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Getty Images/Courtesy of HBO
Getty Images/Courtesy of HBO

Tonight: All About Ann (Richards), on HBO

Getty Images/Courtesy of HBO
Getty Images/Courtesy of HBO

Tonight: tune in for All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State. This is the story of a Democratic, recovering alcoholic, witty, and seemingly tireless woman who rose to be Governor of Texas in 1990. The documentary premieres Monday, April 28 at 9pm ET/PT.

First up, here's a short trailer to give you a taste:

Tonight, HBO airs a documentary about the life of Ann Richards. She first came to my attention in 1988, when she gave a barn-burner speech at the Democratic National Convention. (I'm pretty sure I saw her 1984 DNC speech nominating Mondale, but that memory is hazy—I mention this because that DNC coverage was among the first things I ever saw on television, and I found it enthralling.) While Richards's 1988 speech was most notable for stinging jokes at Republicans' expense, there were also memorable policy-related zingers, like:

"When we pay billions for planes that won't fly, billions for tanks that won't fire, and billions for systems that won't work, that old dog won't hunt. And you don't have to be from Waco to know that when the Pentagon makes crooks rich and doesn't make America strong, that it's a bum deal."

Photo courtesy of HBO

Much of the documentary deals with the bruising Democratic primary race leading up to the 1990 Texas gubernatorial election. Using interviews with campaign workers and extensive historical footage, this part of the film really sings—even though we know she will succeed, Richards really seems in great danger of losing that race. It reminds us what a big deal Richards was, not just to be the second* elected female governor of Texas, but to be a Democrat! Running Texas! Recall, however, that she only served one term; she was followed by George W. Bush. (That part of the film is fascinating too, as we see some of Karl Rove's campaign tactics and we see how Bush looked and spoke back then.)

* = The first was Ma Ferguson. The film discusses Ferguson and the Richards's own frustration that people often forget that bit of history.

Photo courtesy of HBO

Ann Richards was not perfect. She was an alcoholic and she flip-flopped on legislation that criminalized homosexuality. But warts and all, Richards was an engaging character and extremely effective politician. This documentary is well worth a look if you remember Richards fondly, if you don't know anything about her (you're missing out), or you just want to know how the heck a woman became governor of the great state of Texas in 1990.

Here's some preview footage from the film:

The documentary premieres tonight, Monday, April 28 at 9pm ET/PT. It runs about 90 minutes, and will presumably be on HBO Go if you miss it tonight.

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Getty Images
Watch: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
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Getty Images

In 1996, author/documentarian Jon Ronson received a phone call from someone representing Stanley Kubrick, requesting a copy of Ronson's Holocaust documentary. Ronson figured that was a bit weird, but it was Kubrick, so he'd go along with it.

After Kubrick's death in 1999, Ronson gained access to Kubrick's legendary boxes, the more than 1,000 vessels of ephemera hoarded by the master. So, uh, what's in the boxes? Lots of photographs, memos, letters, you name it.

Ronson made a 45-minute documentary about the boxes, including a tour of Kubrick's estate and the various box storage locations. He even interviews the writer of one of the "crank letters" sent to (and kept by) Kubrick. Kubrick had simply written "crank" on it and filed it away.

This is a terrific watch for anyone interested in filmmaking, Kubrick, or—let's face it—storing stuff in boxes. There's even a segment about half an hour in about how Kubrick worked out the optimal size for a box and its lid, then had them custom-made. Enjoy:

If you're not into the whole video thing, check out Ronson's feature for The Guardian on the same subject.

[h/t: Kottke.]

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YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS
Tuesday on American Experience: Tesla
YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS
YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS

Airing Tuesday night (October, 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S., American Experience presents Tesla, a documentary following Nikola Tesla's life and work. Check your local listings for times, though in most markets the show airs at 9pm. (It will also be on PBS's streaming channels starting October 19.) Here's a 30-second preview:

In American Experience's new hour-long documentary Tesla, we see a portrait of Nikola Tesla, the visionary inventor who is now known as "the patron saint of geeks."

As a lifelong geek, I went into this documentary with a sudden realization: I don't actually know much about Tesla as a person. Sure, I've seen Tesla Coils and I've read about all the wireless energy stuff, but who was this guy? Where did he come from? An hour with this PBS special answers those questions and many more. Here's the first seven minutes of the documentary, just to get you started:

The first thing that jumped out at me while watching this film is that I've been pronouncing Nikola Tesla's first name incorrectly. Watch the clip above—it's properly pronounced "nih-COLE-uh," though some of the experts in the film use the more typical American pronunciation stressing the first syllable.

Aside from learning the man's name, I was surprised to learn that his first invention was a hook designed to catch frogs (and an invention soon after was a "motor" powered by June bugs). But his first breakthrough invention was of course the AC (Alternating Current) motor, and much of the AC-related infrastructure to go with it.

The documentary paints Tesla as a man of great talent and vision, but with fundamentally flawed business sense. Time after time, he makes bad business deals or wastes money, then finds his technical progress stymied by lack of funding. Perhaps as a consequence of this frustration, he goes off the rails mentally from time to time, as in his later years claiming to have received communications from Mars, or falling in love with a pigeon. It also seems clear that he suffered from psychiatric disorders that today could probably be treated, but in the 1800s and early 1900s forced him to engage in repetitive behavior and avoid much human contact.

In any case, Tesla is a fantastic exploration of the human story behind the legend. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. (Okay, one more complaint: I would've loved to learn why he often posed for pictures with his right hand to his face.)

HOW TO WATCH THE FILM

Tesla premieres Tuesday night (October 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S. It will then begin streaming on October 19 on the PBS streaming apps.

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT FOR TUESDAY NIGHT

You should really watch Edison online (for free, legally!) for a counterpoint. Edison and Tesla were contemporaries, and Tesla actually worked for Edison early on, both in Paris and the U.S. These two films together give us a view of the importance of an inventor's vision paired with his ability to run a business. The two men are fundamentally different both in their approach to invention and business, and it's worthwhile to compare and contrast. (Incidentally, Open Culture has a roundup of the 23 American Experience documentaries you can currently stream online—that's one way to fill up your lunch breaks for the next month!)

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