Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Ken Burns' America Collection |
Brooklyn Bridge/The Statue of Liberty/Empire of the Air/The Congress/Thomas Hart Benton/Huey Long/The Shakers
Actors: Jason Robards, Red Barber, Erik Barnouw, Ken Bilby, Norman Corwin
Directors: Amy Stechler, Ken Burns
These seven brilliant programs by America's foremost documentary filmmaker comprise a glorious anthem to a great nation and its people. "Brooklyn Bridge" and "Statue of Liberty" chronicle the conception and building of the... more »
Excellent collection of Ken Burns' shorter works.
Joseph T. Reeves | 05/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This collection contains seven of Ken Burns' shorter documentary works that range from his early days as a film maker to those that show him at the height of his craft. While "The Brooklyn Bridge" is rather weak, the other six films more than make up for it. Truly an excellent showcase for Burns. See below for a review of each film in this collection."The Brooklyn Bridge: Running Time: 60 minutes Narrated by David McCulloughAlthough parts of "The Brooklyn Bridge" hint at the excellent work Ken Burns would produce in later films, this particular documentary falters in its last 20 minutes.The Brooklyn Bridge is many stories, but it's mainly the tale of how perseverance can make an almost impossible vision take form. The Bridge took many years and several million dollars to build. It faced political and social opposition. It weathered scandals and corruption. And when it was over, it stood as a monument to mechanical brilliance and souful aspirations. Burns only spends forty minutes on the story of the Bridge's construction. He spends the last 20 minutes focusing on what the Bridge means to various scholars, poets and New Yorkers; this is where the film lags. Admittedly, the Bridge is important as a cultural icon, not just for New York, but for America. However, if Burns was going to devote this much time to testimonials, then the film should have been at least 90 minutes or, better yet, two hours.When the film concentrates on the Bridge's construction, it shines. Burns has carefully selected photos, drawings, contemporary newspaper accounts and personal journals of key participants in the Bridge's inception to vibrantly tell this story. He just should have spent more time on his subject. The pace of this documentary is so hurried and awkward, you can tell where Burns is skipping key parts of the story in order to get to the testimonials. A good effort, but it pales before his later output."The Statue of Liberty" Running Time: 60 minutes Narrated by David McCullough"The Statue of Liberty" by Ken Burns is a moving testament to the spirit of the American ideal. Like Burns' earlier "Brooklyn Bridge," this film also chronicles the construction of an American landmark as well as the reactions of various people to what that landmark stands for. Unlike the "Brooklyn Bridge," however, this approach works in "The Statue of Liberty." What the Statue means to one person or another is part of its importance, and Burns has captured that beautifully.Using wonderful footage, sketches, photos and personal accounts of its construction, Burns ably documents the struggle to make a vision a reality. Burns well captures the engineering brilliance required to build the Statue. He also illustrates how the Statue has become a representation of the best and worst of our American ideals. The Statue is a symbol of new hope and second chances, and this film illuminates the power of that symbol. "The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God" Running Time: 60 minutes Narrated by David McCulloughIn "The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God" Ken Burns truly hit his stride as a documentarian. By combining personal journals of early Shakers, historic and social commentary of scholars and contemporaries, and wonderfully insightful interviews with present day Shakers, Burns tells a simple story, but tells it beautifully. By illustrating the Shaker life and ideology, Burns presents a group of dedicated people who strove to put God into every aspect of their lives. If you know the Shakers for only their furniture and ritual dancing, then this film will illuminate your understanding of early America's most powerful Utopian movement. "Thomas Hart Benton" Running Time: 60 minutes Narrated by Jason Robards"Thomas Hart Benton" is a revealing and immensely watchable biography of an artist who probably reached more Americans than any other. As Ken Burns ably proves, Benton's work captured the spirit and history of the average American man and woman. Combining samples of Benton's work, interviews with art critics, family, friends and enemies as well as footage of Benton himself, Burns presents a perfectly balanced approach to an artist's life and his statement of America as a struggling, vibrant land. You don't have to like Benton's art to like this film. In fact, several of the critics Burns interviewed for this one-hour documentary dismiss Benton as a serious artist. However, what they say about Benton is as revealing as the praise of critics who revere him. Perfectly balanced and entertaining. "Empire of the Air" Running Time: 120 minutes Narrated by Jason Robards Although Marconi may have invented the technology for radio, three men made it a force for change. "Empire of the Air" examines the lives of those men, Lee de Forest, Edwin Armstrong and David Sarnoff. All three would contribute some necessary component to radio's development, but could never agree or acknowledge the work of the other. Today we take radio's constant presence and role for granted, but this documentary proves what a struggle it was to bring it into being. Burns uses personal interviews with the key players in radio's development and their contemporaries, as well as archival footage and historical commentary to illustrate how radio has impacted us as a society. The story of radio's three primary "fathers" plays like a radio drama full of struggle, triumph and tragedy. This is an outstanding documentary. "Huey Long" Running Time: 90 minutes Narrated by David McCulloughAlthough forgotten or largely discounted today, Huey Long came closer to becoming a total dictator than any other American. This film by Ken Burns brings the power and presence of Long into its proper context of a poor and desperate state in the throes of a crippling depression. Burns illustrates this documentary with excellent interviews with Long's contemporaries, constituents, friends and opponents. There is also revealing footage of Long himself that reflects his intended image of a "countrified buffoon," which caused his enemies to underestimate him. This doucmentary brings Long back to life as a veritable dictator who might have won the presidency if not for his assassination.The film's main strength lies in its balanced approach to this controversial figure. Although Burns interviewed many of Long's enemies, he also sought the opinion of the average Louisiana citizen who benefited from Long's provision of free school books and hospital care. These people were Long's source of strength of power who still regard him as a great man and never cared how Long managed to give them these things. Again, Burns balances the man who provided relief to a struggling people, and the dictator who compromised decomcracy in order to provide that relief. This is an excellent documentary."The Congress" Running Time: 90 minutes Narrated by David McCulloughKen Burns' "The Congress" is a wonderful history of an essential but underrated American institution. In only ninety minutes, Burns captures the strengths and weaknesses of our legislative branch like few documentarians could. Congress, often accused of gridlock and pork barrelling, actually exemplifies the American ideal of self-rule. This film touches on key successes and failures of this body throughout its entire history. Burns examines the contributions of such pivotal congressmen as Joe Cannon, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, George Norris and a host of others. Burns alters our current perspective of Congress to show us an organization of great power that has, at times, ruled the country in counterbalance to weak presidents.Burns uses contemporary newspaper accounts, archival footage, personal interviews, and journals to transform Congress's history in a fascinating parade of men and women who represented the best and worst of America. A great film."