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DVD: The People Speak

The People Speak
(A&E Home Video)

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The People Speak is composed of filmed stage performances by well-known actors and musicians of writings, speeches and songs selected from Howard Zinn’s book Voices of a People’s History of the United States, itself a follow-up and companion to his classic A People’s History of the United States. Like the books it is based on, The People Speak is both a radical chronicle of the realities of this country’s minorities and working class and a who’s who of dissenters, rebels and troublemakers in American history.

While recording stage performances for home viewing is, in any instance, a dubious proposition, doing so to create close to two hours of readings from historical sources poses a unique challenge. As is to be expected, the outcome is uneven. Some performances manage to preserve their punch on the screen; others seem either flat or over the top.

The film is interspersed with commentary from Zinn, who offers opening and closing remarks, frames each historical period and introduces the speakers. His tone, unfortunately, is uncharacteristically austere, which is a disappointment since he was a charismatic and even funny speaker. Zinn’s passing earlier this year and the film’s dedication “to the rebel voices of the coming generations”-ones bound to be more dependent on visual media than its predecessors-, make The People Speak, while not exactly indispensable, certainly very timely.

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