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.
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
interesting and much needed revaluation of a much underrated
writer and biographer of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
and history making... Calvin Coolidge is probably one
of the most misunderstood figures in the history of American
For 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 1920's
in a way that helps to counteract the almost cartoon-like
quality of much of the reporting of the history of that
But 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
"Things of the
Spirit" is an important historical happening. I strongly
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.
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."
of The Ethan Allen Institute
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.
president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
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.
C. Rollins Editor-in-Chief, Film & History:
An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
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
graduate, New York University Institute of Film and Television
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 you acquired."
work here. I found the entire work very stimulating and informative."
- "'Your Son,
Calvin Coolidge' positively stunning. The archival film
blend of archival photos and film You have put together
an amazing work of excellent history."
- "'The 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
- "Think 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."
- "I feel privileged
to have seen the documentary. The reminiscences of the folks
from Plymouth are priceless."
- "I thought
it was great especially the pictures of the family."
- "Very moving.
What a treat to see those last films of Pres. Harding."
- "Thought the
episodic exposure to Cal was beautifully done."
- "I 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."
The [archival] 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
John Karol's 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,
Now, after 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.
biographer, historian, and former director of four presidential
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 of knowledge
also has breadth. He senses the sweep of the period an
enormous era of change
Mr. Coolidge was so clear-sighted
that the example of his years surely can help solve many of today's
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.
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
Who 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
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.
I 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.
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.
First 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 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
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!