Monday, July 22, 2013

Did You Miss This? Ken Burns

Some years ago, I became aware of Ken Burns' incomparable talent for making not only interesting documentaries, but politically neutral, educational and fascinating documentaries. I love a good documentary, but, frankly, much of what's out there look like bad copies of the 1960's filmstrips we grew up seeing in school. You must remember such classics as these:

I'm teasing, of course, but watching documentaries lately has brought to mind the nature filmstrips of my elementary school years... nothing too amazing to remember there!

There have been some great documentary films over the years, but nothing to match Ken Burns' incredible ability to layer music, photography, personal letters, documents, sound effects, historical footage and narration to weave a story that touches your heart and leaves an emotional afterimage that lingers. 

I've watched bits and pieces of his documentaries in the past (most notably, "Jazz", which is phenomenal), but I don't think I've ever watched an entire series-- some of them are very long. We decided to start watching those that are on Netflix, and it has been educational and fascinating. I've learned more about these events in just a few weeks of watching than I ever did in all those years of public school education history classes.

We started with "The Dust Bowl", partly because it is only 2 episodes long. Then we moved on to "Prohibition" and last night we started the 9-episode "The Civil War". It's daunting. These historical events are heartbreaking; I find myself continually amazed at the evil that we humans perpetrate toward one another, and grateful for those good people who have shifted the world (and our country, in particular) to a better place.

If I were homeschooling my kids, I would be thrilled to have such a rich resource such as these documentaries, to take segments from and use in American history instruction. What a great gift to the world. Burns deserves every award he's ever been given.

I highly recommend you watch these documentaries, if you have access to them through Netflix or your library or some other source. I consider them masterpieces. 


Chris said...

Loved "Dust Bowl" and "Jazz," but "The Civil War," which was his starmaking PBS debut, may still be his best. Fun to remember these. Thanks, Steph.

Steph said...

We actually felt a little bored about halfway through "The Civil War" and switched over to the brutally authentic "The War" about WWII. It's got a lot of fascinating stuff that I had either forgotten or missed when I was in school. The level of evil at work in the world and the stupid stupid stupid racism in this country (Japanese internment camps were just a horrible idea!) are astounding. It's horrifying.

Did you know, he's making one about Vietnam now? That will be difficult to watch...