Is Ken Burns Documentary a sore subject?

Joined
Jul 22, 2021
a sore subject? I don't wish to start anything.

I did quite a search and all the past threads on the Civil War series and Ken Burns were not available. Wassup?
 

Irishtom29

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I didn't like the Burns series; first off as an Illinoisan I took exception to its eastern bias. Second, I hated the music--absolutely despised it. Third, I didn't learn anything from it. Fourth, documentaries in general bore me; they are a very inefficient way of transmitting information compared to books.
 
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Ken Burns' Civil War documentary was a ground breaking work and still holds up well. For such a complex topic as the ACW is it would have been impossible even in a multipart series to create a historically perfect documentary but the final product was and still is excellent. Shelby Foote did write his narrative in a wonderful and engaging style, he is a pleasure to read. Foote had taken some criticism for too much Confederate bias but after having read the trilogy twice now my impression is that what he wrote mainly shed some more light on many of their innovations and successes against great odds, things Yankee historians may have chosen to ignore. He was critical of leaders on both sides so I was not left with the impression that he was solely cheerleading for the CSA. He clearly called out Lee's decision on July 3, 1863 as a blunder and I did not sense that he pulled any punches in his assessment of others, on both sides. There was a good interview with him on C-SPAN years ago that you can search on You Tube, it's about 3 hours long and will give you an opportunity to hear Shelby Foote speak for himself on this and many other topics.

Bill
 
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wausaubob

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Burns had a more difficult problem. He had to produce TV which satisfied his financial backers, and drew a large audience. Considering what he had to work with, he did OK.
I think if he had to do it over again he would spend more time explaining American life in 1861. Power spindles and power looms were not new any longer. What was new? Mechanical reapers and planters. Power threshers. Railroads. Sewing machines. Iron hulled ships manufactured in England.
I think Foote noticed many of these things when he read period newspapers and magazines. In much the Midwest and far west, life went on much as before after the shock of mobilization resolved.
 

Joshism

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I didn't like the Burns series; first off as an Illinoisan I took exception to its eastern bias. Second, I hated the music--absolutely despised it. Third, I didn't learn anything from it. Fourth, documentaries in general bore me; they are a very inefficient way of transmitting information compared to books.

I doubt many people on CWT will learn much from Burns' documentary. I think it was aimed at people who knew very little about the war. It gives a basic history, tells human interest stories, and shares passion for the subject.

If someone wanted a comprehensive one-shot account of the ACW I would recommend McPherson. But if someone had never read a book or seen a documentary on the subject and I wanted to hook them in then I would have them watch Ken Burns.
 

KianGaf

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Dublin, Ireland
Not sure why. I just started rewatching it. It’s better than I remember it.

Every six months or so id rewatch it or have it on in the background when I'm doing some paperwork. I always really enjoy it. I'm not sure what was my favourite part the music or the narration by David McCullough. If I had to choose id go for McCullough I just love his voice in documentary's. Another favourite of mine by him is the audio book of 1776, its brilliant.
 

Tony Z

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I doubt many people on CWT will learn much from Burns' documentary. I think it was aimed at people who knew very little about the war. It gives a basic history, tells human interest stories, and shares passion for the subject.

If someone wanted a comprehensive one-shot account of the ACW I would recommend McPherson. But if someone had never read a book or seen a documentary on the subject and I wanted to hook them in then I would have them watch Ken Burns.
I wonder how many on CWT got the interest in the CW from Burns or Foote? Though mine dates back to at least 1963, my interest waned until the first broadcast of the Burns series.
 

Pete Longstreet

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Ken Burns' Civil War documentary was a ground breaking work and still holds up well. For such a complex topic as the ACW is it would have been impossible even in a multipart series to create a historically perfect documentary but the final product was and still is excellent. Shelby Foote did write his narrative in a wonderful and engaging style, he is a pleasure to read. Foote had taken some criticism for too much Confederate bias but after having read the trilogy twice now my impression is that what he wrote mainly shed some more light on many of their innovations and successes against great odds, things Yankee historians may have chosen to ignore. He was critical of leaders on both sides so I was not left with the impression that he was solely cheerleading for the CSA. He clearly called out Lee's decision on July 3, 1863 as a blunder and I did not sense that he pulled any punches in his assessment of others, on both sides. There was a good interview with him on C-SPAN years ago that you can search on You Tube, it's about 3 hours long and will give you an opportunity to hear Shelby Foote speak for himself on this and many other topics.

