No More Will This Plague Be "Forgotten" Review

The Forgotten Plague is the latest in the American Experience series of documentaries. Airing on PBS, each of these films delves deep to tell the story of something or someone that has impacted American life, ranging from Walt Disney to the Vietnam War. Written, produced and directed by Chana Gazit, who is also responsible for episodes that dealt with the Dust Bowl and the Pill, among others, The Forgotten Plague chronicles the history of tuberculosis. Alternatively referred to as consumption, the disease plagued people as far back as ancient Greece, appearing to be everywhere and seeming impossible to eliminate. Based partially upon the book Living in the Shadow of Death by Sheila Rothman, The Forgotten Plague interviews historians, scientists and even survivors of sanatoriums to show how this disease, as terrible as it was, shaped modern America as we know it by being an instigator for expansion, innovation and discovery.

Many of us today simply view tuberculosis as the shadowy sickness that struck down so bright young heroes and heroines in so many 19th century novels--not to mention Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. (What, just me?) Watching The Forgotten Plague, one learns that it was because of tuberculosis that much of the American West was settled, as the sick looked to leave the dense, dirty cities for the pure, clean air of open spaces. It was because of tuberculosis that people began hemming their dresses above the ground and shaving their beards, in the hope that doing so might halt the spread of germs. Most importantly, it was because people were so desperate to find a cure for the sickness, which at one point had killed one in seven of all people who had ever lived, that modern medicine began to take shape during the twentieth century.

The Forgotten Plague is fascinating, albeit as depressing as one would expect out of a documentary that deals with a deadly disease--especially when the film closes with the disturbing news that drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis are on the rise. You’ll turn off your television feeling much more informed, but also a bit more paranoid.


There are no DVD special features.

"American Experience: The Forgotten Plague" is on sale March 17, 2015 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Chana Gazit.

Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 


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