of the Spirit" is masterful and moving
a rich, vibrant, supremely cinematic treatment of a remarkable
American life. Among its many accomplishments, this unforgettably
fine film destroys, once and for all, the myth that there
is anything dull or mediocre about the underappreciated
Calvin Coolidge... The marvelous thing about Karol's documentary
is that it unequivocally reestablishes the stature Coolidge
enjoyed during his lifetime making clear in a way
that no one can dismiss or deny the reasons for his phenomenal
popularity... The piece is so evenhanded that I believe
it stands a real chance of winning awards even
Emmy awards, or an Oscar for best documentary feature...
The best part of this project is its unquestioned artistry
just as a work of documentary craft and heart...quite
simply, the finest documentary I've ever seen.
Michael Medved chief film critic for the New
York Post, cohost of PBS's Sneak Previews, syndicated
columnist, and author of books on media and society
An absorbingly interesting and much needed revaluation
of a much underrated president.
writer and biographer of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
Things of the Spirit provides an amazing
and moving story of Presidential character, strength and
achievement... Through a remarkable collection of period
images and film footage tied together with texts
from his own personal writings Calvin Coolidge
no longer remains a stoic, silent footnote in history.
His is an important, poignant and truly American story
nearly lost to us forever but now with care, skill
and thoroughness, it has been resurrected. Thank you for
sharing it with our audience and for allowing us in so
many ways to meet President Coolidge truly for the first
E. Hilboldt Director, Lectures and Seminars at
The Heritage Foundation
Extraordinary film and history making... Calvin Coolidge
is probably one of the most misunderstood figures in the
history of American politics.
one thing, he was an unusually progressive Governor of
Massachusetts and embraced virtually all of the important
reforms of the Progressive Era... "Things of the Spirit"
tells this story and more... It does a remarkable job
of uncovering archival film that I, for one, had never
seen before. It gives us a special look at the 1920s in
a way that helps to counteract the almost cartoon-like
quality of much of the reporting of the history of that
it also captures an almost wistful Coolidge who had the
courage and decency to admit after he left office that
the early years of the Great Depression had presented
the country with economic and human challenges that were
beyond the capacity of him and others like him who had
grown up in a less complicated era.
of the Spirit" is an important historical happening.
I strongly recommend it.
Michael S. Dukakis
former Governor of Massachusetts and Democratic nominee
for President of the United States
"Things of the Spirit" is a revelation. It transforms
gripping history into an inspiring work of art. The film
completely dispels the cliché notion of New Deal
historians that Coolidge was a small-minded materialist
"Babbitt" whose Presidency served only as a prelude to
disaster. See it. You'll never think the same way about
Calvin Coolidge again.
George Gilder president of the Gilder Technology
Group and frequent contributor to Forbes, The Economist,
Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal
You have made me a believer in Calvin Coolidge. I think
you may be personally responsible for changing the public
perception of Coolidge... I loved the Coolidge quote from
his last message to Congress. Wouldn't it be exhilarating
to hear those words from a present day president.
Philip H. Hoff
Governor of Vermont and Democratic candidate for the United
A month before the September 11 attack on America, my
wife and I saw the one-hour preview of "Things
of the Spirit," a remarkable documentary on the
personal and political life of Calvin Coolidge. The film's
producer, John Karol, is enormously competent. The archival
and contemporary footage is dazzling. We came away deeply
moved and inspired. What's relevant about Calvin Coolidge
and the 1920's? In addition to basic human values, "Things
of the Spirit" addresses tax cuts, farm subsidies,
racial harmony, foreign policy, American cultural and
economic expansion, materialism, prosperity, depression,
welfare and more. As Karol rightly observes: "Times
change, but the human condition and the American political
dilemma remain the same." "Things of the
Spirit" examines enduring personal values and
public concerns - all the more significant since September
11. As one viewer put it, the film is "a gift to
the American people."
president of The Ethan Allen Institute
"Things of the Spirit"...is a thoroughly
unique and interesting presentation of the life and times
of the complex (and remarkably progressive) Calvin Coolidge.
