'Civilisation - The Complete Series'
(Kenneth Clark, et al / 4-Disc DVD / NR / (1968) 2006 / BBC Video)
Overview: The eminent art historian Sir Kenneth Clark was commissioned to write and present an epic examination of Western European culture, defining what he considered to be the crucial phases of its development. Civilisation: A Personal View by Lord Clark would be more than two years in the making, with filming in over 100 locations across 13 countries. The lavish series was hailed as a masterpiece when it was first transmitted in 1969.
DVD Verdict: I've always considered Clark's series the best of this kind, though - spread out over 26 hours - the late '80s set of Weber lectures entitled 'THE WESTERN TRADITION' is equally fine. The photography and music are particularly pleasing, and Clark's claim about halfway through that "civilisation" is measured by the capacity of a culture to preserve itself (implying explicitly that "primitive societies" plowed under by the West don't count) may be shocking but also presents with disturbing candor the rationalization with which Western colonialists have bruted their values onto other lands. A couple years back, I shared an excerpt of the Clark series with a gathering of tenured "Cultural Studies" faculty, only to witness their disapproval at Clark's allegedly "dated," pre-feminist rhetoric. The fault, I fear, lay not in Clark but in themselves, for his commentary is uniformly witty and bracing, and never pretends to be other than a personal perspective. This is definitely an item I've wanted on DVD for the longest time, even though I already have it on tape. It should also be paid mention to that the last episode on disc 4 reveals that the purpose of the program was to show off color broadcasting on BBC and that Clark had very little to do with the final script and was only the narrator. Clark's first pass at the script was heavily edited by the (culturally challenged) BBC script writers. If anyting, this at least explains the concentration on architecture and paintings! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
The complete series on four discs
Sir David Attenborough remembers the making of Civilisation
Photo gallery of behind-the-scenes stills
Specially written 36-page illustrated booklet