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PBS produces pair of solid – but flawed – documentaries

Date: 3/5/2015

Two recent PBS documentaries and a true surprise – an original zombie film – are featured in this week’s film review column.

On DVD and online: Edison; Klansville U.S.A.

The PBS series “American Experience” presents some solid and compelling documentaries and these two, although both have puzzling omissions, are well worth your time seeking out and watching.

“Edison” is a biographical look at the man who was seen as the world’s most influential inventor and is a reminder of how just the work of one man changed the world forever.

Using a wide range of sources, the documentary shows that Edison was a driven man whose single-mindedness when it came to innovation certainly had a cost in his personal life. The weakness of the program is in its treatment of Edison’s private life, as it didn’t go far enough to complete that side of him.

Also I was curious why two major examples of his ruthlessness toward competitors were handled in the way it was. While the film does go into the fact that the alternating current system bankrolled by George Westinghouse proved to be the electric delivery system the world needed – as opposed to Edison’s direct current system – the filmmakers didn’t mention the name of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian immigrant who developed the system and sold it to Westinghouse.

Nor does the documentary cover how Edison’s enforcement of his motion pictures patents and the trusts he founded literally drove people across the country to escape his enforcement.

These omissions, while disappointing, ultimately do not take too much away from the final production. It’s a great film to put the modern world into an historical perspective.

“Klansville U.S.A.” is film that tells part of the story of the fight for civil rights that many of us – including myself – may not know. Set in the mid-1960s in North Carolina, the film explains how the Ku Klux Klan came into prominence in that state under the control of its leader Bob Jones.

What I like about the documentary is how it looked into the reasons the Klan attracted so many poor whites in what was considered the most liberal of the Southern states: that whites feared African Americans with new freedoms would usurp their jobs and limited social position.

Again though, I had a quibble with the filmmakers. After detailing the rise and fall of Jones – he lost support through his abuse of Klan membership funds, among other things – there was no follow-up. What happened to him? Is there still a Klan presence in North Carolina?    

Again these are minor points in an otherwise fine documentary, but ones I wish the filmmakers had pursued.

You can watch either film online at

On Video on Demand: Wyrmwood: Road of Damned

For me, of all of the horror genres, the zombie film is the least interesting, and yet there have been dozens of zombie productions that all trade on the universe created by George Romero and John Russo in “Night of the Living Dead.”

Zombies are not characters; they are tools to move a plot involving an apocalyptic story forward.

Frankly most of the people who have made these films should be writing some sort of check to Romero and Russo – not, however, the team that made this zombie film though.

“Wyrmwood” is a wild trip into the Australian outback where something in the air has turned the general population into flesh eating undead. The survivors are simply struggling with staying alive, but they learn, as we do, there are new rules surrounding these zombies.

To tell too much of the plot would be a disservice, as I loved the twists and turns of this film.

Horror fans should love this film, but be aware it is gory, though, as a zombie film should be.