsey Grammer -- not to mention such distinguished instructors as Walter Damrosch and John Houseman. Produced in conjunction with a book about the celebrated conservatory, this two-hour TV documentary focuses on four contemporary Juilliard students: Jeffrey Carlson (acting), Abdur-Rahim Jackson (dance), Elizabeth Morgan (piano), and Sarah Wolfson (voice). In fine PBS tradition, the footage of the chosen foursome studying, practicing, succeeding, and sometimes falling short of their goals is counterbalanced with interviews of famous Juilliard grads (as well as some current celebrities who were unceremoniously invited to leave the conservatory). Juilliard was originally telecast as an episode of PBS' American Masters anthology.

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Air date: Mar 19, 2003

Self-described "food revolutionary" Alice Waters made her mark on the restaurant industry in 1971, when the iconoclastic master chef launched her "counter-culinary" career as a protest against the then-mainstream bill of fare. Her mission culminated in the establishment of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, a one-of-a-kind eatery which took great pains to fashion food to please the individual palate, rather than cater to the masses. Waters' environment-friendly brand of socioeconomic commitment extended to strict supervision of her food suppliers, one of whom claimed that "Going to [Waters'] restaurant is like going to church." Among the friends and patrons of Waters interviewed in this 60-minute documentary are Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine (which voted Chez Panisse the best U.S. restaurant of 2001), and anti-establishment essayist Calvin Trillin. Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution originally aired as part of the PBS American Masters anthology.

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Air date: Apr 2, 2003

Assembled by filmmaker Susan Lacy, this 90-minute TV documentary charts the life and career of Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. In a starring career that spans nearly four decades, Mitchell embraced an infinite variety of musical styles, with folk and jazz in the forefront. Linking the narrative together with Mitchell's most famous lyrics (35 of her songs are represented in all), the film overflows with precious concert clips, some familiar and some shown for the first time (a rare glimpse of Mitchell performing "Blue" at a 1974 concert). Also seen are home movies of Mitchell with such co-workers and intimates as David Crosby, James Taylor, Graham Nash, and David Geffen. Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind originally aired as part of the PBS documentary series American Masters.

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Air date: Apr 23, 2003

This presentation of the PBS American Masters anthology recounts the life and life's work of the "archetypal bluesman," Muddy Waters. Born McKinley A. Morganfield in 1915 (his nickname was bestowed on him by his mother), Waters became skilled at guitar and harmonica early on, but the racial and economic circumstances of the Mississippi Delta area in which he lived dictated that he could not support himself as a musician, thus he toiled away at a variety of depressing dead-end jobs. He might have remained in utter obscurity had it not been for the diligent efforts of African-American musicologist John Work III, who in 1941 embarked upon an expedition into the Deep South in search of authentic "ethnic" music and talented amateur musicians. Once he had committed his work to record, Waters became a international icon and sensation, though it seemed that the only people who truly benefited financially from his vast musical output were the white singers who performed the "cover" versions. Even so, Muddy Waters had ascended to the status of legend by the time he passed away, still recording and performing, in 1990.

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Air date: May 28, 2003

Celebrated as the "Greatest War Photographer in the World," the Hungarian-born Robert Capa (1913-1954) vividly recorded no fewer than five wars, beginning with the Spanish Civil War of 1936. It was during this conflict that Capa achieved fame with his heartbreaking Falling Soldier , capturing the death of a Spanish freedom fighter at the moment of the bullet's impact. Capa went on to photograph several of the major battles of WWII, including D-day (his coverage of this epochal event inspired the harrowing opening sequence of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan). His brilliance with the camera transformed Capa into an international celebrity, bringing him in close contact with several other notables, among them actress Ingrid Bergman, with whom he had a brief romance (Bergman's daughter Isabella Rosellini is among those interviewed in this documentary). It was during his coverage of the French-Indochina war of the early '50s that Capa was killed in action after he stepped on a land mine. First exhibited at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 2003, the 90-minute Robert Capa: In Love and War made its American TV bow four months later on the PBS American Masters anthology.

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Air date: Jul 30, 2003

Always his own best audience, celebrated author, social critic, and self-described political "nag" Gore Vidal also proves the ideal master of ceremonies (via film clips from an extended interview) for this biographical documentary. From the vantage point of his villa in Ravello, Italy, Vidal recalls his own tempestuous life and career, all the while dispensing caustic barbs aimed at the country of his birth, "The United States of Amnesia." The author's most famous literary works are touched upon, notably his Broadway plays +Visit to a Small Planet and +The Best Man; his iconoclastic historical novels Burr and Lincoln; and, of course, his once-scandalous best-seller Myra Breckenridge. Also given ample airspace are Vidal's many plunges into the political arena (a natural outgrowth of his heritage, coming as he did from a long line of Tennessee public servants), including his unsuccessful run for office; his ceaseless verbal assaults on the nation's Founding Fathers ("hucksters who were posing for history"); his shocking comments on the Kennedy clan during a 1973 telecast of The Dick Cavett Show; and his notorious 1968 TV confrontation with William F. Buckley, which degenerated into a vicious name-calling session, a lawsuit, and a public apology from Buckley. Several of Vidal's friends, associates, and admirers appear on camera, notably actors Eli Wallach, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon, all of whom read passages from his novels. All in all, this is a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of a man described by one associate as a "nasty, witty, shrewd, contemptible fellow," and by other acquaintances as a warm, personable, caring gentleman. Previewed at the Sundance Film Festival January 20, 2003, The Education of Gore Vidal made its TV debut six months later as part of PBS' American Masters anthology.

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