'American Masters: Billie Jean King'
(Billie Jean King / DVD / NR / 2014 / PBS)
Overview: 'American Masters: Billie Jean King' looks back to the 12-year-old Long Beach, California, girl who played tennis on public courts, observed disparity and, as she soared athletically, never stopped trying to remedy inequality.
DVD Verdict: The series' first profile of a sports figure commemorates the 40th anniversaries of the famous Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs battle of the sexes tennis match and the launch of the Women's Tennis Association. King presents her own story, with perspective from Rosie Casals, Chris Evert, Venus Williams, Gloria Steinem, Riggs' son Larry and others.
Indeed, as she herself describes it, King recognized soon after she began playing tennis that this was an elitist game, played largely by the white and privileged. Yet it’s still hard to grasp how very much has changed since she became a star in the early 1960s, gradually becoming aware of the great disparity in how women were treated against the backdrop of feminism, women’s lib and Roe vs. Wade.
And as much as this is meant to be a whole documentary celebration on BJK, the program inevitably focuses primarily on that match mentioned above in the intro. Helmed by filmmaker James Erskine, the camera work at that time may not come close to today's angles and such, but just watching Riggs, a 55-year-old hustler who had badly beaten Margaret Court after daring any of the professional women to play him is priceless even today. Especially given the outcome, of course!
In closing, if you love tennis, and you LOVE that certain tennis match - albeit now incorporating some "fuzzy" dramatized shots that have no reason to be there, sadly - you will love 'American Masters: Billie Jean King.' This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.