Wednesday, 24 April 2024

‘Thought Leaders’ on PBS; TCM Classic Film Festival update


Not likely to escape any sentient being’s notice is that 2024 is a presidential election year, and PBS’ “American Masters” continues its quest to examine influencers and disruptors of American political thought with “Thought Leaders,” its strand of programming focused on changemakers.

The “Thought Leaders” series returns with two new documentaries on Daniel Patrick Moynihan and William F. Buckley, Jr., two political titans who helped shape the current landscape of American democracy.

Narrated by Academy Award nominee Jeffrey Wright, “Moynihan” is the first-ever feature-length documentary to follow the life of former U.S. Senator and diplomat Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

An interesting connection, of sorts, between Moynihan and William F. Buckley, Jr., is that Moynihan, who had already served in the Nixon administration and then as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was elected to the Senate in 1976 as a Democrat, beating Buckley’s brother James, the incumbent.

James L. Buckley had the distinction of being elected to the Senate representing the state of New York, running as the nominee of the Conservative Party of New York State, beating appointed Republican incumbent Charles Goodell and Democratic congressman Richard Ottinger.

An interesting fact about the 1970 election was that Charles Goodell had been appointed to the Senate by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vacancy created by the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Senator Goodell’s son is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Moynihan had a distinguished career of serving as an Assistant Secretary of Labor under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, devoting much of his time to the War on Poverty.

In a bipartisan spirit, Moynihan served as an Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy in Richard Nixon’s first term, and after leaving the administration, he later accepted an appointment to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations by President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Moynihan authored the controversial report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” commonly known as “The Moynihan Report,” a document intended for Lyndon B. Johnson and his appointees that outlined Moynihan’s perspective on the forces that impact Black families in America.

“Moynihan” includes interviews with President Biden; New York Senator Charles Schumer; Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate to U.S. House of Representative from the District of Columbia; the late Henry Kissinger; and controversial author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“The Incomparable Mr. Buckley” follows the personal and political journey of conservative writer, strategist, candidate and provocateur William F. Buckley, Jr., one of the architects of the modern conservative movement.

Born in 1925, Buckley joined the U.S. Army during World War II and was stationed in the United States. After the war, he studied at Yale University, and after graduation penned “God and Man at Yale,” a book critical of his alma mater.

A short stint with the Central Intelligence Agency had Buckley, fluent in Spanish, stationed in Mexico City, where his boss was E. Howard Hunt, later known for his role as a central figure in the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration.

A prolific author of books that could fill a library, Buckley did not focus on politics and history alone. He penned at least a dozen novels in a series that featured the exploits of fictitious CIA officer Blackford Oakes.

Aside from being a nationally syndicated columnist, Buckley may be best known as the founder and editor of “National Review” and host of the public affairs program “Firing Line” for over thirty years.

Rising to prominence as a public intellectual of the conservative movement, Buckley influenced a generation of politicians, including Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential run in 1964 and the campaigns of Ronald Reagan.

More than just a political influencer, Buckley helped launch the conservative “Young Americans for Freedom” political activist group, which became involved in his brother’s run for the Senate.

Most notably, Buckley tossed his hat into the political ring with a quixotic run for Mayor of New York City in 1965 as the candidate of the Conservative Party. When asked what he would do if he won, Buckley replied, “Demand a recount.”

“The Incomparable Mr. Buckley” includes interviews with his only son, Christopher Buckley; Richard Brookhiser, senior editor of “National Review;” Jeff Greenfield, journalist and “Firing Line” moderator; Sam Tanenhaus, former editor of “The New York Times Book Review;” and Jay Nordlinger, Buckley’s biographer.

“Moynihan” premieres on Friday, March 29th, and “The Incomparable Mr. Buckley” on Friday, April 5th.


TCM announces that the festival’s closing night screening of “Spaceballs” will be presented by writer and director Mel Brooks, a genius in the comedy genre if there was ever one.

Famed director Steven Spielberg will have a Q&A with UCLA Film School’s Howard Suber ahead of the director’s cut screening of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a classic science fiction adventure.

Filmmaker Nancy Meyers (”Private Benjamin” and “Father of the Bride”) will introduce the world premiere restoration of one of her favorite movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest,” completed by Warner Brothers and The Film Foundation.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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