Monday, June 12, 2006
The Essential Collection - Ken Burns' The Civil War
I don't really know why but I've always been interested in history and the Civil War in particular. I remember when this debuted on PBS in 1990 it was a big deal, but I was only in third or fourth grade and never really paid attention to the whole thing. I got it the DVD set a couple of years ago and all I can say is that this the greatest historical documentary film ever made. Ever. Ken Burns' style of filmmaking has been mocked and parodied over the years but it works exceptionally well here, mostly out of necessity. When all the historical documents are letters, and photographs, it's going to be hard to create something that can capture a viewer's attention, especially for 20 hours. But Burns does that mostly becuase he goes outside of the standard textbook history of the war, giving idiosycracies of the conflict. He has his two soldiers and their private ruminations to ground the film, while giving all the important figures and battles their due. There is just enough of the talking head shots, but the ones featuring Shelby Foote, while sometimes being anecdotal, give a temporary relief from all the seriousness. All in all, Burns made a film that can be seen as entertainment first instead of being a redundant history lesson. It's also nice to remember a time when a historical and/or political documentary didn't have to resort to partisan hackery.