American Experience: Blackout (2015)
Review: In 1988, PBS began a history series called “American Experience.” To date, IMDb.com has a staggering 29 seasons listed in the “American Experience” catalogue, with new episodes still airing weekly. As the series has no definitive end, we decided to review the episode “Blackout” as a stand-alone film.
The program focuses on the 1977 New York City blackout. Having no prior knowledge of the event, we found the documentary very informative. Certainly someone more familiar with the subject could find it lacking in significant detail, but we feel the documentary serves well as a general overview of the event. It is no easy task to fit an historical moment into an hour-long time slot, and PBS does it well. Unlike another history series we occasionally review. I’m looking at you, Nat Geo.
“Blackout” is the story of how one man’s tragedy is, or can be, another man’s opportunity. While the city experiences widespread panic, the social elite enjoy candlelit dinners and free-flowing champagne. While the champagne is being poured, countless small business owners are losing their livelihood. While the business owners watch, the poor forcibly take the things they need to close the gap between them and the rich. Amidst all the chaos, one of New York’s most notorious serial killers is on the loose. For an event neither of us had ever heard of, it certainly seems to have profoundly impacted the city and its residents.
Some hip-hop artists around at the time have said that the blackout caused a large number of DJ’s to be born literally overnight, sending a ripple through the burgeoning hip-hop scene as well. It’s amazing how all of these conflicting emotions, simultaneous tragedy and triumph, can exist in a single moment. But that seems to be the mark of the ever-balancing universe.