In 1973 the BBC released a TV documentary series in 13 episodes by mathematician Jacob Bronowski called The Ascent Of Man. 35 years later I purchased it as a DVD box set on the recommendation of a fellow science documentary aficionado.
It’s extremely good! And I’m not just saying that in the context of the era in which it was produced. Sure, some of the music grates on the nerves and some of the graphics don’t compare to what we are capable of these days but overall it’s got a depth that is often missing from the kind of documentaries found on the Discovery Channel. Actually, I take back my comment about the music; it features music from Meddle – my second-favourite Pink Floyd album – which, for me, redeems a multitude of musical sins.
Bronowski is thoughtful, poetic and very deliberate in every sentence. He gives you the feeling that he is treating you, the viewer, as an equal throughout and he conveys a sense of awe that is impossible to resist.
Most moving for me was a scene where Bronowski is visiting a Nazi concentration camp where many of his relatives were murdered. According to the interview with Attenborough in the bonus material the entire scene was spontaneous and filmed in a single take:
Bronowski died a year later of a heart attack at the age of 66.