Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Tag: Ken Burns

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.

The War by Ken Burns

I’m still working my way through it, but I’ve already come to appreciate Ken Burns’ seven-part 2007 miniseries The War.

Burns explains in the making-of feature that he wanted to show the war not through historians but through average citizens, men and women and children from every corner of the country who endured the front lines abroad or did their part at home. He focuses on four towns—one in California, Minnesota, Alabama, and Connecticut—and uses interviews with the veterans and their families from those towns to make the enormous scope of World War II more intimate.

It’s a great historical record of the American involvement, delving deep into topics that are not often discussed like Japanese internment and the segregation of minorities in the Army. Burns employs his trademark use of photos, footage, and interviews in each scene. Some photos we’ve seen before, but most are new and show us a different view of what has become a very familiar war.

Norah Jones’ “American Anthem,” the series’ theme, is very good, though not as good as the theme for Burns’ The Civil War, called “Ashokan Farewell.” And while I really love David McCullough’s narration in The Civil War, actor Keith David’s here has quickly grown on me.

So if you have 15 hours to spare one these days, fill them with The War.

© 2017 Chad Comello

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