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Getting Schooled by Athena Learning

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Once again, it’s time to up your Intelligence Quota ante with a nice hand of flashcards from the folks at Acorn Media’s elite label of documentary and educational material, Athena Learning. Previously, we explored the worlds of art, war, religion, politics, and several great minds. This time ’round, we’re doing a lot of the same — because those are the topics that smart people apparently adore talking about (and that networks such as PBS and the History Channel love to air), and our titles include Secret War, In Their Own Words,, Battlefield Detectives, The Windsors: From George to Kate, and Joseph Campbell: Mythos III, as well as three individual offerings from Bill Moyers: Capitol Crimes, Amazing Grace and Chuck, er, On Our Own Terms.

Enjoy.

· Secret War (2011)

It’s a safe bet that if you produce and air a new historical World War II series, you’ll garner a devout, select audience right then and there. And that’s something the folks at the Discovery Channel rely on whenever they manufacture a show like Secret War. Most of the time, we get lucky, too — and wind up with a really good 13-episode program to gawk at for eleven hours. This entertaining (and most importantly, educational) syllabus on surreptitious activities during the Big One focuses on Winston Churchill’s espionage Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents, and contains interviews with these brave former officers (and historians and family members), as well as some of that good ol’ WWII-era footage we love to see. A bonus 20-page viewer’s guide with even more info is included.

· Battlefield Detectives (2003-2004)

Time erases or alters many landscapes of our beautiful world — including the ones wherein some of the bloodiest battles took place. Fortunately, we have a dedicated group of Battlefield Detectives to investigate these long-forgotten crime scenes. Waterloo, Gallipoli, Little Big Horn, Vietnam; no matter who won or lost, this nine-episode series follows researchers’ explorations of several famous (or infamous, if you will) combat zones from the annals of history. Geologists examine the land, psychiatrists try to figure out what the hell the warriors’ were thinking (boy, can you imagine trying to get into General Custer’s head?), and experts in weaponry, weather, and engineering also lend a hand — traveling to locations like Agincourt and Balaklava (I thought that was a dessert) in the process. A 16-page viewer’s guide comes with.

· In Their Own Words (2011)

Ever wonder what some of the world’s greatest achievers would say if you could sit down and have an intimate conversation with them? Well, so did the folks at the BBC — and In Their Own Words is the result. This six-episode documentary series combines amazing archive footage from the BBC’s vaults (a lot of which hasn’t been seen or heard since first broadcast/aired), and takes us into the minds of many great writers and thinkers alike. Clips featuring interviews with the likes of JRR Tolkien, Stanley Milgram, Jane Goodall, Graham Greene, John Le Carré, and more — including the only known audio recordings of Virginia Woolf (which’ll give you the opportunity to see if you really are afraid of her or not) — are included. A 16-page booklet and biographies on the individuals are also on-hand.

· Joseph Campbell: Mythos III – The Shaping of the Western Tradition (2011)

Although Joseph Campbell left our own plane of existence long ago, his work is still just as popular as ever. Before his demise in 1987, the mythologist/author/academic took six years off to perform a number of lectures, summarizing all of the information he had gathered over the years. In Mythos III – The Shaping of the Western Tradition, the Joseph Campbell Foundation has brought us a series of discussions that focus on items such as the legendary Arthurian romance of Tristan and Iseult, Parzival’s quest for the Holy Grail, Romantic philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Thomas Mann’s vastly influential novels The Magic Mountain, and Joseph and His Brothers. Academy Award-Winning actress Susan Sarandon hosts and narrates this five-episode third chapter of the four-part series. A fourth volume is in the works.

· The Windsors: From George to Kate (2011)

Throughout history, many monarchies have stood and reached to the sky — only to fall when the going gets tough. There is an exception, of course: England’s House of Windsor. The Windsors: From George to Kate takes a look at Britain’s long-standing royal family, whose triumphs and tragedies throughout the centuries have captivated so many. Utilizing the hell out of archive film footage and stills alike, the documentary highlights a number of historic occasions, cataloguing events such as far back as George V’s 1935 Silver Jubilee, and as recent as the funeral of Princess Diana and the wedding of her son, Prince William, to Kate Middleton. There’s even some bonus clips from that happy event, along with biographies of select Windsor family members, historic footage of King George VI, and a bonus 16-page viewer’s guide

· Bill Moyers: Capitol Crimes (2006), Bill Moyers: Amazing Grace (1990), Bill Moyers: On Our Own Terms (2000)

You can’t keep a man like Bill Moyers down. And neither can Athena Learning — who have released not one but three recent titles showcasing the many valid and ever-topical points Mr. Moyers has to raise. In the 2006 two-hour special, Capitol Crimes, the committed journalist, commentator, and former White House Press Secretary relays the trail of greed and power that Jack Abramoff left in his wake. 1990’s 80-minute Amazing Grace finds Bill diving into the origins and power of the popular Christian hymn of the same name. Finally, in the 2000-made, four-episode series On Our Own Terms, Mr. Bill examines how Americans look at and deal with death. Bonus materials for all three releases include a bonus titles, Buying the War (2007) and Pure Pete Seeger (1994), booklets, and biographies.

Happy viewing, kids!

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.