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King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

March 11, 2013 by  



“King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” is a fantastic, important and inspiring documentary that gives viewers a chance to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his crusade to end segregation.  Viewers will no doubt gain a better appreciation of King but also be inspired and knowing that through great adversity there is hope.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1970

DURATION: 181 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION:Black and White, 1:33:1

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber Inc.

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: January 15, 2013

Conceived and Produced by Ely Landau

Directed by Sidney Lumet, Joseph L. Makiewicz

Produced by Ely A . Landau

Associate Producer: Richard Kaplan

Starring:

Martin Luther King (archived footage)

Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward

Ruby Dee

James Earl Jones

Clarence Williams III

Burt Lancaster

Ben Gazzara

Charlton Heston

Harry Belafonte

Sidney Poiteier

Bill Cosby

Diahann Carroll

Walter Matthau

Anthony Quinn

Leslie Uggams

King: A Filmed Record…from Montgomery to Memphis is the landmark documentary that chronicles the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, and culminating with his assassination in Memphis in 1968. Originally screened in theaters for only a single night in 1970, King: A Filmed Record combines dramatic readings by Harry Belafonte, James Earl Jones and Paul Newman, among others, with newsreel and archival footage to create a powerful and comprehensive record of Dr. King’s legacy and the American Civil Rights movement. King: A Filmed Record is an indispensable primary resource of a pivotal moment in American and world history.

On March 24, 1970, a three hour and five minute documentary known as “King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis” was screened in theaters as a “one-time only” event.

The film was conceived and produced by Ely Landau (producer of “Long Day’s Journey into the Night”, “Hopscotch”, “The Holcraft Covenant”) and directed by Sidney Lumet (“12 Angry Men”, “Network”, “Dog Day Afternoon”) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”, “Cleopatra”, “Guys and Dolls”).

At the time, the film cost $5 per admission price (which was very expensive in 1970) but the purpose of the screening was to raise money for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Special Fund.

While the documentary was later shown on commercial television, it would be released on home video featuring all celebrity narrations removed and the duration shortened to 1 hour and 43 minutes.

The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Documentary” and was deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and in 1999, was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The Library of Congress in association with Robert Kaplan utilized film elements provided by the Museum of Modern Art to remaster the film in its entirety in HD from the original 35 mm preservation negative.

And now the monumental film was released on DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis” documents the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1955 to 1968.  The documentary is not about covering all of the incidents of that period but events were chosen for their historical importance and impact they had on people’s lives at the time.

Because of the authenticity of the film, certain sequences have been used in spite of defects in technical quality.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

It’s important for people to remember that his is a documentary that tries to showcase a lot of footage from a variety of sources to showcase incidents from 1955 through 1968.  Some footage look better than others, those that don’t will feature text but audio can be heard or changing images.

“King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” is presented in 1:33:1 black and white.  You will see occasional white specks and dust pop up on the video but the scenes with narrations still shows grays and whites well-contrast while the remaster shows much better detail than the older abridged version that was released on home video many years ago.

So, one should not come to expect pristine video but you will see footage from that era in time, incidents that possibly many people have never seen in their lives, featured on this documentary.  Important scenes, inspirational scenes but also scenes of prejudice, racism and heartbreak.  But you will also see scenes of hope.

Audio also varies but for the most part, dialogue is clear, no major problems with audio, no major pops or significant hiss.

For the most part, the remastering of this monumental documentary was well-done and this remastered looks much better than what aired on television and the previous home video version and it’s uncut!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” does not come with any special features.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an American clergyman and the most recognized leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, in order to show the importance of King’s role in the advancement of civil rights, you need to go as far back as in 1955 when he led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and began preaching for nonviolent protests.

These protests attracted national attention thanks to television news coverage as it would show the charismatic and intelligently spoken individual doing all he can to motivate and inspire people against segregation.

“King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” is presented in its entirety on video for the first time.  Because it is three hours long is split into two discs right at the documentary’s intermission.

The first half of the documentary shows us how there were radical Black leaders who preached violence and a juxtaposition showing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching about how to use power but with non-violence and while other Black leaders were against all White men and preaching Black power, King made the point that there are White people in the United States trying to end segregation and wanting to see Black people free and believed that together, people should work together to solve the problem.

And as there were radical Black leaders who preached the use of violence because it is a war, Dr. Martin King, Jr. preached that he would not go so low to perpetuate evil and participate in the conflict of the war because he was tired of evil, hate and will not resort to violence.

We see the organized protests that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many Black people took part in.   As law enforcement continue to uphold the segregation laws, we see the reaction of the local people towards Blacks when they enter their restaurants, cafes, waiting rooms, lunch counters which are supposed to be segregated. Politicians ask for King to leave Alabama as he has become a menace to society but King and many followers continue to go to these locations where police await to arrest them.  Many Black and White are seen being arrested during these non-violent protests.

But we also see violence as the KKK begin attacking Black churches and despite the violence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to preach for peace and that the nation will see what is happening in the state of Alabama.  Martin Luther King, Jr’s presence in Birmingham, Alabama was important as it was teh most segregated city in the United States at the time and also had the most violent KKK chapter.  Many unsolved bombings, many Black people terrorized and killed for decades but nothing being done about it.

And we see the brutality as captured by news, from soldiers and officers attacking Black people, while many Blacks continue to show their protest through non-violent means.  And how jails were packed and filled with Black people (children and adults).  And the non-violent protests was important in Dr. Martin Luther King’s march to stop segregation and get many to organize for freedom of all Black people.

