History Documentary hosted by Michael Wood and published by ITV, NHK in 1991 - English narration
The Legacy series is a search for the first civilizations and their continuing legacies. Each hour-long program focuses on one of the following regions: Iraq, India, China, Egypt, Central America, and the West.
At best, this search for the continuing legacies of past civilizations can help explain how different cultures have developed over time, show how the past greatly influences all our lives, and cultivate a respect for other cultures. At worst, it can send a message that these civilizations have remained virtually unchanged through time, unlike the West, and cultivate a false view of other peoples as less "modern." The negative impact of the assumption that other cultures are not as modern as the West surfaces when Westerners make judgements, business deals, and policy decisions based on this assumption. Although Legacy aspires to the former objective, it often ends up fulfilling the latter. For example, the following statements by writer and presenter Michael Wood exemplify how the language Westerners often use to talk about non-Western peoples relegates them to a space and time outside of a Western view of the universe: "Two conceptions of civilization have fought for the soul of the peoples of the Americas, one foreign and recent, that of the West, the other ancient and native;" "For over 2000 years, China has been sustained by ideas virtually unchanged since the Bronze Age." Throughout the series, comments like the ones above and the relative absence of images of people creating and using modern technology make it difficult for viewers to see the integral roles non-Western peoples occupy in the present.
Each program in the series seeks to outline the "great tradition" of a civilization. Wood's explorations of these various civilizations' great traditions are attempts to delineate some of the broad cultural principles which hold cultures together and distinguish them from one another. However, his efforts serve to create essentialized descriptions of societies that are comprised of numerous classes, ethnic groups, religions, and other types of communities (e.g. agrarian, nomadic, and urban). These descriptions are reminiscent of Ruth Benedict's characterizations of the Hopi and Apache as Apollonian and Dionysian, respectively. Specifically, he characterizes Iraqis as long-suffering, resilient, hard-bitten, and pessimistic people; he states that Indians hold non-violence, renunciation, the inner-life, and the female as pillars of their civilization; he claims that the Chinese are guided by Confucianism, reverence for ancestors, and the quest for harmony; he asserts that the key to understanding the lives of ancient Egyptians was their desire to overcome time, a yearning to live beyond their time on earth and become immutable; he characterizes Mayans as obsessed with time and the mathematics of eternity, Aztecs as war-like, and all Central Americans as possessed of an inner strength that would allow them to bear any burden, even one as heavy as the last 500 years; and lastly, he describes the great tradition of the West as rooted in a contradiction between savagery and idealism. One can only imagine an encounter between a Westerner and non-Westerner in which the Westerner judges the non-Westerner as an inauthentic Indian, Mayan or Iraqi because he/she does not conform to the essentialized characterizations above.
Wood's presentation is also problematic because he does not allow the people whose civilizations he examines to speak for themselves. Even when he does interview people, he does not allow the viewer to hear their words directly or through a translator, rather he summarizes and interprets the meaning of their statements. In short, Wood deprives them of their ability to represent themselves.
Wood is an ever-present guide through the series, perhaps distractingly so. There are several shots focused on him walking through crowds and across landscapes, and of him looking at buildings and artifacts where he obstructs the audience's view of the object under discussion. The scenes in which he observes buildings, art or ceremonies seem like guides for tourists, instructing them how to properly admire these objects and phenomena.
Each video contains a great deal of information on the civilization it investigates, but the presentation of this information is problematic. In addition to its function as a source of information, this series could be useful as a study of the ways in which cultural information is presented, especially in comparison to other films.
1) Iraq - The Cradle of Civilization
This episode explores the history of the world's first cities including Baghdad, Ur, Uruk, Erbil, and Sumer, and the development of law and science in this civilization born on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. Wood claims that the great tradition that produced the "pessimistic," "hard-bitten," and "resilient" people of Iraq can best be seen in the marsh Arabs and Mandeans, two groups whose "way of life has been preserved since long before civilization." He further asserts that "after all its achievements, Iraq reached the modern world as a society stopped in time." Oil and, later, the Gulf War (read: interaction with the West) caused profound changes in Iraq and brought them into the modern world. This static picture of Iraqi society is enhanced by the predominance of images of desolate landscapes and ancient settlements. There are few images which show Iraqis engaged in activity and creative processes, and the majority of these images show them dealing with the destruction caused by the Gulf War.
As in other episodes, one of Wood's main concerns is spirituality. There are several shots of Muslims praying and studying and the episode ends in a temple devoted to Satan. One may question whether his exploration of spirituality gives viewers a better appreciation of Iraqi society or reinforces notions of Iraqis as irrational, religious fundamentalists. While discussing the history of some of the world's oldest cities and how archaeology contributes to our knowledge of this history, Wood commits a serious archaeological faux pas; he picks up artifacts off the ground, explains their significance, and then walks away from the site with them in hand rather than putting them back where he found them. What message does this send to people who find artifacts while visiting sites?
Although the program is meant to dispel Western misconceptions of Iraq, the narrative and images seem to reinforce many of them instead.
* Video Codec: DIVX
* Video Resolution: 528x400
* Audio Codec: mpga
* Audio BitRate: 160000 BPS and 44100 Hz
* Audio Channels: 2
* RunTime Per Part: 51:32 mins
* Number Of Parts: 6
* Part Size: 460 Mb
* Subtitles: Not Available
* Ripped by anurag
* VHS Rip
1) Related Documentaries
* Lost Cities of the Ancients
* Secrets of Lost Empires
* The Ascent of Man
* Ancient Voices
* Lost Worlds