Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: Paramount Home Video Release Date: 09/23/2005 Director: Ken Burns
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NOT THE CITY I KNOW AND LOVE
R. MacTaggart | Right in the Middle, USA | 01/08/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Oh, what a terrible, terrible viewing and learning experience.
I endured 1140 minutes all the while waiting for the New York City I know to come alive. It never did.
Other reviews have noted the many stunning errors, and I noted how much was ignored or given short-shrift. Did the show not have the budget for competent researchers?
HOW could the incredible saga of the water system have been ignored? Without the stunning achievement of the Croton Aqueduct NYC would never be what it is today.
HOW could the building of the subway system have been ignored?
HOW could the early, pre-Hollywood movie industry have been ignored?
HOW could the development and construction of the great NY Public Library be ignored?
HOW could the creation of two mighty railroads (the Pennsylvania and Central), and the building of their monumental train stations, be ignored?
HOW could Broadway be ignored? Incredible!
HOW could the many great artists and galleries and museums be ignored?
HOW could the publishing, fashion, and jewelry industries be ignored?
HOW could the many fascinating neighborhoods that make a huge city into countless small towns be ignored? (We mostly heard only about Harlem and only in a negative way.)
The series spent an inordinate amount of time on "conflicts" between its citizens and this gave the impression that NYC was always teetering at the very edge of riots and chaos. But NYC is famous, like no other city, for its being able to absorb great swaths of diversity with relative harmony. Why was this extraordinary historical truth perverted?
For a visual presentation, the series showed almost nothing about the endless change that NYC is also famous for. Oh, sure, the many talking heads repeated this endlessly but the series didn't SHOW it! Yes, we saw a lot of imagery of very early Manhattan, but the next imagery shows the island fully built up! The steady, inexorable uptown creep was visually ignored, as was the development of the outer boroughs.
For example, there was an enclave of townhouses around St. John's Park in what is now known as Tribeca. Then Commodore Vanderbilt purchased the park, and built a massive warehouse on the site! The property values of the elegant homes surrounding the park instantly plummeted! There was likely never a quicker shift from genteel to slum.
Hard to believe, but East Fourth Street was another high-end enclave. The series could have shown computer-generated imagery of the street lined with elegant townhouses, and then morphed into a current view of the lone Old Merchant's House (1832) - surrounded by warehouses and empty lots.
So, too, with the impressive Colonnade Row (1833) on Lafayette Street. Most New Yorkers do not realize that the street was once a dead-end, and in the early 1800s was THE residential address. A hidden oasis. In one block, nine identical mansions were built in a row, and all fronted by imposing Corinthian columns. Nothing like it existed in the city. Ancient Rome in NY! Over time though, five of the houses were demolished for a warehouse, the street was cut through, and the residents fled uptown.
I can go on and on about the wealth of archival images that SHOW the endless change the city is famous for but which this series barely presented visually.
Above all though, the series made an inexplicable, stunning omission. An omission essential to engage a viewer: the payoff. We want the girl to get the guy, the poor person to win the lottery, and the honest politician to vanquish over evil. And there are fewer Great Pay Off stories than the resurrection of NYC in the 1980s and 1990s. I was there. I watched a near-ruined city reborn, and better than ever.
Two small examples? In Herald Square there is a pair of diminutive triangle-shaped parks. For decades these were paved with asphalt, unused and unloved. Parks in name only. Today they are miniature lush gardens much used. Why was this phenomenon (which happened with parks all over the city) ignored?
The Brooklyn Bridge and its spectacular 100th anniversary. To this day I've never seen such an amazing display of fireworks.
In 1979 Central Park was a broken, dusty, vandalized, unsafe ruin. Today it is lush, beloved, and a wonder. Are people even paid to hug the trees?
The series showed the collapse of the subway system. But what about its miraculous rebirth, gleaming cars (air-conditioned!), and clean platforms?
Grand Central Terminal was black with grime, reeked of urine, and was covered with advertising inside. Today it is resplendent; quite likely better than when new. So, too, with the main library.