It is also a compelling look at American life in the 1920s.
John Karol and Vermont Public Television have put together
a rave portrayal that cuts through the silly clichés
and stereotypes about the period and presents it realistically
and honestly. Great stuff and that comes from a
man who has looked at hundreds, if not thousands, of hours
of documentary effort. John Karol is a particularly talented
and competent filmmaker.
Richard W. Carlson
former president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
"Things of the Spirit" is the kind of film
historians can enjoy, praise, and use with good conscience
in the classroom. It sets a high standard for historian-filmmaking
which has yet to be recognized by the industry. Many thanks
to the dedicated filmmaker for taking the time to tell
a story properly and authentically. John Karol's film
should be held up for emulation to all who venture into
film archives in the search of reel history.
Peter C. Rollins Editor-in-Chief, Film &
History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television
I have just completed a course taught by D.A. Pennebaker
and am in awe of the tenacious resilience of documentary
filmmakers. Your Coolidge documentary is mind-boggling.
It seems you are correcting a host of historical misperceptions
and misinformation and in all regards redefining the man.
[After seeing the one-hour "Things of the Spirit"
preview,] I read your Q & A newsletter with great
interest and enjoyed the Web site. The scale and freshness
of your endeavor is exciting and inspirational. You are
the most independent, dedicated, and well-rounded filmmaker
I have met.
recent graduate, New York University Institute of Film and
"Things of the Spirit" is the best documentary
I have ever seen. It rescues Calvin Coolidge from the
shadows of half-remembered history. It shows him to be
a thoughtful, admirable man of superb character. Surprisingly,
this president and his central ideas are pertinent now.
Coolidge and his great Secretary of the Treasury Andrew
Mellon knew that capitalism will flourish when three conditions
are present: low taxes, sound money (low inflation) and
light regulation. This produced the "Coolidge prosperity."
This documentary is admirably suited to instructional
purposes, since segments can be shown as complete in themselves.
Jeffrey Hart Senior Editor of the National
[T]he mosaic approach works well to bring a wide variety
of materials into the telling of separate but closely
interrelated stories... the overall result is a compelling
picture of Coolidge and his times that makes sense of
the man and incorporates much of what specialists on the
period have recently learned and continue to debate. It
was an honor to be associated with the project.
Prof. Ellis W. Hawley historian and project advisor
commenting on the completed story edit of "Things
of the Spirit"
What a revelation! And a lesson for my students in historical
inquiry... "Things of the Spirit" demonstrates,
with intellectual rigor and surprising warmth, the study
of history as I would like my kids to know it. First
there are two sides to every issue. (Why has it taken
so long for the side sympathetic to Coolidge to emerge?)
Second a wide variety of primary and secondary
sources should be examined. (Mr. Karol has secured the
famous and the obscure in his balanced study.) And finally
the past speaks to the present, sometimes urgently.
But we must tune our ears, since some voices, like the
Vermont hills, are above shouting.
Bruce Paul Richards history teacher, Oxbow High
School, Bradford, Vermont
-- What a gift to the American people.
scholar commentary. Abundance of primary source material. Congratulations!
and scrupulously fair.
thought the film is an outstanding documentary on the life and times
of Calvin Coolidge. I was amazed by the archival film clips that
work here. I found the entire work very stimulating and informative.
Son, Calvin Coolidge" positively stunning. The archival
film was priceless."
blend of archival photos and film You have put together an
amazing work of excellent history.
Needs of Education" excellent. "I Thought I Could
Swing It" wonderful! impressive. "Your Son..."
very moving. "Saint Calvin" Duff was wonderful.
"I Know My Work Is Done" beautiful.
it's terrific that you've rescued all those old films.
Thank you for all your hard work and dedication.
"Things of the Spirit" reflected the spirit,
the time and the feeling of a man who served his country with dignity,
honor and devotion.
feel privileged to have seen the documentary. The reminiscences
of the folks from Plymouth are priceless.
thought it was great especially the pictures of the family.
moving. What a treat to see those last films of Pres. Harding.
the episodic exposure to Cal was beautifully done.
was fascinated even transfixed by "Things
of the Spirit." Incredibly informative! Entertaining! Seriously,
it's the best documentary I've ever seen!
done! Can't wait to see the finished product.
film John Karol has unearthed is of extraordinary historical significance.
