Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, The (1976) >>

Print Resources

Rosenthal, Alan, ed. Why Docudrama? Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999.
This particular book sets forth, with the help of many contributors, to analyze the uses of documentary filmmaking both in the US and abroad. The editor is himself a successful documentary filmmaker specializing in Middle Eastern topics; however, this does not dissuade him from tackling good old-fashioned American television docudrama. He actually devotes an entire chapter to it. As a whole, the book will serve to enlighten in several areas of documentary, but there are a few chapters exclusively devoted to American film and the Hollywood spin on history. In chapter five, it is suggested that America's hunger for docudrama emerged during the Watergate scandal of the early 1970's. Americans were searching for different viewpoints on the newsmakers of the day and of the past. A new "twist" so to speak. There is also a suggestion that the taboos of past generations, especially when dealing with public figures and events, fell away during the late 20th century, creating an audience that was more willing to believe other than what was spoon-fed them. Public Television is also credited with bringing about the heyday of the docudrama, with its gritty worldview, and British influence, (Britain, incidentally, being the birthplace of docudrama according to the contributors). We would like to make a special note about chapter ten, which opens with some humorous if not ironic quotes about Hollywood's record with historic research. In this chapter there are some amusing anecdotes about how some of Hollywood's research is done. Chapter twenty is a must for any student of "History in the Movies," because it details probably one of the most daunting undertakings in Historical drama, Alex Haley's Roots, and the miniseries of the same title. If nothing else, Rosenthal's compilation will deepen the student's understanding of why docudrama sells time after time on the small screen, and how Hollywood has improved its own research techniques in the area of history while still maintaining the entertainment factor.

See Also

Frankel, Max. "One peep vs. docudrama: docudramas and their innaccurate representation of facts." The New York Times Magazine 16 March 1997: 6:26.

Grefrath, Richard Warren. Rev. of Why Docudrama?: Fact-Fiction on Film and TV, by Alan Rosenthal. Library Journal 1 March 1999: 87-88.

Lipkin, Steven N. Real Emotional Logic: Film and Docudrama as Persuasive Practice. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001.

Rollins, Peter C. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.

Schnieder, Alfred R. "Preserving the Integrity of the Docudrama." Television Quarterly summer 1992: 75-77.

Shapiro, Ann-Louise. "How Real is the Reality of Documentary Film?" by Jill Godmilow. History and Theory December 1997:80-82.

Video/Audio Resources

Lindbergh: The Shocking and Turbulent Life of America's Lone Eagle. Dir.Stephen Ives. WGHB. 1990. 60 minutes.
This documentary, narrated by actor Stacy Keach, contains some amazing footage of Lindbergh both in the air and on the ground. The sweeping vistas of the earth, as seen from the cockpit of a barnstorming adventurer, evoke the feelings of those daring individuals who first undertook the new frontier of flight. Despite this dramatic backdrop, this video documentary does not hold back on either Lindbergh's great triumphs, or his fall from grace. There are no over-empathetic pleas to forgive the aviator for his pre-World War II anti-Semitism, or to hide it for that matter. This video tries and succeeds in showing a Lindbergh that took life as it was dealt and never apologized, not because he was a hardened man, but simply because that was the only way he knew how to handle what was laid before him. Lindbergh is demystified and also de-deified in a way that does not detract from his accomplishments, but rather paints a picture of a simple man who in any other time period would have remained safely anonymous.
Lucky: The Story of Charles Lindbergh. Videocassette. Dir. Robert W. Foster. A&E Home Video, 1994. 50 minutes.
This A&E biography runs like an early 20th century newsreel. The video narrator's dramatic voice-overs accompany some incredible film footage of both Lindbergh as aviator and as a key player in the "Crime of the Century." Perhaps melodramatic is a more fitting adjective, for this video documentary is decidedly slanted. Lindbergh is the untouchable hero who perseveres through personal tragedy and remains America's Hero until his death. Fascinating trial footage shows a calm, collected Bruno Hauptmann taking the stand and the damaging testimony of several witnesses to the jury. If you knew nothing about the case before watching this biography, you are definitely led to believe Hauptmann the guiltiest man on the planet. As for Lindbergh himself, little time is devoted to his personal life. What time is not spent on the kidnapping trial is focused on his transatlantic flight and subsequent flights from the hounding of the American press. As far as his unpopular opinions about war and Jews, the issues are skirted completely while instead emphasizing his support of the war in the Pacific. Harry Chase, A&E's signature Biography host, in the last words of the presentation, not in the video itself, offers the only mention of his anti-Semitic views, . It is a dangerous thing to name this "propaganda," and there is some wonderful file footage, however it falls short in telling the whole story.