America’s First River


Bill Moyers: On the Hudson

America’s First River

Two feature length episodes

Written by Tom Spain

Photography: Herb Forsberg, Tom Spain & Gordy Waterman

Editing: Andrew Fredericks & Linda Spain

Produced & Directed by Monica Lange, Tom Spain, Kathleen Hughes & Tom Casciato




Richard Seltzer

Jack Welch

Dave Palmer

Robert Boyle

David Lilburne

Dave Palmer

Roger Pinetta

Fred Danbeck

Bill Moyers



Television: PBS

Video: Athena Learning



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1/1.31:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Bit rate: Moderate (ca. 5 Mbps)

Runtime: 231 min.

Episodes: 2


Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo


Subtitles: English SDH



NOW with Bill Moyers on Fred Danback (5 min.)

• 12-page viewer’s guide

• Biography of Bill Moyers



DVD clamshell case w/ hinged page: DVD x 2

Street Date: July 16, 2013


Acorn Product Description:

The Hudson River played a critical role in America’s development. Then, in the 20th century, pollution almost destroyed it. In this two-part series, Moyers explores the river’s history, complex ecology, natural beauty, enduring legacy, and the fight to save it. Includes interviews with Pete Seeger, Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric), Gen. Dave Palmer (former superintendent of West Point), and environmental activist Robert Boyle.



The Documentary: 9

Part 1: Stories from the Hudson

Starting upriver from New York City, Moyers learns why Europeans considered the Hudson an essential stop on the American Grand Tour, why West Point owes its existence to the river, and why the leaders of the American Revolution believed it the key to winning the war against the British. He pauses in Troy, New York, where another revolution boomed, and in Albany, where the Erie Canal connected the Hudson to the Great Lakes and beyond.



Part 2: The Fight to Save the River

With its freshwater rolling out to the Atlantic, and the ocean saltwater forcing its way in, the Hudson is a unique East Coast ecosystem and a river that flows in both directions. Moyers examines how this tidal back-and-forth has been echoed in the environmental battles over the river, especially the fight to get General Electric to dredge the Hudson to remove the harmful PCBs that the company dumped into its waters.


The population of the colonies was roughly equally divided on either side of the Hudson and control of the river was a prime focus of the British strategy in the War of Independence, and was the focus of General Benedict Arnold’s treason. Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle gave the Hudson River Valley a literary life. Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church painted it into the public consciousness and Seneca Ray Stoddard photographed it.



“Stories from the Hudson” describes the significance of the Erie Canal, Fulton’s steamboat and the emergence of Troy as an industrial, mercantile power and the birthplace of the country’s first all-women’s labor union. Did you know that the Hudson flows both ways 150 miles upstream from NYC to Albany, with a biological ecosystem to show for it. Ever wondered how the detachable shirt collar was invented? Do you know about the world’s largest state park or about the first hotel that advertised a light bulb in every room, or where the Hudson River gets its start, and how it was almost laid to waste by the devastating effects of persistent logging, and how its extended wilderness came to be protected by the very industrialists who once profited by its exodus to oblivion? Here’s your answer. In Part 2, “The Fight to Save the River” details the surprisingly successful efforts to reclaim the Hudson. Quite the tribute.



Image: variable

As with other documentaries that rely on archival footage and artifacts, “America’s First River” has its share of early motion picture and photographic film stock depicting life along the Hudson. And while some of that footage is pretty ratty, I wouldn’t want this film to be without a frame of it. On the other hand, the artwork, primarily of the nineteenth century, is shown to very good advantage, though I get impatient with the director’s dependence on zooming out – we never can be certain if we ever see the entire work. Interview footage is generally of very good quality – curiously, Part 1 is shown at 1.33:1, Part 2 at 1.31:1. Not a noticeable difference, just peculiar.



Audio & Music: 7/9

Nothing remarkable here in the way of an audio mix: 2-channel and satisfactory. Dialogue and voiceover is always clear, background and ambient sounds are perceptible and the music well balanced. And let’s be grateful that those relentless homey musical phrases that characterize Ken Burns documentaries are absent here (as are Burns’ agonizing, predictably phrased “signed” quotations), and instead each segment has its own melody and texture, derived mostly from a wide variety of historical and popular sources, appropriate to the scene.



Extras: 2

The second disc includes a five-minute segment from NOW with Bill Moyers memorializing Fred Danback, who died during the previous year. Fred was an important figure in the Hudson River reclamation movement and a contributor to “The Fight to Save the River.” The booklet, though small, contains biographies of Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, and articles on the history of West Point, the Erie Canal, Native American tribes of the area, and historic mansions along the river.



Recommendation: 8

The two parts of the documentary are produced and directed by different forces and have different, though complementary, themes: the first is historical, the second: political. The first is a resource you may want to re-visit, the second is more inspirational in how it extols the efforts of ordinary people in the political arena to undo what had been done carelessly by industry. As a history, “Stories from the Hudson” should not be missed by anyone who has an interest in how our country was formed. The telling is unusual in that Moyers does not dwell on wars and politics but rather on exploration and exploitation, a good deal of which was simply circumstantial. Moyers appears now and then but does not address the camera except, in that reassuring voice we have come to trust, to introduce and interview his expert and native historians and to provide insightful transitional voiceovers. Warmly recommended.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

July 7, 2013

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