Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds Broadcast

by Salman Hameed

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the radio broadcast about Martian invasion that spooked many (how many?) Americans in 1938. Below is pretty good American Experience episode that provides the background on the panic and on the genius of Orson Welles. I do think that the word "genius" is quite appropriate for Welles, as he transformed theater, radio, and then movies - all before the age of 26! He is the Einstein of the entertainment industry. Okay - I digress.

But while you watch the show, also read this Slate article that claims that the stories of widespread panic following the broadcast are a myth, created by the newspapers, and they criticize this PBS documentary as well. I think they have a compelling argument for reducing the size of the myth, but I think the documentary is more than just about the panic, and presents a broader cultural context as well as caveats in estimates about the freakouts. One thing I did not like in the documentary: Actors performing actual comments from listeners at the time. Annoying and distracting. The real story is so good that you don't need gimmicks to keep viewers' attention.

You can also listen to the original radio broadcast on OpenCulture, where they have also included the video of a press conference following the panic - and it contains an amusingly brilliant performance by Orson Welles.

Here is American Experience - War of the Worlds (it is about an hour long).

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