Equally important is the personalization of history which runs
throughout Mr. Karol's treatment. Calvin Coolidge may be unique
among twentieth century presidents in waiting so long for a chronicler
to show him whole, as a character and not a caricature, as an
integral part of a pivotal era and not a bit player in the Roaring
exhaustive treatment presents a leader who broke most conventional
rules of political gladhanding, a rigorous thinker who fit no
neat grooves of right or left, an administrator who restored faith
in government after the Harding scandals, and an evocative symbol
of a rugged, honest, self-demanding Americanism...
seeing what John has done, not only in assembling precious archival
footage but in weaving a verbal tapestry of Coolidge's life and
times, I am convinced that, 56 years after he died, President
Coolidge has at last found his biographer of record...He humanizes
the past without ever trivializing it...The documentary project
will, I am convinced, find a large audience. It will teach millions
of television viewers what they need to know about their country's
past. It will discredit casual assumptions until now accepted
as gospel truth.
presidential biographer, historian, and former director
of four presidential libraries
How impressed I have been with John Karol's willingness to get
into the literature of the Coolidge era. He has made himself a
veritable scholar of the period...he has a very considerable depth
he also has breadth. He senses the sweep of
the period an enormous era of change
was so clear-sighted that the example of his years surely can
help solve many of today's confusions.
historian, author, editor, and distinguished professor of
history emeritus at Indiana University
I have followed with great interest from the beginning the evolvement
of John Karol's documentary film concerning my father's presidential
administration. I have been greatly impressed with the tremendous
amount of film records that he has unearthed by dint of his unending
search of every possible source. His interpretations of the events
and persons shown in the films are entirely his own, which is
as it should be. I believe they are factual. I feel that he has
done an outstanding job, one which will be of inestimable value
in revealing and reviving that particular period in history.
President Coolidge's son
strong sense both of the real person [Calvin Coolidge] and of
his times. I felt present with him and tears came with his death.
moving film. The Plymouth, Vermont speakers, the long scene of
his fathers funeral procession in the snow, grounded the
film dramatically in rural New England values. Good dialogue in
the beginning with the voices of the skeptics about a film on
Calvin Coolidge. The tax cut segment was surprising only
Coolidge, JFK, Reagan did [major] tax cuts. Most surprising that
Coolidge was so popular. His charm really comes through.
in preview form, the film is a treasure.
balance of a personal and political journey. Beautiful use of
old footage otherwise hidden/lost forever. Nicely contextualized
with Vermont scenes, Plymouth town, the houses, etc. The blend
of elder Vermonters, political footage, personal letters, and
historian analysis is great to watch and learn from.
enjoyed all the archival footage immensely, and I think the different
perspectives from all the historians were helpful in giving the
audience a more complete picture of the era. The interviews with
Plymouth residents also were very helpful and showed his background.
content was excellent. The archival footage was very interesting
and was used very well in conjunction with the readings, quotes,
and historians comments. I enjoyed the way the film was
set up with historians comments first and then Coolidges
story to refute and/or confirm those opening comments.
use of original documents and film put together well. Thoroughly
enjoyable and extremely informative.
stirring film about a President who was level-headed and dear
to the hearts of all people. A man to be admired for his beliefs
and respect and love for his family. A man who knew his own mind
and acted accordingly.
Very moving. I am now, too, a Calvin Coolidge fan. Thank you for
making the film.
well done, touching and informative. I appreciated this depiction
of an overlooked President. It seems as though his personal example
is his greatest message, and this film conveys his character very
well, very poignantly. (Student)
was able to more fully understand the different things he went
through and even though he was President, he constantly reflected
on his family. I found the film very insightful and interesting.
Go forward! More power to you!
(Audience Response Cards)
very powerful film. A story that needs to be told.
overwhelmed with the knowledge you have provided in this film.
