Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ken Burns' The War (part 1)

Respite on Okinawa (from the National Archives)

“Time and again we found that footage and photographs, however graphic, and words, however eloquent, could not alone do justice to the magnitude of the war’s devastation, could not fully convey the barbarity, bravery, depravity, resilience, and generosity of spirit that the conflict evoked in the millions of human beings who were touched by it.”
–Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, from their liner notes
to THE WAR soundtrack album

Perhaps no other name has become synonymous with scholarly documentaries to the American public as Ken Burns. Indeed, there's even a filming technique named after him: The Ken Burns Effect (where the camera zooms in on one part of a still picture and then slowly pans to a different part of it). Starting with his epic work on the Civil War in 1990, he has gone on to produce notable pieces on baseball, Mark Twain, and most importantly for music fans, Jazz.

His latest masterpiece, six years in the making, is simply titled The War, and is a seven part documentary covering World War II. Unlike previous documentaries from other producers, and much like the greatly lauded HBO series Band of Brothers, Burns' zeros in on individuals and the part they played in the larger picture. He focuses on four American towns: Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Luverne, Minnesota. From these towns he follows soldiers who hailed from them and the people who stayed behind to contribute to the war effort in other ways.

View the trailer for the series here: Windows Media / Quicktime

Just as he artfully crafts the visual aspects of his work, Burns applies equal attention to the audio portion of it as well. Accompanying the documentary is a masterful soundtrack which includes pieces from the period as well as some songs penned especially for this project (including works from Norah Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis and Joshua Bell). Considering the breadth of the work, it would be nigh well next to impossible to fit all of the music on one disc; therefor, besides the soundtrack there will be three companion albums that will all be sold individually. They will also be packaged together in a special commemorative box set featuring a 24-page booklet essay by Ken Burns interspersed with 17 rare and moving images from the period, and a PBS Series Viewers Guide (buy it here).

stream Norah Jones - American Anthem : The War: A Ken Burns Film, The Soundtrack

Bing Crosby with Les Paul - It's Been a Long, Long Time
: The War: A Ken Burns Film, The Soundtrack


"To wartime America, music provided both entertainment and uplift. There may have been rationing and general shortages, but dance halls flourished as never before, fueled by the big bands of the era."
-from the back notes of I'm Beginning to See the Light,
Dance Hits From the Second World War

One of the three companion discs is titled I'm Beginning to See the Light, Dance Hits From the Second World War, and as the title suggest, includes swing songs from the biggest band leaders of the era: Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, and others. If you enjoy the big band sound, then this compilation really gathers together the cream of the crop.

Glen Miller - In the Mood : The War: A Ken Burns Film, I'm Beginning to See the Light, Dance Hits From The Second World War

Gene Krupa - Let Me Off Uptown : The War: A Ken Burns Film, I'm Beginning to See the Light, Dance Hits From The Second World War

(read part 2 on Songs Without Words, one of the other two companion CDs, and part 3 on Sentimental Journey, the last companion disc)

1 comment:

The Charters Of Dreams said...

I ran into this essay that I think makes a great point about how Iran is not an imminent crisis by comparing Iran to the threat that the Axis Powers presented to the west in the 1940's as documented by Ken Burn's "The War:"