If you’ve read my blog, you know that I’m a huge fan of American Masters. The Award-winning series was created and launched on PBS in 1986 by Executive Producer Susan Lacy, who, after decades at PBS/WNET, is now expanding her reach at HBO Documentary Films. American Masters has consistently trumpeted the work of fascinating creative talent and provided a viable venue for many documentary filmmakers to ply their craft.
Tonight, American Masters premieres a somewhat unorthodox and uncharacteristically lazy addition to its canon with The Boomer List (Tuesday, September 23, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times in your region). Produced and directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose longtime gig as a professional still photographer informs the visual and visceral flavor of this film, The Boomer List aims to celebrate a generational milestone: 2014 marks the year that the youngest members of the Baby Boom generation (1946-1964) turn 50.
Greenfield-Sanders shot 19 notable Baby Boomers (predominantly media stars) who face the camera one by one and tell how their lives and careers were impacted by growing up in post-World War II America. While roadblocks and watershed political, social and racial movements and events like the Vietnam War, the JFK assassination, feminism, AIDS, new technology, campus and race riots are touched upon in the Boomers’ recollections, their segments are essentially genial, self-promoting career bios that do little to get to the core of what our generation is all about.
Yes, I’m a Baby Boomer; and fellow Boomers and the generations that came before and after would do better to watch Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward’s brilliant 14-hour The Roosevelts: An Intimate History to understand the hearts and great minds that set the stage on every level for the Baby Boom generation. And Ken Burns’ upcoming series on the Vietnam War should take us another step closer to understanding the Boomer psyche. (Until then, see my September 14, 2014 post on The Roosevelts: an Intimate History for its continuing screening availability.)
If you can’t manage to hang on during 90 minutes of The Boomer List’s interminable snapshot profiles, backed nonstop by an annoying music track, you might do better to check out filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ much more suitable incarnation of his film–the coffee table companion book due out from Luxury Press on October 1, and his photo exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., running from September 26, 2014 – June 30, 2015. American Masters: The Boomer List premieres tonight on PBS, Tuesday, September 23, 9-10:30 p.m. Check local listings in your region for air times and repeat broadcasts.
Or better yet, stick around on PBS tonight (Tuesday, September 23, 10:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m., ET. Check local listings.) for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the acclaimed theatrically released documentary airing immediately after The Boomer List on American Masters. PBS now has “exclusive broadcast rights” to the 2010 film by co-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, who captured Joan–nips, tucks, warts and all–behind-the-scenes in her 76th year. American Masters is airing Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work as an “In Memoriam” tribute. The film will stream for a limited time, post-broadcast, at http://www.pbs.org/americanmasters
Joan Rivers may not have been a Baby Boomer. But she sure knew how to speak to our zeitgeist and make us laugh. She will be sorely missed. –Judith Trojan