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The Statue of Liberty (1985)

Documentary showing the history of the world-famous Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Documentary showing the history of the world-famous Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

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Early Burns Distills His Strengths and Weaknesses
8 July 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Statue of Liberty represents one of Ken Burns's first documentaries for PBS. Much shorter than his later work at only an hour, it provides insights into the strengths and weaknesses of his style. Even in this preliminary work, he demonstrates an aptitude for revealing little known facts, while also indulging a tendency toward sentimentality.

All the hallmarks of Burns's work are already here. We have the familiar narration of David McCullough and testimony from intellectuals such as James Baldwin and Carolyn Forche. As with other Burns productions, the narrative is sprinkled with interesting quotes from various historical figures.

The film does a good job of making its subject interesting, revealing many facts I had not previously known, such as the involvement of Eiffel in the Statue of Liberty. At the same time, by virtue of its shorter length, the film makes the weaknesses of Burns's style glaringly obvious. In particular, he sentimentalizes the Statue's meaning as a symbol for immigrants, featuring interviews with migrants that add little to the narrative. Furthermore, he ends the documentary with a montage showing the Statue's impact on popular culture, flashing a number of images without giving them any context. A bit more analysis would have been useful.


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