Television: The Enchanted Mirror, an acclaimed 1981 documentary about the impact of television on people and social institutions, which was produced before the dawn of the computer age, has been remastered and released by Whole Earth Films. Produced by Julene Bair, and co-directed by Julene Bair and George Csicsery, the film is available on DVD for the very first time.
Television: The Enchanted Mirror is a half-hour color film featuring interviews with TV directors, writers, an ABC executive in charge of standards and practices, a brain behavior scientist, an advertiser, and members of the viewing public. It explores TV’s influence on the perception of reality and on moral values, and shows how the most isolated members of society depend on the medium.
Various critical approaches to television are measured against the experiences of children, their parents, and other TV viewers. Some of the forces and pressures that mold the structure of commercial TV are explained by TV drama directors and writers. The film features interviews with noted directors Karen Arthur and David Greene, and writers Stanley Greenberg and Harlan Ellison.
The film examines the impact of TV on the family, on individuals, and on social institutions. One section looks forward from 1980 to survey and question the changing technologies of television, and ponder how these will affect Americans in the future.
Television: The Enchanted Mirror was premiered at the International Public Television (INPUT) screening conference in Venice, Italy, in March 1981. It was enthusiastically received as “a concise summary of the controversies surrounding the world’s most powerful communications medium.” It is a description of the role of TV in everyday life in the United States in 1979-1980, a valuable snapshot of how humans and TV interacted just before the computer revolution changed everything.
Festivals and Awards
• Second Place Award, Marin County National Film Competition (August 1981)
Press Reviews and Quotes from the Film
A hilariously depressing and clinical view of how TV shapes our psyche, sex, stomach, souls and political selections.
One night, after having lain there supine, like a dead fish, for eight and a half hours, I suddenly realized, "My God in heaven, they got me too." And at that moment, I realized that no one was safe from it, that the great cyclopean eye of television would get you, no matter where you were, or who you were, or how bright you were.
Television does not permit a heightened awareness. It wants to keep you asleep. It wants to keep you dulled and somnambulistic with football, enough cleavage, and as many car wrecks as it can get away with. Because in that direction lies your compliance with what they need you for—and that’s to BUY.
I don’t think we’re in trouble in this culture because of television. I think that television is a reflection of the trouble that we’re in, and to some degree might help to get us out.
I like Columbo. I like Dennis Weaver. I like Hawaii Five-0,
The new DVD release includes A Hidden Talent,
This is a terrific industry. Obviously, when forty million people watch a single show, we are doing something right.
I’ve been doing commercials for seventeen years; you have to do something a little unusual ‘cause people get sick and tired of looking at you.
Most of the networks make use of pre-evaluation techniques that involve conscious bias. We’re confident that this method is free of conscious bias. You can’t cheat on it. The brain doesn’t lie.
When the Lord touched me, I got healed through one of the programs on PTL. That’s when I realized that he really does heal today; he really is real. And I gave my heart completely to the Lord and let him take over, because I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I used to be a very impatient person. I was a yeller, a screamer. And the change was so abrupt. It’s a 90 degree turn.
The day after a show, all the executives at the networks are all looking up the ratings. Now in Roots, for instance, they didn’t know that Roots was going to be a big success. They were scared it would just be a black show and only have a black audience. And for that reason, in the casting period, everybody was very worried — "only cast people who’ve got a TV series so the audience won’t think it’s highbrow. And they won’t think it’s Hallmark Hall of Fame, and they won’t think it’s PBS, and they won’t think it’s educational. It’s gotta be very clear that it’s entertaining."
Assistant cameraman Michael Giovingo, cinematographer Michael Anderson, producer and co-director Julene Bair, and co-director George Csicsery confer about a shot at a 7-Eleven store while filming Television: The Enchanted Mirror in 1979.
My husband has now gotten into a habit of watching television. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t do any kind of hobbies or crafts or things like that, because he’s never cultivated anything. But just the couple of weeks we’ve had the TV plug on, when he comes home, it’s a hassle now to undo the plug and plug it in, so he does something else; like he works out in the yard, instead of just coming home and sitting in front of the television.
The new 2008 release includes two extra features on the DVD:
• “A Hidden Talent” features interview subject Max Bender on the mouth harp.
• “Sherlock and Lawdog” is a discussion between two Emeryville, California, police officers about the challenges of living up to the image of TV cops.
Production of Television: The Enchanted Mirror was sponsored by Film Arts Foundation and funded by a 1979 grant from the California Council for the Humanities (CCH).