Small-town USA as you’ve never seen it before

Eighty-one years ago, Robert and Helen Lynd published Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. That work and its 1937 follow-up, Middletown in Transition, were the first in-depth sociological investigations of an actual American town.

Five decades later, documentary filmmaker Peter Davis (Hearts & Minds) produced a six-part public-television series based on the Lynds’ studies. Each segment is its own film: The Big Game looks at a high-school basketball rivalry; The Campaign depicts a small-town mayoral campaign; Family Business captures a franchise restaurant in bad decline; Community of Praise (co-directed by the great documentarian Richard Leacock) turns to the church; and Second Time Around (directed by Davis himself) involves a romance between two divorced thirtysomethings. All are fascinating, and the sixth, Seventeen—directed by Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines—was controversial enough to be censored by PBS and released as a freestanding feature. (It went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival.) All six films are now available in a four-DVD set from Icarus.

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here.