Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ken Burns' The War

Hope most of you are able to watch some if not all of this series.

The only thing that I dislike so far is the running background commentary on the photos. Not sure it is necessary to use this tool on every photo, but that's just my opinion. There is the narrator, then when a photo comes up, another voice in the background gives this odd sort of description: "red barrack building under blue sky" in a very matter-of-fact monotone voice. Just odd.

This quote from the PBS website:

Through the eyes of our witnesses, it is possible to see the universal in the particular, to understand how the whole country got caught up in the war; how the four towns and their people were permanently transformed; how those who remained at home worked and worried and grieved in the face of the struggle; and in the end, how innocent young men who had been turned into professional killers eventually learned to live in a world without war.

Ah, sadly, some things never changed...


DarkoV said...

I've been watching every night since Sunday (occasionally switching over to a hilly station to see the Phillies folding. AGAIN!) and it's been a masochistic experience.
Re. narration: Love the marine from Mobile; can't stand his sister (this is where I switch to the other masochistic experience, watching the Phillies turn their fans slowly on a spit). Love the pilot from Minnesota and Hawaii ex-Senator Inouye. Not really crazy about anyone else. The four city basis for the series? Not a real fan. The movie footage and large majority of the pictures in the series? Fabulous!
I keep on watching in hopes of seeing and hearing some new information. The reviews were almost unanimous in their praise (NYT came in on both sides of the fence), some citing "The War" as being burns' best work.

No way.
"Civil War" set the standard and "Baseball" came close to it.

"The War" just doesn't get me in the gut. I'd love to know what folks who went through the war think about it. Specifically Americans. My mom, who was in (the old) Yugoslavia and whose house was bombed and eventually destroyed by German, American, and British bombers, has a different view of the war then most Americans. AS she puts it, "It's one thing to have your brother/husband/father away at war while you're in a comfortable home rationing. It's another when your brother/husband/father is in the war and your house is coming down around you."
Maybe "The War" should be called "The American War" as folks watching this series outside the US of A. may have a harder time comprehending Burns' point of view.

Cowtown Pattie said...


You put it exactly right. The "Wah" lady is getting on my last sciatic nerve.

The photos and film clips are excellent.

But, it just isn't what I expected. The Ciarlo family story about "Babe" last night was pretty moving, but you knew early on that since Babe wasn't telling the story he had either not survived the "Wah" or died after returning to the states.

I think a good music score is what' missing, along with a more dramatic recitation. They should have employed Tom Hanks more.

Burns' compilation would make a better coffee table book.

Cannot compete with the Band of Brothers series....in any form or fashion. Maybe it wasn't intended to, but just the cold hard facts won't keep viewers very riveted.

I would much rather hear your mom's story over a glass of vino...

DarkoV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DarkoV said...

It's tough getting my mom to talk about her experiences during WW II. She talks about it every once in a while, seemingly without context to what we've just been talking about. When I returned to Croatia a few years ago, WW II conversations with my mom and her sisters and their friends were, if this makes any sense, gifts from the gods.

One especially animated conversation (fueled by your aforementioned vino) between the 5 of them involved the bombing of their house and which country did the major amount of damage (the consensus was that it was the USA). Their situation wasn't unique so the stories are more fabric-of-the-family type stories. The funny part is that thought the situation was horrible, they were not complaining about it years later. They do admire the Brits and the Germans (the general population, not the soldiers) because they don't think they would have mentally survived what those two groups of folks did as regards the incredible amount of bombing they had to go through.

buffy said...

We're watching. I agree that "The War" has not grabbed us the way Burn's other work has. In particular, we enjoyed "Jazz." I realized that my mother missed that documentary, and now I know what to get her for Christmas. SHe's almost 91. In fact, her birthday is December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day. I can tell you that I won't share "The War" with her. I seriously doubt she could deal with the numbers of soldiers lost.

Annie in Austin said...

My husband has it on, and I go in and out of the room picking up much of it. My dad was in the Corps of Engineers in New Guinea so the War in the Pacific was talked about more when I was a kid.

We haven't noticed a background voice - maybe you have the Second Audio feature activated, Pattie? The one that describes things for the vision impaired?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Whisky Prajer said...

Burns's concern is with his America, and I'm keen to watch whatever angle he chooses to explore it from. However, I can't help wondering if his focus isn't a little too tight, if not myopic, this time around. The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, New York City are all uniquely American subjects, and offer unique gifts of insight to the world at large. WW II was, of course, a "World" war which managed to pull in combatants from just about every nation on the globe. Burns has the right idea - "Let's keep this personal" - but Darko's proposed documentary is the one I'd dearly love to see. German civilians, the French, Canadians who were there from the get-go ... dear God, those poor bastards in Leningrad . So many countries taking so many different "lessons" from this war. What can we learn anew?

Ah, but I ramble. Must've been a temptation for Burns, too, so this is what we get.

DarkoV said...

Hey WP,
Your link to Leningrad was interesting because one of the topics was Finland's involvement in WW II. I didn't have a clue. I thought Finland was either neutral, like Switzerland & portugal, or an Allie like its neighbours, Norway, Denmark, & Sweden.

Instead, Finland was more like Italy.

Can't tell the teams without a scorecard, I guess.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Scorecard..great analogy.

You know, I had relatives who were "over there" and to see actual film footage and photos of the men who survived the Bataan Death March was of particular interest since a distant cousin was a part of that cruelty. He managed to come back home after the war, but he died within a few years from complications of his POW treatment. His bowels were just swiss cheese from the starvation.

Another great uncle landed on Normandy - Omaha Beach - and made it back to the States. He never spoke of it. Only after his death did my Aunt mention some of his stories. Too bad. I would have liked to have heard his story personally.

When you can relate to this documentary on a personal level, the "gotcha" factor is better.

Of course, "Saving Private Ryan" and the Omaha Beach scene wins hands down in the department of realism.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Oh, and Darkman - I love that avatar/photo!

Elfie said...

Ok, Patti: go to the program feature on the remote and turn off the audio commentary feature. It shouldn't be on - it's there for the vision impared, and I really only notice it on PBS (although some other programs have it recorded, if the feature is on). I can't remember what it is called, so if you don't have access to a teenage boy to program your featurs for you, you might want to consult the manual for your TV.

Whisky Prajer said...

re: those reticent vets - I have a great uncle who landed on Juno Beach and fought all the way to Berlin. For many, many years he had nothing to say about any of it. He'd be called by the local radio station to join whatever reunion was happening at the time, and he'd have none of it. Then at some point in the 90s one of his nephews asked him a question and whoosh ... out came all these incredible, thrilling, horrific, you-name-it stories. The very next year, very same nephew, very same question ... Nope. Not talking about that. I'm certainly grateful for that brief window, but I have to wonder what his reminiscing must have kicked up within him.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Watson Elfie,

Ah ha!

Mystery solved. Now, where did I put my Moroccan slippers and deerstalker? I shudda known, Watson!