Picks and Pans Main: Video

UPDATED 09/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

MOTOWN TIME CAPSULE: THE '60s

MOTOWN TIME CAPSULE: THE '70s

Brilliantly written and produced by Gino Tanasescu, primarily a director of commercials, and edited by Philip Norton and David Fairfield, these two tapes mix pop culture and history with a dash of rhythm and blues. The video is a mélange of documentary film footage, commercials, still photographs, Monty Pythonesque graphics and animation. It's all used to depict the events of those decades, from Hula Hoops and the twist to civil rights battles and Vietnam. The audio is a series of hit records that originally appeared on the Motown label, one record providing the background for each year. (The only other things on the sound track are bits of speeches or newscasts and miscellaneous sound effects; there's no narration.) The contents of the songs are not always particularly relevant to the year they represent, though Tanasescu obviously has an ironic sense of humor. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles are singing What's So Good About Goodbye, just as the screen shows a 1961 nuclear weapons test, and Diana Ross and the Supremes are going through You Keep Me Hangin' On during 1966, which is devoted mostly to film of the black rights movement. There are no identifying subtitles, so you have to be able to recognize that it's, say, Luci Baines Johnson doing the frug with Steve McQueen in one shot, or that the uniformed gentleman reviewing those Iranian troops is the fellow they used to call the Shah. But it's not necessary to recognize everyone. The images are so familiar in most cases that a viewer's response is often as emotional as it is intellectual. The horrendous succession of events in the '60s, in fact, is agonizing to watch in this compressed form. The assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War set an oppressive tone that Tanasescu makes no attempt to ignore. Included, though, are shots of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Beatles and an Edsel pulling into a service station that advertises gas for 23 cents a gallon. The '70s seem bland by comparison. Tanasescu imposes artificial themes on some years: 1972, for instance, is backed by Stevie Wonder's Superstition and includes an inordinate number of clips of various religious practitioners. The sharp-eared may also notice that Tanasescu's sequencing breaks down at one point, when Malcolm X appears in a film clip the year after the sound track has announced his death. These tapes are nonetheless fascinating and eminently worthy of repeated viewings. Any high school American history teacher who doesn't use them will be wasting a terrific resource. (MCA Home Video, $29.95 each)

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