Top Picks: PBS's documentary on '1964,' a Fred Astaire album, and more

Photographer Kirsty Mitchell brings viewers to a world of flowers and wooded glades in her series 'Wonderland 2009-2014,' comedian Paul F. Tompkins has his friends portray famous authors in The Dead Authors Podcast, and more top picks.

Fred Astaire

America in 1964

It all happened the same year: the Beatles landed on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Barry Goldwater launched his conservative revolution, Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, and three civil rights workers were murdered. PBS outlines what the writers of this “American Experience” special call the watershed year for the nation in 1964, a documentary tracing the world Americans faced a mere five weeks after the assassination of J.F.K. in Dallas. It airs Jan. 14 (check local listings).

Love in a snowstorm

Tchaikovsky’s well-known lyric opera Eugene Onegin – about the selfish hero who lives to regret his callow rejection of love – was originally seen live in 64 countries as part of PBS’s outstanding “The Met: Live in HD” series. Hosted by soprano Deborah Voigt, who also conducts backstage interviews with stars Mariusz Kwiecien and Piotr Beczala, this October performance directed by Deborah Warner will be rebroadcast Jan. 17 at 9 p.m.

Astaire the crooner

Those who argue that sublime dancer Fred Astaire was also a crooner on par with the greats of his day can now pull out the evidence. Turner Classic Movies and Sony Masterworks teamed up for a two-CD set, Fred Astaire: The Early Years at RKO. Featured are 31 songs from such classics as “Top Hat,” “Swing Time,” and “Shall We Dance.” Composers include Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and George and Ira Gershwin.

Time-traveling authors

In The Dead Authors Podcast, comedian Paul F. Tompkins invites his funny friends to play history’s greatest authors. These monthly conversations dive into smart, humorous (and sometimes explicit) musings about a writer’s work. New listeners should check out the December episode with Walt Whitman, played feverishly by James Adomian, and the one from June with Ayn Rand, played by the quick-witted John Hodgman. It is available through iTunes or at

Fantasy world

Photographer Kirsty Mitchell transports viewers into another world with her fantastical series, Wonderland 2009-2014, which is on display in Amsterdam and will soon be in book form. What began as a tribute to her literary and creative mother, “Wonderland” has become a collection of stunning photos of surreal nymphlike characters captured in wooded glades and floral fields. The elaborate costumes and staging were all created by Mitchell without the help of Photoshop. For a visual treat, go to or watch a film on the making of the image “Gaia, The Birth of an End” at

Los Angeles thriller

In The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly, lawyer Mickey Haller refers to jurors as “gods of guilt” because of their power to determine who is punished and who is deemed innocent. The substantial gray area involved in any matter of justice, especially violent crime, once again takes center stage in the latest novel from bestseller Connelly.

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