The rarely seen "King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery to Memphis" has just been released on DVD. It was originally screened for one night only in 1970 in more than 600 theaters across the United States, but has rarely been seen since.
Produced by Ely Landau this documentary made from original newsreel footage and other original video footage shot of the rise of the civil rights movement in marches, rallies and church services. Nominated in 1970 for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it then raised over three million dollars for the benefit of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Special Fund.
The film features a historic look at the eight-year period that led up to the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. But instead of the usual image bites, we see comprehensive news camera coverage of important demonstrations and historical marches. Police attacks and later riot situations are shown in a broader context than that seen in TV news of the day.
The show begins by contrasting King with other, angrier black Civil Rights leaders preaching armed resistance to combat the persecution and killings of black Americans. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King instead uses his pulpit to organize non-violent demonstrations.
The show is punctuated at appropriate intervals by loose montages of segregated facilities ("Colored Only" signs), the intervention of National Guardsmen dispatched by Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and an occasional speech by a segregationist.
The live action sequences are linked by a series of short dramatic readings by Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Ben Gazzara, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Anthony Quinn, Clarence Williams III and Joanne Woodward.
King: A Filmed Record is valuable because it tells its story without imposing an editorial opinion -- the news film is selective, but all of it is real. We formulate our responses with more information, and perhaps question some of our earlier assumptions. Mostly we see that King's methods worked.
In the words of Ellen Holly of The New York Times, "The events are allowed to speak for themselves. The soundtrack bursts with vitality — the roar of police motorcycles, bombs, burning crosses, ambulances, gospel, shouts, the massed crowds before the Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington, and, most thrilling of all, the speeches of the man himself."
DVD-R, 2-Disc Set, B&W, Length: 185 mins.
$31.46 from The Skanner aStore at http://astore.amazon.com/theska-20