Any year that starts off with a war and ends with the demise of a superpower has to be counted as truly extraordinary. One of the easiest ways to relive the momentous events of 1991 is CNN Video's "1991 Year in Review" (60 minutes, $14.98).
CNN, which prides itself on its global reach, has no lack of terrific footage relating to the key news stories from around the world. For the most part, the producers have made telling choices from the mountain of news tape available.
As might be expected, the most impressive of all is from Operation Desert Storm, which was launched less than 24 hours after the Jan. 15 deadline passed for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Once again we see the blazing skies over Baghdad, the rubble in Israel caused by Scud missile attacks, the "100-hour" ground war, the burning Kuwaiti oil fields and the "highway to hell" where hundreds of Iraqi soldiers died fleeing Kuwait City.
Several other events are also treated at length. The program's lead story is the failed coup in the Soviet Union and the ensuing collapse of Soviet communism, which has transpired so rapidly that no cassette can hope to be current. On the very day critics previewed "Year in Review," Mikhail Gorbachev was resigning as president of a country that no longer existed. It's an event the producers did not dare predict in the narration, but they did note that the Soviet Union in the closing days of the year had been reduced to the status of a "beggar nation."
The release of hostages from Lebanon, the Mideast peace talks in Madrid and the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas drama are also covered in detail. Ms. Hill's accusation of sexual harassment and Supreme Court nominee Thomas's denials have lost none of their power. The clips include Ms. Hill's testimony about sexual comments and the "Coke can" remark as well as Justice Thomas' assertion that he would rather face an assassin's bullet than be subjected to such a hearing again.
The year's other sex scandal -- the William Kennedy Smith rape trial -- is mentioned only in passing, as part of a montage of headlines that spin past in the transition between major stories. (This even though CNN showed much of the trial live, with a highlights show each night, in early December.) It is in these fleeting moments that the tape cites the cafeteria shootings in Texas, chief of staff John Sununu's resignation from the White House, the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Jeffrey Dahmer serial murder case, and other highlights (or lowlights) from 1991.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson's announcement that he has been infected with the AIDS virus is the centerpiece of a "Medicine" segment, which notes that the battle against acquired immune deficiency syndrome is 10 years old and recapitulates the status research on the deadly disease.
On the lighter side, there's entertainment news topped by Elizabeth Taylor's wedding and a recitation of the year's big hits in movies, TV and music.
Given very short shrift are the year's business news, offering only the vaguest generalizations about the ailing economy, and the major moments in sports, which flash by with no narration whatsoever. Sports, in fact, has been reduced to a series of mysterious stills, a video picture book with no captions.