Instrumental because people saw Black people singing, not fighting but yet many off them being attacked by police with their batons, police dogs being sent to bite on protestors, gas being shot out to innocent people and water being shot on them by the fire department.  We can hear the screams of adults, women, children as they are being sprayed by heavy water and knocked to the ground.  Some trying to hide behind trees or buildings.  Shocking visual images that were captured on video for the nation to see.

But the nation got to see the ugly side of racial injustice in Birmingham in 1963 as four young girls on their way to Sunday school at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and were killed by dynamite ignited by white supremacists (23 people were also hurt by the blast).  During the funeral, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. still asks people to love thy neighbor and love thy enemy and to pray for them.  A side note to this tragic incident, to show the injustice to those children who were killed and people who were injured, the KKK member responsible for this incident was arrested but was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence.  It wasn’t until 1977 until this man was retried and found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  It wasn’t until 2000 that the FBI announced that the bombing was carried out by a KKK splinter group and four people were responsible for the crime.

The first half of the documentary would end with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  “I Have a Dream” public speech delivered in August 1963 in which he called for an end to racism in the United States.  Where 250,000 civil rights supporters gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  The speech is seen as the defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.It was also a speech that inspire people throughout America at that time but also for many generations.

The second half begins in October 1964 as King receives the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.  And then we see news footage in Selma, Alabama in 1965 as Black people gathered to vote as part of their silent protest.  White officials tell the Black people to get down from the steps and warning them they must get off the steps and then police coming to push people off with their batons led by Sheriff Jim Clark, while media are filming.

The footage then goes to the day known as “Bloody Sunday” (March 7, 1965). We then see an anti-violent protest that became violent when Alabama State Troopers began attacking the protestors on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma.  The ABC news footage that was shown to 48 million of Americans is seen as innocent people were being beaten.

Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. along with both Black and white supporters went to the Edmund Pettus Bridge for a peaceful protest march which featured 2,500 people as they walked all the way to Montgomery from Selma.

On March 21st, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized another peaceful protest march which featured 8,000 people.  While Sheriff Clark continued to be interviewed showcasing his button for “Never Integrating” and calling the Black people communists.  It’s important to note that Sheriff Jim Clark was one of the most vocal individuals opposed to racial integration and the only Sheriff who donned military style clothing and carried a cattle prod.

This footage would lead to March 25th when Dr. King gave his “How Long, Not Long” speech to 25,000 people gathered at the steps of the State Capital Building.  Which would lead to President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the second civil rights bill, the Voting Rights Act, outlawing the discrimination in voting and allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time.

The next footage would feature Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. headed to Chicago.  But unlike the south, efforts to have a peaceful protests would become dangerous as the “Chicago Freedom Movement” (a coalition of 44 civil rights organizations working to end slums and improve living conditions for Blacks in the city) was not as well-received in Chicago than the South.   It’s important to note that Jesse Jackson, a seminary student at the time, was in charge of organizing peaceful marches to fight for civil rights for housing but also targeting chain stores that did not deal fairly to Blacks.

The footage would show large gathering of White people in the all-white neighborhood of Marquette Park, making it known that they did not want Black people in their area.  It was this march where we King being hit by a brick that was thrown to his direction and telling the news media, “I have seen many demonstrations int he South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today”.

But unlike the south where the KKK, police and state troopers were causing problems, in Chicago, we see many white people with signs to exterminate all Blacks and with flags of swastikas promoting white power.

We also see Dr. King opposing the Vietnam War and then taking part in the “Poor People’s Campaign” in 1968 as King would travel the country to assemble a “multiracial army of the poor” that would march on Washington to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created an “economic bill of rights” for poor Americans.

So, on March 29, 1968, Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the Black sanitary public works employees (Black street repairman received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, white employees were paid for the full day).

On April 3, after King addressed a rally with his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at the Mason Temple, King was kept in Memphis because of a bomb threat against his plane.

The footage would then go to the night of April 4th during a gathering for a concert for Duke Ellington, Robert Mosely who produced the show, came out to tell the audience that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Tennessee and announcing that King had died.

The film would then end with the funeral for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A documentary that showcased important events of King’s activism from 1955-1968, the film also showcases celebrities with inspiring speeches about what was going on in America.  From powerful and inspiring words from Harry Belafonte, James Earl Jones, Clarence Williams III, Charlton Heston and many more celebrities.

Ely Landau’s “King” is a powerful, inspiring documentary which I have watched countless times but for the very first time, to watch it uncut thanks to the wonderful restoration by the Library of congress, in association with Richard Kaplan, and the film elements provided by the Museum of Modern Art.

This is a monumental documentary about one man who was able to inspire thousands of people through non-violent action which in turn, would be seen by millions of people across the country.

President Jimmy Carter gave an eloquent speech back in 1977 when he awarded King posthumously with the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” and in his citation read, “Martin Luther King, Jr., was the conscience of his generation. He gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. From the pain and exhaustion of his fight to fulfill the promises of our founding fathers for our humblest citizens, he wrung his eloquent statement of his dream for America. He made our nation stronger because he made it better. His dream sustains us yet.”

And I truly believe and know that King continues to inspire people today.

Overall, “King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” is a fantastic documentary that gives viewers a chance to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his crusade to end segregation.  Viewers will no doubt gain a better appreciation of King but also be inspired and knowing that through great adversity there is hope.

“King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis” is highly recommended!

 

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