Thursday, January 09, 2014

Review: The Italian Americans on PBS America

As I've mentioned here before, I love a good documentary. It always intrigues me to learn about something or someone in a way that I hadn't thought about before. I've also written here before about my love of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). I grew up watching it back home in the States and when they brought the channel over to the UK recently in the form of PBS America, I was so excited. Now I can watch many of the shows that I know and love.

Recently I was given the opportunity to view a series currently being shown on PBS America called The Italian Americans. It's a four part series that explores the story of Italian Americans and their journey from their ancestral homeland mostly in southern Italy.

The series begins with Part 1: "La Famiglia" which starts with a look at a town called Roseto, Pennsylvania. This town at one time in the first half of the twentieth century had a population that was totally Italian-American. The town was founded by Italian immigrants. The town was studied by researchers in the 1960s, because the residents didn't have the incidences of heart disease like others in the United States. It was found that the residents defied the norm because there was a great sense of family within the community. People felt emotionally safe and had a strong connections and knew that they would not have to do without because of the community spirit. They knew that they had a safety net. This phenomenon came to be known as the Roseto Effect.

During the rest of Part 1, the story of the experiences of the new arrivals to America is told. It's a fascinating look at the adjustments that they had to make in order to build a life in their new country. They endured some hard times and lots of stereotypes rose during this time. This part of the documentary was very in depth and set a great foundation for telling the story of Italian-Americans.

In Part 2: "Becoming American", this section covers the rise of Rudolph Valentino and his role in bringing Italian representation to the silver screen. The Ellis Island experience is also highlighted and tells of how the southern Italians were treated differently upon their arrival versus how northern Italians were treated. There is also coverage of the fight for better working conditions in the textile mills and the treatment of the immigrants by the church is shown. Prohibition is also touched upon in this section.

In Part 3: "Loyal Americans", the rise of baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and the WWII years are covered. This section highlights the fierce pride within the Italian-American community for their sons to go to fight for America. They became fully invested in the country.

Finally, in Part 4: "The American Dream", highlights the rise of mainstream artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett and how they dominated the music charts in the 1940s and 50s. Also the Italian influence in other areas of the media is examined. And then the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania is revisited and it's interesting to see the findings of researchers many years later.

There is so much covered in this four part documentary that it is hard to cover everything here, but I will say, I enjoyed it so much. It was intriguing to get this detailed overview of the Italian-American experience.

The four part series is currently being shown on PBS America, on Sky channel 534 and Virgin channel 243. The second installment is coming up on Sunday, 12 January at 8pm and the subsequent installments will air on the 19th and 26th of January at 8pm.  I hope that you will have a look. It's really fascinating and well worth watching.

*Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this series for review. All opinions are mine.


Chris Lee Vella said...

Hey Dori! :) This sounds like a great documentary. I also love mob films and documentaries.

I'm guessing there is a mention of that "kind" of content right? :)


Dori said...

Hi Chris,
Yes it was great! They did touch on the mafia subject also with some insight into how the word 'mafia' made it into the language of America. They also talked about the influence of mafia references in the media and touched upon shows and films like The Sopranos and The Godfather. But they also showed a balanced picture of the full Italian American experience outside of the mafia. It was fascinating! Thanks for commenting :)

Unknown said...

Can this be purchased anywhere?

Dori said...


I'm not sure, but I think that this documentary may be available through the PBS Shop on their website. You may want to check there. I had a look on Amazon, but the one that they have listed is not the same one that I viewed. I would suggest you try the PBS shop and/or contact PBS directly. Thank you so much for visiting my site!