I had no idea of this part of our history. Your film fills that
not only for your meticulous historical research, but also
for your masterful film preparation.
Coolidge was or is not well known as are many other popular Presidents,
so your documentary will provide much needed work on this President.
It is simply wonderful to have such archival footage which you
are putting together for posterity.
well done! Informative, entertaining, and was a perfect conclusion
to the day spent learning about Calvin Coolidge. Your work is
well done!!!... Excellent choice of Plymouth citizens.
film is informative and most interesting. I am anxious to see
the completion on PBS.
wait to see the entire film, especially more about Grace. Beautiful
letters to father over the years. How wonderful to see this just
after visiting Plymouth Notch today. The historians and Duff [Gilfond]
really added a lot.
film of Calvin Coolidge is inspiring and very informative. Calvin
Coolidge is a real person with a heart and soul. This film should
be shown to all Americans. We need to know the true man. He had
depth and strength. Good biography! You revealed the character
of a good President.
In March 2003, a group of history students from Oxbow High
School, Bradford, Vermont, visited the Apertura studio in
Orford to view a 70 minute preview of Things of
the Spirit. Earlier screenings in Boston, New
York, Washington and California captured the interest and
enthusiasm of college level students and faculty who await
the films completion and release. I wanted to test
the films suitability for use in American history
courses at the high school level as well. These reviews
were received from the juniors at Oxbow High School.
John Karol, Producer
in their right mind would make a documentary about Calvin Coolidge?
Isnt he the simple man from East Nowhere, Vermont, who
managed to accomplish virtually nothing in his tenure as president?
According to John Karol, this couldnt be farther from
the truth. Documenting the life of a supposed bump-on-a-log
president such as Coolidge would be a foolish, irrelevant and
certainly daunting task to most filmmakers, but John Karol is
certainly of stronger stock. As a graduate of Yale and an independent
filmmaker who received an Oscar nomination for a previous work,
Karol shocks viewers with his lengthy elucidation of Coolidges
image. Removing the tarnish from this much maligned individual
gave us a refreshing vista into the personal and professional
life of a man who was far from simple and whose intellect was
on par with the forefathers of the nation he served. Things
of the Spirit is an accurate, heartfelt and insightful
examination of a misunderstood genius.
I have known about
Silent Cal for a long time, especially having lived
in Vermont for thirteen of my seventeen years. But all I really
knew was a comical story about his reticence. When I studied
American history in greater depth, my knowledge of Coolidge
was merely supplemented by a paragraph in a textbook contending
that Coolidge catered to Big Business. Watching John Karols
preview of Things of the Spirit opened my
eyes on many accounts. I was surprised by many things, from
the true complexity behind Coolidges presidency and the
biography behind his character, to the amount of precious history
in the forms of films, photographs and raw information that
is being ignored, inconspicuously edited and just plain forgotten.
sat down before the television expecting yet another boring,
repetitive documentary about someone I had been told was incredibly
boring himself. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find
my eyes taking in beautiful Vermont scenery and my ears the
voices of those who had personally known Coolidge. Through his
use of original and imaginative sources, Mr. Karol not only
tells, but really shows that the former president was more than
just a figurehead. The film brings
viewers through Cals entire life, illuminating its ups
and downs, and providing insight into the makings of a truly
great man. It was interesting to get another perspective on
history and a forgotten president. Things of the Spirit
is a truly eye-opening experience.
Karols unbiased biography of Calvin Coolidge was enlightening.
Coolidge is usually portrayed as a flatlander whose presidency
is skimmed over in a few paragraphs in most textbooks. Mr. Karol
portrayed Coolidge as the down to earth Vermonter whose presidency
was just what the people were craving. After viewing Mr. Karols
documentary, Im happy to see that this president from
Vermont was more than just a placeholder in American history.
of all, I would like to congratulate you on your recent accomplishment.
With that said, I would like to comment on the piece. My initial
thoughts were that I was watching a film on par with the quality
of films one sees on The History Channel. The quality and rarity
of the footage was incredible, most of which was taken from
either people who are dead today, or nitrate film which is now
deteriorated beyond recovery. Also, a large portion of the historians
in the film was all names that I recognize from my history textbooks.
