"The War" (The Real "Ken Burns Effect")

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by IJ Reilly, Sep 24, 2007.

  1. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #1
    Has anyone been watching "The War," the new 14 hour Ken Burns documentary film about World War II? The run started on PBS on Sunday and continues this week and next.
     
  2. TheAnswer macrumors 68030

    TheAnswer

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    #2
    I watched the episode last night.

    So far, not as compelling as "The Civil War" or "Jazz". Because of the large scale of the war, he's focusing on how the war was seen through the people of four towns. The "Ken Burns Effect" of iMovie fame is also seen a lot less, because Burns uses a lot of available video footage (which obviously wasn't possible in "The Civil War". So far, it's also lacking in the sweeping color pans of battlefields as they stand today.

    The narration is good (it's Keith David, who also narrated Burn's "Jazz" series or perhaps better known for his portrayal of Big Tim in "Requiem for a Dream"), but I'm not sure it's the best fit. Also, because Burn's talked to survivors of the war about it's effects on themselves and these four towns, it also lacks the "star-studded voice-over" quality of "The Civil War". Again, because of the focus on these towns, so far we are also missing a wider historical overview, such as Shelby Foote provided for "The Civil War".

    Also...it's focus is almost staggeringly American (so far). The coverage of the Bataan Death March mentioned that "between 5,000 and 11,000 Americans and Filipinos died" instead of mentioning that "between 5,000 and 10,000 Filipinos and between 600-700 Americans died". Also, last night's episode was one of the episode that has an additional segment added to the end about the contribution of Latinos in the war. Since this segment was added after the editing of the main film, it just seemed a little out of place. Apparently, there will be two more segments added like this (another about the Latino contribution and one on that of the Native Americans).

    I'll keep watching out of interest (my hometown of Sacramento is one of the towns Burns has chosen), but so far it's not as engrossing as "The Civil War" or Ric Burns' "New York: A Documentary".
     
  3. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #3
    So far I'd say it's better than "Jazz" which was too slow for my tastes, especially considering the subject matter. Burns' style is more suited to the scope of an event like a war. It would be hard to top "The Civil War" which also had the benefit of having been beyond living memory, but I will reserve judgement for now. Interesting that he decided to forgo talking-head historians in favor of witnesses to the events.

    And that's the thing about Burns -- he's not a conventional historian. The emphasis of his work has always on the social history, rather than the events themselves. This kind of approach certainly has its place, but it can't take the place of more events-driven history. I believe this is explains the virtually "All American" approach to the story. He's more interested in exploring how events change societies and affect lives than in the events themselves.

    I agree, the Latino segment seemed tacked on -- I guess because it literally was.
     
  4. Jasonbot macrumors 68020

    Jasonbot

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    #4
    Isn't Ken Burns the guy who inverted the zooming in on pictures effect?
     
  5. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #5
    I don't think he invented it, but his documentaries use the technique a lot.
     
  6. TheAnswer macrumors 68030

    TheAnswer

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    #6
    I agree, but the "four town" gimmick kind of places an extra layer on it that I feel isn't necessary. And it possibly explains why he initially missed or chose not to include the Latino and Native American war efforts, because they didn't fit nicely into the four town structure. That's also why "The War" basically begins in 1941. If the "four town" structure weren't in place, he could have culled experiences from Americans at home and travelers in both Europe and Asia pre-1939. By beginning at 1941, he deprives us of most of the big-picture social arcs, because he hasn't firmly established a "before" to compare to the coming "after".

    I also think, by relying mainly on interviews with living persons, we are seeing too many talking heads and that's having a negative effect on the pacing. The fact that he has so much archival footage to use is also impacting the pacing to some extent. I would have preferred more modern day footage of the battle sites and more letters home, etc.

    I'm still looking forward to the rest of the series, though. I guess I'm nitpicking because I can remember sitting down one weekend when my local PBS station was rebroadcasting "The Civil War" and watching it for hours on end. I can't see myself doing the same for this series.

    I believe that technique was invented by a Canadian. But, sadly, it's been 13 years since my Canadian Cinema class, so I can't tell you off-hand who it was. And no, I'm not going to dig through my files to find my notes from that class, either. You're on your own.

