Jefferson – DVD Review

It seems like the founding fathers are getting more press today than they did when they were alive. Who they are, what they stood for, and what their intentions were when they drafted the defining documents of our Republic are topics of almost endless debate by television pundits and aspiring congressional superstars. With that in mind, perhaps the History Channel’s documentary comes at the right time.

Jefferson is famously contradictory. As it says on the synopsis on the back of the DVD, he was a slaveholder who wrote “All Men are Created Equal.” He thought of himself as an agrarian “man of the people” while actually a model of Virginia aristocracy and preached fiscal responsibility yet could never handle his own finances.

All of this is to say that he was a flawed human being, subject to the same inconsistencies every person does. He is also a famous historical figure whose writings and policies left an indelible mark on this country. Jefferson has become a mythic figure in Americana and myth tends to magnify one’s accomplishments, making his deeds greater as well as his contradictions.

As much as it can in ninety-one minutes, Jefferson attempts to de-mythologize the former President of the United States of America and statesman. It’s not an attack on him nor is it some kind of attempt to lessen his great accomplishments. The show wants to illustrate the man behind the image which, almost paradoxically, makes him even greater.

I’m always a bit leery when it comes to History Channel programs like this. A shade over 90 minutes is a relatively short time to really cover the complexities of a life such as Jefferson’s. , The information presented can sometimes be circumspect. The program sets out to give the basic information about this man, to inspire further research, as opposed to being a definitive biography. As far as places to start go, this isn’t bad.

Myths are important—they are the stories we tell ourselves that give meaning to our world and our lives. They provide examples of how we should act in certain situations. That’s all well and good, but it’s also important to examine what lies behind the myth, and Jefferson does just that. The problem with being a myth is that myths don’t allow for complexity: it reduces people to caricatures, which in the end is a disservice to the person being mythologized and the people reading about the myth.

The show is presented in Fullscreen with the audio in Dolby Digital stereo. There were no problems with either the audio or the video.

There were no extra features.

Even though I found it interesting, I can’t really recommend the purchase of this DVD. It really doesn’t have much replay value and if you’re a Jefferson buff you probably already know dozens of better, more in-depth sources. I’d recommend keeping an eye out for the History Channel to rerun it, or at least get it through Netflix.


A&E Television presents Jefferson. Directed by: Trey Nelson. Written by: Banks Tarver. Running time: 91 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: January 11, 2011.

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