Watch PBS’ American Masters Documentaries (Including Scorsese’s Homage to Kazan) Free Online

Each new Amer­i­can Mas­ters broad­cast, when it debuts on tele­vi­sion, tends to receive a hero’s wel­come. The poten­tial for hero­ism on the part of a bio­graph­i­cal doc­u­men­tary may, of course, seem lim­it­ed, but their astute­ness and atten­tion to detail does put them on a lev­el above. Pro­duced by New York City’s Thirteen/WNET and dis­trib­uted by the Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice, the show has for 26 years told the life sto­ries of cre­ators of all types, Amer­i­can-born and oth­er­wise, who have made an impact on U.S. cul­ture. Last month, we fea­tured Woody Allen answer­ing thir­teen unusu­al ques­tions from Robert B. Wei­de, direc­tor of the series’ recent Woody Allen: A Doc­u­men­tary. That episode stirred up quite a flur­ry of admi­ra­tion, as did the more recent Invent­ing David Gef­fen, a por­trait of the enter­tain­ment indus­try titan direct­ed by Amer­i­can Mas­ters cre­ator Susan Lacy — which you can watch free at

And that’s not the only one. Any self-respect­ing fan of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma will want to watch the pro­gram above, A Let­ter to Elia. It show­cas­es a qual­i­ty often cit­ed as one of Amer­i­can Mas­ters’ great strengths: its match­es of sub­ject and doc­u­men­tar­i­an. In this case, we get the life of Elia Kazan, direc­tor of clas­sic pic­tures like On the Water­front and East of Eden, as described by Mar­tin Scors­ese, direc­tor of such promis­ing can­di­dates for clas­sic sta­tus as Taxi Dri­ver and Rag­ing Bull. The doc­u­men­tary exam­ines not only Kazan’s life and work but Scors­ese’s rela­tion­ship to it, and from there, any young artist’s rela­tion­ship to art itself. PBS has also made freely avail­able their broad­casts on John­ny Car­son, Jeff BridgesCharles and Ray Eames, and quite a few oth­ers besides. If the cul­ture of a coun­try as vast and young as the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca remains dif­fi­cult to pin down, it cer­tain­ly isn’t for Amer­i­can Mas­ters’ lack of try­ing.

Var­i­ous episodes have been added to our col­lec­tion of 500 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Alfred Stieglitz: The Elo­quent Eye, a Reveal­ing Look at “The Father of Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy”

Ein­stein Doc­u­men­tary Offers A Reveal­ing Por­trait of the Great 20th Cen­tu­ry Sci­en­tist

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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