Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Tag: American Experience

The Spirit of American Experience

This might be one of my all-time favorite things. It’s an older version of the American Experience opening and theme (composed by Charles Kuskin) that so beautifully juxtaposes things I love dearly: film, American history, and music.

One reason I love reading about American history is this country’s ability to make music out of dissonance. The diversity of stories and characters in this video’s parade of images is but a dip into the great lake of trial and triumph this country and its people have swam in since the beginning. We’ve been at war with ourselves in a million little ways since before we were even a country. The producers of American Experience got that, and illustrated that in this montage.

A buffalo stampede and a Native American, followed by a white pioneer. A nineteenth-century African-American couple, followed by footage of Jackie Robinson. Theodore Roosevelt’s kiddish grin dissolving into the Sierra Nevada, followed by footage of the Dust Bowl, a factory, and a steam engine. Abraham Lincoln split-screened with Martin Luther King. A triumphant General Eisenhower fading to troops in Vietnam.

But the most poignant moment for me is toward the end (at :36 in the video). After a few soaring orchestral lines, the piano takes over the plaintive melody that underscores footage of kids chasing and waving goodbye to a passing vehicle, and then a swooping shot of the Statue of Liberty, America’s long-serving Greeter-in-Chief.

Goodbye and hello. Division and duty. Dissonance and harmony. In documenting this nation’s formative moments and movements, this wonderful PBS program (along with its celebrity brother Ken Burns) has captured the spirit of America. Likewise, this beautiful theme has captured the spirit of the show it represents, and I’m happier for it.

Forty-One

I’m watching the video tribute to George H. W. Bush at the Republican National Convention. It reminded me how great a person and American he is. World War II fighter pilot, Congressman, Ambassador to the U.N., envoy to China, Director of the CIA, Vice-President, and finally, President — there are few public servants with such a record.

Seeing him at the ripe age of 84, he reminded me of my grandpa Cliff, both by his appearance and by his resume. Grandpa Cliff served as a lieutenant in Patton’s Third Army, trudging through the Battle of the Bulge, then through decades of service in the FBI. Both men are decorated members of the Greatest Generation.

I watched the Bush Sr. episode of American Experience a while back and it explained that regardless of some of Bush Sr.’s decisions in office, he held true to his own code of honor and dignity. That code guided him through some tough times and hard decisions. Even when the decisions were unpopular. Perhaps we’ll be thinking the same things about 41’s son Dubya one day. Or not.

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