|Index||7 reviews in total|
Once again, Ken Burns has crafted an excellent, informative
documentary. This one is about the Dust Bowl. Interviews, photographs,
diary entries and footage are used to paint a picture of the time and
place, a time when monstrous behemoths of dust could literally blot out
Most effective are the interviews. Men and women who were children when dust storms swept the plains tell stories of their experiences. Some of these are very emotional. For example, two brothers choke up at the memory of their sister who died of 'dust pneumonia' when still a young girl. The anguish in their voices is simply heartbreaking. Another man recalls how he became separated from his parents when a dust storm hit and for a while they had no idea if he was dead or alive. All of these stories give one a full appreciation of the devastation wreaked by the event and make it painfully personal and human.
"The Dust Bowl" is a powerful story of human suffering and human endurance. Watching it, I was moved by the plight of people who struggled on against hope in an effort to retain their dignity or survive. It was very educational. I highly recommend seeing it.
(Oh, and to the previous reviewer: Much of this documentary is told through the words of people who actually lived through the Dust Bowl. Quite a bit of the film simply allows these people to speak for themselves without any quick cutting, signs of manipulation, or propagandistic techniques. I saw no signs of any 'agenda' on the part of Burns here.)
All Americans have heard of the Dust Bowl and know it was a phenomenon
associated with drought in the 1930s, and that Okies left for
California, a la The Grapes of Wrath. We have also heard about the more
recent droughts in the West. So the thought arises, could it happen
again? But that's about it. Most non-Americans don't even know that.
With some of his documentaries on more distant subjects, Ken Burns relied on old photographs and narratives read by actors. But The Dust Bowl is the story told by the people who saw the massive dust storms, day after day, with their own eyes, breathing the dust, eating the dust, getting lost in the dust. They are often the very people in the pictures used. At at the end, we see a dedication listing the participants who had died before the documentary was released. Burns was just in time to save this bit of oral history.
What struck me initially was how objective, unemotional, and even dry was his approach, far less spirited than subjects like the Statue of Liberty, Baseball or Jazz. And the pace is leisurely, a lot of time spent looking at a lot of towering dust clouds and hearing account after account of being engulfed by dust and sand. Most film makers would have sped things up for the MTV generation, perhaps added booming sound effects and gimmicky zips and flashes to keep our attention. But this is Ken Burns, and he has the street cred to do things his way. And it was the right way. People actually lived through these dust and sand storms for years, so surely we can endure the accounts for a few hours to get a feel for it.
But this tells a larger story, of how the region was settled, telling another side of the Oklahoma land rush that I had never heard, and how government policies and World War I led to foolish overproduction of wheat on land better suited to grazing. Yes, foolish. The people involved say so, themselves, for the most part. This is not Ken Burns political propagandist, as some reviewers allege.
What struck me is how objective this account is, how balanced, presenting various sides, and grounded in fact, like good journalism. The film covers the New Deal policies of FDR to try to save the land and help those living in the Dust Bowl; it also provides insight into the origins of farm price support policies. Is this what causes some viewers to froth at the mouth? I kept waiting for the judgment, the observation that global warming could cause more dust bowls, in America, and around the world. But it never came. Perhaps he could anticipate the response. Frankly, he didn't need to spell out the connection.
With better, scientific farming practices, the Dust Bowl land could be saved, more or less. You still need rainfall, unless you are willing to drain aquifers. But the story of the Dust Bowl also offers some promise that there may be intelligent ways to adjust to the effects of climate change on agriculture. Discussion of this is the part that I wish was included.
This is a vitally important story that needs to be remembered, with lessons for our and future generations. It is also a story of the human spirit, of people who endured hardship far longer than any of us should, or probably could, bear. I am glad they got a chance to share their story with us.
A good supplementary program is The Civilian Conservation Corps episode of The American Experience, #22.1, for a larger context on the environmental and economic situation.