Bill
Good points. Some think Foote is solely a Confederate sympathizer and therefore his writing must be a reflection of that... He did say he has some southern bias, but that's only because of where he was born and raised. I think overall he's been fairly objective in his writing and assessment of soldiers on both sides. He clearly stated his disdain for Phil Sheridan and Joe Johnston, but he also referenced how he tried to not let it show. Foote also mentioned that growing up, Abraham Lincoln was despised. But in the Burns series he calls Lincoln a "genius". When you truly examine Foote's words and writing, coupled with where he was raised and the time frame, he's probably more unbiased than many of us are when it comes to the Civil War.
 
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Pete Longstreet

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I didn't like the Burns series; first off as an Illinoisan I took exception to its eastern bias. Second, I hated the music--absolutely despised it. Third, I didn't learn anything from it. Fourth, documentaries in general bore me; they are a very inefficient way of transmitting information compared to books.
I can agree with you on the eastern theater bias. It makes it seem that everything was dependent upon Lee in Virginia. If documentaries bore you, then it would be hard to like it... but the average person not overly interested in the CW may not pick up a book and read it... they are more apt to watch TV then read. For the time, the "Ken Burns Effect" was great... taking still shots and making them appear almost live-like. At the time I wasn't crazy about the music but have grown to really enjoy it. I think the documentary was a brilliant peice of work, but respect your honesty.
 

wausaubob

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Good points. Some think Foote is solely a Confederate sympathizer and therefore his writing must be a reflection of that... He did say he has some Confederate bias, but that's only because of where he was born and raised. I think overall he's been fairly objective in his writing and assessment of soldiers on both sides. He clearly stated his disdain for Phil Sheridan and Joe Johnston, but he also referenced how he tried to not let it show. Foote also mentioned that growing up, Abraham Lincoln was despised. But in the Burns series he calls Lincoln a "genius". When you truly examine Foote's words and writing, coupled with where he was raised and the time frame, he's probably more unbiased than many of us are when it comes to the Civil War.
He may be a southern sympathizer, but I am not sure he is a Confederate sympathizer. By the time he contributed to Burns' series I think he had concluded the southern population was terribly used by the secessionist leadership.
 

Pete Longstreet

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He may be a southern sympathizer, but I am not sure he is a Confederate sympathizer. By the time he contributed to Burns' series I think he had concluded the southern population was terribly used by the secessionist leadership.
Some call him a "lost causer", which I disagree with. You make a good reference, I think southern sympathizer fits better than Confederate. He used the words "southern bias" during an interview.
 
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Jul 22, 2021
I have the Ken Burns Civil War DVD collection and have watched it two or four times. My interest in the ACW goes back to grade school and since that time I've picked up various and sundry books even read all of John Jakes series just to get to the volumes on the ACW! I enjoy the fictional versions so long as they contain historically accurate events. Judging from the posts on this thread some of you liked it and some did not. I began watching it when it first came out on PBS with absolutely no expectations.

I also had a great interest in anything movie or documentary on the subject always going out of my way to make sure I saw this movie or that documentary. One of my earliest memories of Civil War flicks was Gone With the Wind and the Red Badge of Courage. For me at the time these movies were breathtaking but it also lead me to believe that cinema would be woefully inadequate to give us a sense of the tumult and senselessness of a war that was so terrible.

In my view Ken Burns probably comes the closest to this terrible accuracy and how it affected so many. The tapestry of the narration of its characters and participants with the mostly period music and our first photojournalistic wars takes you there like no other movie or documentary I have witnessed. The photographs come alive to the point you know the blood and guts are just off screen and threaten to come into your living room. You could even catch a glimpse of the hard lives these soldiers led and shared in their enthusiasm at being a part of some huge cataclysm as much as their great sorrow at the loss of a friend or the deepest pains of home sickness.

Thank you, you fed my curiosity!
 
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