I'm surprised no one has mentioned "Empire of the Air".
The rise of radio broadcasting could be a fascinating subject for a
documentary, but that one really misses the mark. It's based on a book
that focuses on Sarnoff and Armstrong. With just a focus around a narrow
area, I found it rather dull and lifeless. And his use of broadcast
recordings during the wrong time periods really grated on my nerves.
There's not really been a good documentary made about this period and would
be fertile ground for PBS to cover in a multi-part series. The early days
and rise of the networks in the 20s and 30s is quite similar to the
Internet boom and bust. There's the development of radio programming
genres and radio drama as an art form, the role that radio played in the
War, and how radio changed and was eclipsed by television after the War.
The licensing for the recordings, images, and film footage would likely
give a whole team of clearance staff ulcers I'm sure.
Burns came to fame in the 70s with a feature length documentary about Huey
Long. I believe he was the first filmmaker awarded a prize by the American
Historical Association for it. At the time, this style was very different,
with a concentration on primary sources, sparse narration, and, most of
all, producing a work on history that went beyond reporting facts to
interpreting events and putting them in a larger context.
Burns does have a tendency, especially with his Civil War series and
afterwards, to sentimentalize. I started looking at him as the Frank Capra
of documentary filmmakers after seeing "The Civil War".
On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 6:19 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
> I very much agree with Cary about Burns' documentaries after "The Civil
> War." As I said, he had some ground to cover in the CW documentary that
> wasn't common knowledge all over the country. There wasn't a consensus
> academic version of CW history, there was one version taught in the "blue
> states" and one version taught in the South, with variations or excerpts
> taught everywhere else. Plus, he had Shelby Foote as a source, and thus
> access to Foote's research and first-hand sources. It's been disappointing
> to see subsequent Burns productions, because I thought the CW was quite
> well done, education and interesting. I've watched it all the way through
> several times and still feel that way.
> Before he got into long-form docus, Burns made a good short one, "Coney
> Island." It may have been more the work of his brother, but I think he was
> Of the post-CW documentaries, I like "Baseball" but I agree with previous
> critiques that it needless gets into racial politics at every possible turn
> and also doesn't present anything all that compelling or new. The reason I
> like it is that it gathers a bunch of different narratives into one place
> better than I've seen elsewhere. The followup that was broadcast on the
> second go-around deals in more detail with post-1970 baseball. To be
> honest, though, I've been a fan since I was a kid and there's really not
> much I revel in post-1980 except the 1986 Mets and Ken Griffey Jr.'s
> career. I do think Burns gave short shrift in the original documentary to
> the 60s and 70s, which were glory days for the game.
> As for Jazz, WWII and the National Parks, totally agree with all the
> criticisms, and I couldn't even plow through the ones after Jazz. Jazz was
> so infuriating that I admit a morbid fascination compelling me to watch
> each night, to see how angry it could make me with the
> over-simplifications, the distortions and the misrepresentations.
> Regarding slow panning over photographs, it was one of the first
> studio-camera techniques detailed in my standard-issue textbook for making
> public-access cable shows in the 1980s, so it was completely established
> and hackneyed by the time Burns started making productions for PBS.
> -- Tom Fine