This portrait of the inimitable magician Ricky Jay delves into the mysterious world of sleight-of-hand and its small circle of eccentric devotees. Jay is also a best-selling author, historian, actor and a leading collector of antiquarian books and artifacts. Told largely in Jay’s own distinctive voice, the documentary traces the story of his achievement and that of other master magicians.
Bing Crosby was, without a doubt, the most popular and influential multi-media star of the first half of the twentieth century. His remarkable appeal, which continues to this day, was in his seemingly effortless ability to pull an audience in to his intimate, laid-back voice and innate charm. For over three decades, through radio, film, television, and records he reigned supreme. A brilliant entrepreneur, Crosby played an important role in the development of the postwar recording industry. As one of Hollywood's most popular actors, he won the Oscar for 1944's Going My Way and starred in the iconic "Road" films with Bob Hope. Crosby recorded nearly 400 hit singles, an achievement no one–not Sinatra, Elvis or the Beatles–has come close to matching. Thirty-seven years after his death, he remains the most recorded performer in history. Narrated by Stanley Tucci and directed by Emmy-winner Robert Trachtenberg (American Masters–Mel Brooks: Make a Noise), this film explores the life and legend of this iconic performer, revealing a personality far more complex than the image the public had only thought they'd known.
Known for her powerful images from the Great Depression, including the haunting "Migrant Mother," Dorothea Lange bore witness as young America matured into a world power. For more than five decades of the 20th century, her lens brought subjects alive, transmitting raw emotions and capturing the human condition. This film is made by Dyanna Taylor, Lange's granddaughter, who began her artistic vision, literally, at Lange's feet.
Honky Tonk Blues is an expanded director's cut of an American Masters television special about Hank Williams, and every minute of it illuminates Williams's importance as a seminal artist and American archetype. Produced with an understated fascination for the country legend's gifts and demons that shortened his career, played havoc with his marriages, and led to a haunting death at 29, Honky Tonk Blues builds a seamless profile from rare footage and rich interviews with (among others) Rick Bragg, Big Bill Lister (Williams's longtime opening act), Hank Williams Jr., and members of Williams's backup band, the Drifting Cowboys. Williams's story, including his mentorship in the blues by Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, childhood loneliness, and emergence as a whole-cloth singer-songwriter "who taught people it's okay to bear your soul in everyday language," is thoroughly compelling and resonates with many American originals (e.g., Kurt Cobain) who followed him. An outstanding documentary.