To get down to specifics, the preview was simply spectacular.
Not only was it captivating, with subtle reworked background
music at times and several other artistic touches, but it was
full of useful information that the world has seemingly forgotten.
The interviews with the Vermont natives were great (especially
the man in the rocking chair). You show the world that Calvin
Coolidge was a man of integrity and reserved brilliance. This
film is a true work of art, condensing the finest quality sources
and mostly unseen and unheard of films and information around
into one easy to follow and captivating film. You created a
masterpiece, and thank you very much for having our class over
to view the film.
The documentary Things of the Spirit will
be an excellent teaching aid. As a DVD, it will be very easy
for teachers to single out the issues they want to focus on.
As well as a window looking into the life of Calvin Coolidge,
the documentary will be an effective way to teach specifics
about the time period. The most interesting part of the movie
is the scene in which Coolidges father is being buried.
The letters read during this scene illustrate the type of man
Calvin Coolidge was and allow us to see how he changed during
his life. Things of the Spirit is an extremely
affective and informative documentary.
from a preview screening
at The University of Vermonts Osher Lifelong Learning
Institute in St. Johnsbury,
November 10, 2004
of the Spirit was a beautifully documented film that
changed my whole perspective of Calvin Coolidge. It appears
John Karol did a spectacular job of capturing Coolidges
persona and emotion throughout the film. The final scene at
the cemetery seemed especially befitting... John Karol has done
a remarkable job with the archival footage he has had to work
with. John appeared to be very knowledgeable in all phases of
film production and I thoroughly enjoyed Wednesdays lecture.
of the Spirit is an extraordinary documentary rendition
of the life of Calvin Coolidge. So informative and contrary
to the generally accepted interpretation of the man weaned
on a pickle. Interesting historical coverage fascinating
life story of a president who has been dismissed as do-nothing
and turns out to be a refreshing and truly ethical man, one
true to himself and true to his country.
impressive and moving, even in this [preview] form. I kept seeing
relevance to our current situation which I suppose will be true
whenever it comes out. I wish everyone could see it, but if
youre getting it out into the schools, thats a start.
strongly believe the selections of CCs writings will prove
more and more prescient and informing of todays American
crisis and the erosion/loss of democracy. I believe the film
will prove its value as history, witness, and a rare source
of contemplation about our future.This is an outstanding documentary.
Coolidge is shown to be a thoughtful, humane person and well-suited
to govern in the 20s. Many myths dispelled. Even handed.
Terrific combination of interviews, newsreel footage, and speeches/letters
in CCs words.
clarity and insightfulness of the production was wonderful and
a tribute to the filmmaker. John Karol has done an excellent
job of presenting the story of Calvin Coolidge.
you for showing us the film! This preview was illuminating and
insightful, providing some understandings of Coolidge that go
beyond popular images (even caricatures) of him. I am particularly
intrigued by his clear thinking as expressed in his writings,
and the profound beliefs that he held about loyalty to his roots
and devotion to family and duty. The idea that he was a very
popular president is new to me... Id like to add a comment
about the scenes of his fathers funeral the stark
black & white images and the voice-over excerpts from his
letters to his father all added up to a powerful, moving section.
perception in my mind of Silent Cal has changed.
I now feel I have a three-dimensional view of this president
who seemed before almost comically flat. Most surprising was
the revelation of his politically liberal attitude in regard
to taxes and interest in honoring diversity in America. This
film, when ready for distribution, should be a winner. It should
be seen by college students majoring in political science.
thought the film was excellent. It is balanced, fair, and perceptive,
leading us through the myth of Do Nothing Cal to
the very thoughtful and solid human being. Nice and careful
use of archival footage with text or commentary. Hope you continue
the project. Good luck.
thanks for your presentation at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury
on November 10. It was impressive! I was particularly touched
by Coolidges 1925 speech after the KKK march in Washington.
The process of documentary making was an education, too. I wish
you luck on securing financing to complete the project. What
an excellent teaching tool!