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Double Features: Get Some History With Your Pop Culture

Liev Schriber and Daniel Craig in Defiance

Defiance: It's just one example of a movie that's richer when accompanied by a documentary you can also find on DVD. Paramount Vantage hide caption

itoggle caption Paramount Vantage

Difficult as it is to admit, I've long passed through the demographic windows of MTV, VH1, or even Comedy Central. I'm an old man now, and as such, I probably spend more time watching the History Channel than anything else.

I'm a sucker for this kind of pop scholarship. Many are the midnight hours I've whiled away, learning about the Hoover Dam, or Jack the Ripper, or ancient Cairo, or what have you.

Recently, the History Channel has been getting into an interesting sideline gig — reissuing shows on home video to coincide with related big-ticket DVD releases. So, for instance, the same week the teenage vampire soap opera Twilight came to DVD, The History Channel put out the documentary Vampire Secrets, chronicling vampire lore throughout various eras and cultures. I got a lot more out of the documentary than I did the movie. Then again, I'm not a 17-year-old goth girl. (Except in chat rooms and certain specialty nightclubs.)

This week marked the debuts of two DVDs that make for a powerful one-two punch: the Daniel Craig film Defiance along with the History Channel's documentary about the remarkable story that inspired the film.

The lowdown on adding a little documentary seasoning to your movie viewing, after the jump...

Defiance stars Craig and Liev Schreiber in the true story of the Bielski brothers — leaders of the largest and most successful Jewish resistance operation of World War II. Under their leadership, more than 1,200 Jews were rescued and established a community in the forests of present-day Belarus.

Defiance works quite well, despite injecting standard-issue heroics and melodrama into what otherwise presents as straight history. But it works even better when paired with the History Channel's excellent documentary The Bielski Brothers: Jerusalem in the Woods. Taken together, these two DVDs make for a truly compelling viewing experience.

As a mainstream feature-length film, Defiance must by necessity condense the Bielski story and narrow the focus for narrative reasons. The History Channel doc provides the larger story, and it's fascinating to see where, and why, Defiance departs from the historical record.

One thing — be aware that Jerusalem in the Woods contains relentlessly disturbing elements and images. This is the real story of the Bielski Brothers, and of the Holocaust and its atrocities.

This trick is something to keep in mind when you're populating that Netflix queue. The History Channel just reissued the Holy Grail doc The Templar Code as The Da Vinci Code went to Blu-ray and the sequel Angels and Demons hit theaters. Such double features can be good for you in an eat-your-vegetables sort of pop-culture way.

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