Tell me a story about what it was like...
September 23, 2012 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Documentary Recommendations: I don't know what this is called but I've noticed in two recent Ken Burns documentaries. In The West, there are some very old Native Americans who talk about their experiences and memories. And in his one about the Brooklyn Bridge, there is a man is over 100 years old taking about how he was a water boy when he was about 10 years when the bridge was being built. I want more of these types of interviews where they have pictures of the past along with people who were there talking about it.

The time period I'm interested in is as old as photography is but before, I guess, modern movies. Maybe no later than 1920s?

There is something about seeing these people talking about the past that is so absolutely fascinating to me. Like when the South Cheyenne woman gave the little whoop the warriors would do before they would dance and then she just laughs. Granted, she was born well after so much damage was to the Native American population, but she was alive in a much different era than I could ever witness.

When I was a kid, the movie Apprentice to Murder came out about the Hex murders. I was talking with my great-grandmother's aunt (great-great-aunt?) who was born in 1900 and had lived in the next town over from where those murders took place. She had known the people involved, not as friends, but as people about town. I knew the movie was based on real events, but that connection to a real person just made it so real in a way it hadn't been before.

I imagine the term might be first-hand accounts, but I'm not really a history person so I'm not sure what else to search for to narrow down my search. It doesn't have to be about a particular incident, like a war. It can be just someone recounting everyday living.

I'm not trying to romanticize anything about the past, just hearing actual people talk about things that will only ever be pictures to me is simply fascinating. It feels like time-traveling.

I have Netflix but also public and university libraries to order DVDs from.

i would ask the old folks in my family but they're all long gone, unfortunately.
posted by sio42 to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The term "oral history" might be helpful to you (although many of these are audio-only or even text transcripts, not video).
posted by sallybrown at 6:03 PM on September 23, 2012

There's a fantastic HBO documentary called "A Century of Living," which interviewed about a dozen people born at the beginning of the 20th century. Doesn't seem to be available on Netflix, unfortunately, but hopefully a library can help you find it.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:17 PM on September 23, 2012

wow, that seems to be exactly the type of thing i'm looking for! how cool!
posted by sio42 at 6:25 PM on September 23, 2012

You might be interested in the Federal Writers' Project. It's from the 1930's, though.

If you follow the link on that page, "Voices from the Thirties," and then "Excerpts from Interviews," there are some short recordings. But reading the written histories is interesting as well.

There's also a DVD called "Soul of a People," about the same.

There is also a huge collection called Born Into Slavery. Unchained Memories is a documentary about these stories, but with actors narrating them.

There are probably a lot of other resources in the LOC but this was the first one I thought of.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:30 PM on September 23, 2012

Try searching Netflix for the PBS show "American Experience" or go straight to the source. While not everything they do fits your criteria, some do (well, almost: 1930s), like The Civilian Construction Corp or The crash of 1929. Both are part of their 1930s collection.
posted by fings at 6:36 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not quite a documentary,but the Warren Beatty film "Reds", the story of John Reed, the American journalist who wrote about the Russian Revolution has sections where "witnesses" who lived through the time period talk about it. Well worth watching.
posted by Isadorady at 8:25 PM on September 23, 2012

You might find something that suits at Web of Stories.
posted by unliteral at 9:10 PM on September 23, 2012

Band of Brothers and The Great War if you're amenable to war stuff. Maybe Dogtown & Z-Boys?
posted by rhizome at 10:06 PM on September 23, 2012

I found Samuel J. Seymour's appearance on "I've got a secret" fascinating. I won't spoil it for anyone, but it's 19th century American history.
posted by at at 11:12 PM on September 23, 2012

thanks for some good answers.

stuff about skateboarders is a bit too late for what i'm looking for. but stuff like Band of Brothers is definitely more like it.

the Web of Stories look like a great way to spend a few hours!
posted by sio42 at 6:12 AM on September 24, 2012

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