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Ends of the Spectrum: The Left and The Right in the 1960s

Part 1: Thunder on the Right (1963)

Part 2: The New Left (1967)

Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by CBS News
Director n/a
VHS, color and b&, 54 min. each tape
Sr. High - Adult
American Studies, History, Political Science

Reviewed by Andrea Slonosky, Media Librarian, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY


This two volume series is a repackaging of two CBS news specials from the 1960's. They are presented complete, as they aired, with no contemporary commentary. As such, they provide a valuable tool for teaching and understanding our recent political history. The first tape, Thunder on the Right, documents the emergence of an extreme right wing movement in the U.S, showing militia men, demagogues, and an Australian, Barry Schwartz who travels the country inveigling against Communism. It is interesting to see this documentary now, as these movements and individuals are clearly seen by the contemporary mainstream media as being unusual and extreme, while in the current day, many of their philosophies and perceptions are regarded as standard.

The New Left also provides a fascinating look at the evolution of left of center politics, and the dizzying array of forms that evolution took - the civil-rights movement, the anti-war faction, through to the Black Panthers. The interesting point about left wing political thought was that activist on the left felt that the greatest problem was liberals, that is to say left leaning politicians who were not progressive enough, rather than truly conservative individuals. Again it is fascinating to see how the debates and dissension amongst left wing activists and thinkers have led to the fractious, ineffective progressive moment of today.

The New Left is particularly interesting as it is a rare example of a documentary about the revolutionary sixties that is entirely untainted by nostalgia or celebrity associations - for example there is no mention of Tom Hayden's marriage to Jane Fonda. Indeed, it is eerie to see clips of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy used as footage in much the same way that Hillary Clinton or Colin Powell are today - as prominent public figures, rather than as martyrs. As the documentary was made in 1967, there was no mention of their assassinations.

In many ways it is frustrating and somewhat melancholy to watch this series and see how many of the progressive, committed people-oriented impulses of the 60's have been completely abandoned. The vision of America that the New Left represented has all but evaporated under the steady and concentrated progress of the more organized and less fractious far right ring of the American political spectrum.

The series clocks in at just under two hours, which makes it a rather long piece to use in the classroom. As a CBS production, the series is aimed at a general audience and is recommended for public, high school and college libraries.