World In Action: Volume 1

****

Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

Modern History teachers up and down the country must be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of this DVD - a dozen high-quality documentaries, perfect for sticking on in front of a class of teenagers and letting them escape for a break.

Well, maybe that's a bit flippant, but this release will certainly be invaluable to students of the last 40 years, with this first volume of classic programmes spanning some of the most controversial and memorable events of the time.

Now that ITV's idea of current affairs is Celebrity Love Island, it's startling to realise that this hard-hitting series was once a primetime fixture of its schedules. Some of the names involved in this selection have gone on to other things, like Gus MacDonald (later a Labour Party minister and peer) and Michael Apted (most recently directing the ridiculous TV series Rome); others, like John Pilger, are still doggedly producing investigative journalism in an ever-shrinking field.

Pilger's The Quiet Mutiny, from 1970, is one of three documentaries covering aspects of the Vietnam War, from the US troops, to London anti-war protestors and the mountain people caught up in the conflict - the latter is a particularly strong look at an aspect of the war which has been largely forgotten.

But the strength of this compilation is that even in the programmes which cover well-remembered events, such as the death of Steve Biko at the hands of the South African police, or the story of the Birmingham Six, there's still a lot of interest in how the tales are told, watching how the process of documentary television has changed over the years. It's depressing to realise just how dumbed down even programmes like Panorama, or Horizon, have become. And as for a DVD compilation of the tabloid tosh on Tonight With Trevor McDonald, don't hold your breath.

There's a good mix of subjects here, from the interview with Mick Jagger after his 1967 drug arrest - a glimpse of the silly, exciting, strangely quaint counterculture of the time - to one with Horst Mahler, one of the Baader-Meinhof gang, which reminds you that terrorist attacks are hardly a new phenomenon, despite our leaders' rhetoric.

Each documentary is fairly short and if you don't have background knowledge of the subject, you might feel a little confused at times - some extra features might have helped here. But it's fascinating to see these events as portrayed at the time, rather than in hindsight.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2005
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Hard-hitting documentary series.
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