The series TALKED about the decline of industry but never SHOWED how these old, gritty areas were transformed into vibrant residential neighborhoods.
And HOW could the famous I LOVE NY campaign have been ignored? How?
Or the pooper-scooper law? With this one act New Yorkers finally understood they could no longer dump on their city - in more ways than one. The results were profound.
Had the city's resurrection really been SHOWN, viewers would have spontaneously jumped out of their seats and cheered and cried and gasped. It's a story that thrilling, magical, extraordinary, and breathtaking.
It's a story this series squandered.
Out of 1140 minutes there were perhaps 90 informative ones (the Eerie Canal and Robert Moses in particular).
I would have given the series a one star rating but the "extra" episode about the World Trade Center was everything the preceding episodes were not: informative, moving, visually rich, and engaging.
How Can One Totally Capture NY?
Jeffrey Swystun | Ottawa & New York | 02/21/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the best history of New York until one invents a time machine. It is truly an inspired narrative. It is entertaining, revealing, informative, confirming, challenging and illuminating. I recorded the early edition when it aired on PBS and watched it three times on my now defunct VHS. Each viewing drew me in deeper and educated me more as to the complex and awesome history of a city accurately portrayed in fact, fiction, lore, mystery, and love (as the t-shirt says). I eagerly bought the updated version in format and content when it came out on DVD and have watched that version twice. This version is a commitment at 17.5 hours but what a commitment! I unreservedly recommend this history of a city that cannot ever truly be told - but this documentary comes as close as one can hope or wish."
Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
R. P. Jones | Greenville, RI United States | 06/15/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The life of any great city exists on three levels - social, political and cultural. What is surprising about this documentary is how well it succeeds at presenting the first two aspects of New York, while failing so miserably at addressing the third. While I agree with Roger Ebert that a film should be evaluated on the basis of what it intended to do and not on what one thinks it should have done, it is difficult not to be critical of this omission, especially in a film with a running time approaching 18 hours.
What Ric Burns and his team have done here is present an exhaustive history of a great American city, with particular focus on the political figures at the center of it all. Peter Stuyvesant, Boss Tweed, F.H. LaGuardia, Robert Moses and countless others are given extensive coverage, as are the lives of the immigrant population that were affected, for better or worse, by these political giants. We see the various crises, upheavals and tragedies that went on to shape the city, and how the lives of its residents adapted, often with great difficulty, to the city's changes and growth.
And yet those who know New York as a center of American culture will quickly notice something missing in this film. We see the great influx of immigrants but we learn little to nothing about how these different cultures went on to form the great melting pot. The creation of ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy are given only a passing mention. New York institutions like the Italian market and the Jewish deli are never seen, despite New York's position as the multicultural food capital of the world. The great Gilded Age of New York, as recounted by literary giants like Henry James and Edith Wharton, is virtually ignored. (Burns is somewhat more successful with F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Jazz Age".)
Then there is the crucial arts and entertainment aspect. The development of Broadway is not here, nor is the early motion picture industry, which existed in NYC before anyone had heard of Hollywood. The great literary circles like American Bloomsbury and the Beats are never mentioned, nor are the many famous literary journals that followed them. Greenwich Village is never looked at. We do not see Yankee Stadium or the many historic events that took place there. The great museums, theaters and concert halls are passed over. We do not meet (with a few exceptions) the great writers, artists, musicians or actors, or the architectural geniuses who created Central Park, Grand Central Station, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the New York Public Library and the many other famous structures the city is known for. We learn little about the development of big-city publishing, the fashion industry or, omission of all omissions, the birth of radio and television.
Granted, any of these topics alone could fill a lengthy documentary, but the fact that they are barely mentioned in a film of this length is hard to overlook.
I give the film three stars because what it does, it does well. I just wish that after investing eighteen hours of my time, I had a better understanding of why New York holds such a high place in American culture. As it is, I feel like I attended a very long history lesson, much of which will be forgotten shortly after the exam is over.