I've only viewed part 1 (last night) and I'm anxiously awaiting part 2,
which is tonight. So far, it has been very good and informative. A
significant piece of American history. One we should all be
knowledgeable on. We had a large part in creating this natural
catastrophe, and we are doomed to do similar things if we continue to
do as we are presently doing. It reminds me of the recent flooding in
New York, New Jersey and Japan. Much of that damage and loss can be
contributed to poor planning on mankind. Nature is cyclical. We just
choose to ignore the past history.
Very good and informative. I highly recommend it.
As an immigrant I was not familiar with this episode in American history besides a few facts connected to Great Depression and migration of thousands to California so well described by John Steinbeck. This movie however showed me that it may not be only about economic woes of that era but other factors played significant role such as greed, cheating of poor farmers by unscrupulous developers in a sort of Alaskan scheme,disregard for needs of a land (notice that historians point to the fact of that area used incorrectly for wheat instead just for grazing), over extensive farming resulting in erosion and general lack of paying attention to climate. All this unfortunately reminds me of our times which makes this movie especially troubling. What saved us completely from total gloom after watching are people: beautiful farmers undefeated in the face of such calamity. I just wish that those types of Americans would be shown more often to the rest of the world and maybe they will be more liked by others. Instead what the world see are shallow celebrities, rich and arrogant businessmen. Show the world more that woman in the beaten truck with her hungry children in that famous photograph made on the way to California and she should be real American lady not Modonna or similar types. Now, on another note: what struck me about the movie is how well our heroes looked despite poverty, lack of food, dust and proper medical care. I even cracked a joke to my family that they all looked as they had just left Gap store. Compare them with contemporary society and see difference. Obesity, bulky faces, sloppy clothes, lack of grace, a hint of stupidity on our faces coming from constant looking at commercial surroundings and see how those old farmers looked dignified compared to us. They ate less but purer food, were surrounded by nature and beauty (with the exception of those 10 years of dust bowl), had deep connection to others, walked constantly... - perhaps these things made them prettier. So if there are messages coming from this movie there are following: treat nature with respect, plan for the future, save water; and in other realm: dress better, walk more and with poise and clean your house. If they could do it despite all the odds, so can we.
This is a decent documentary and if you don't know much about the dust bowl then it will give you a good overview. I was a bit disappointed to find that part 1 was very similar to a television documentary called: 'The American Experience - Surviving the Dust Bowl' and featured much of the same footage and photographs and talking heads. I guess this mini series is four times longer overall so it's a better option if you want a more in depth look at this very sad time in recent north American history. I have to say that I find the music in the background is a bit distracting and often had to rewind bits that I didn't catch because my mind had wandered with the music.
This "docu-drama" contained more political statements than a French feminist melodrama. OK, I admit I exaggerate but if you want to make a documentary you have to consider all possible angles and not be a servant to your own point of view. This is not a documentary. It is Ken Burns world view about the dust bowl. Don't look for reasonable explanations about the causes and circumstances in which the event occurred. It like one of those zombie movies, you know the ones which starts like, "its the year 2137, there has been a deadly virus attack and only few humans survive and the rest have turned to zombies". You know this is not a real story yet they put enough real circumstances in it for you to be engaged. This is the zombie movie of documentaries.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dust Bowl is a continuation of the same type of documentary Ken
Burns has been producing the past three decades. It's a compilation of
old magazine or book quotes, interviews of individuals from that
period, plus pictures and illustrations. The problem is since there is
no way of knowing what pictures actually represent the quotes. Unlike a
history book with a bibliography of sources that can be checked here we
are being told a story which may have some truth but may also have
untruths or misrepresentations. Is the child in the photo the actual
child who died in that storm or another?
The product of Ken Burns documentaries are a reflection of burn's world views more than lessons in history. If Burns were not affiliated with PBS I may view his documentaries more open mindedly. In addition I find his documentaries to be generally manipulative with violin music fading in at just the right time to elicit a tear or two with news a child died. I like drawing my own conclusions from history and not having my chain yanked by a pseudo intellectual or other impostor.
I view Ken Burn's work as entertainment at best and propaganda at worst. It's his schtick and it's what he does apparently well enough to continue to receive funding. Hopefully more people will begin to see through it.
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