    OK, you're not on your own...you're lucky that Wikipedia had an article on him: Colin Low
     
  7. Gaelic1 macrumors member

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    #7
    I am one who actually lived in this time. My brother was on the USS Chicago which was out to sea when Pearl Harbor was bombed. We didn't know this and the waiting was agonizing. Eventually four of my brothers were in the war with one killed. We had a half dozen Gold Stars on windows on my block in San Francisco. There was blackouts all over town and we were all fearful of the Japanese invading the West Coast. Ken Burns is trying to show what was felt at that time, something you kids never had to experience. Perhaps it is his way for you to feel what we felt
     
  8. TheAnswer macrumors 68030

    TheAnswer

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    #8
    I understand what you are saying...and part of that does come through in the documentary. But I don't feel (so far) that he's capturing it all that effectively. Perhaps it's because I grew up listening to the stories of grandparents, my great uncles and great aunts about their experiences, that I'm expecting a filmmaker/historian the caliber of Ken Burns to be able to take all the similar stories out there and hit one out of the ballpark.

    Maybe, as Burns suggests, the scale of WWII is just to vast to capture everything, so there isn't enough time to really grasp and (more importantly) hold on defining moments where people sensed the changes taking place, the fear of invasion, the waiting, the grieving over lost ones, as well as changing social dynamic.
     
  9. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #9
    A fair point, but we do have another 12 hours to go. Some of your misgivings are bound to be addressed. Maybe others will be raised. Remembering the "Civil War," I can recall less the specific historical events documented and more the general message about how the nation's character and direction was changed by the war. This is Burns' forte, for better or worse.

    Thanks, I haven't been called a kid for maybe 40 years. ;)

    As a historian I've sometimes been required to research the wartime era and I always come away impressed by the massive changes the war wrought on every aspect of American society, which is remarkable given that essentially none of the fighting took place within the US. As was pointed out, I don't know if Burns is going to entirely succeed in documenting this change (which, from an American point of view, is one of the war's most important effects), but I do think it's a valid approach to telling history.
     
  10. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #10
    This series came to a close last night. Any final thoughts?
     
  11. DAC47 macrumors 6502

    DAC47

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    #11
    I love Ken Burns' documentaries, hopefully this will turn up on the BBC before to long. Although titling the series The War 1941-1945 may upset a few people on this side of the pond.
     
  12. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #12
    The first thing to know is that this documentary wasn't intended to be a history of World War II, it's a social history of American involvement in the war. In the end it really functions more accurately as a tribute to the personal sacrifices made by Americans who fought in the war, and the impacts the war had on the American home front. In that sense, it was very effective.
     
  13. wordmunger macrumors 603

    wordmunger

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    #13
    I still haven't finished watching it (thank goodness for TiVo!). But I've enjoyed what I've seen very much (I think 8 or 9 hours). I don't object so much to neglecting Latinos and Native Americans. You can't do everything, and he did a great job covering African Americans and Asian Americans. There are even whole movies devoted just to Native Americans in WWII.

    This documentary has definitely filled a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the war, and taught me a lot about the home front. Excellent piece, and stark contrast to how we are conducting the current war.
     
  14. IJ Reilly thread starter macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #14
    One of the big differences is that the even people who weren't doing the actual fighting were asked to sacrifice for the good of the order. Now we're supposed to have war fought entirely by volunteers, and tax cuts besides.

    The documentary at the end introduces another interesting thought, which is that the sacrifices made by the soldiers and POWs were so much greater than the sacrifices made on the home front, that it became difficult for those who fought or been held prisoners to bridge that gap, to explain what they'd gone through. Many elected to say as little as possible. Thanks to Burns, we're hearing these stories now, while there's still someone around to tell them.
     
  15. TheAnswer macrumors 68030

    TheAnswer

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    #15
    Unfortunately, I started back at Uni last friday, so I haven't been able to see the tail end of the series (I saw from the first episode up until about half of the FUBAR episode). I will say that I found the series improved greatly between the first and third episodes and that most of my initial reservations were overcome.

    I'm hoping I'll be able to look away from the books long enough to watch the rest of it soon. Otherwise, it'll end up on my holiday watching list. :(
     

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