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Not what I'd come to expect from Ken Burns et al.
on November 23, 2012
I pre-bought this show based on great experiences with his previous work. After years living in the region and with parents who were adults during the era, I was already attracted to the subject. Came away underwhelmed.
Plus: an economical, personal, anecdotal story, focused on how individuals viewed and responded to the tragedy -- then and now; realistic (if limited) description of anthropogenic influence on the ecological disaster (as opposed to "evil" or "punishment from God"); extending the story to the 1/4 who left, including "okies", was fascinating; excellent maps, but far too few of them; enjoyed Peter Coyote again as narrator, also interviews with Tim Egan. As ever, Burns et al. found some great story tellers!
Minus: DVD extras were repetitive, derivative, seemed ad hoc, mostly an afterthought; editing of individuals' narratives wasn't sufficiently taut; story held only loosely to sequential flow of events; most of the music (except for Woody Guthrie's) came as a subdued background, not always on point -- unlike Civil War, WWII, Prohibition, et al., where the music was a major character in itself.
Suggestions? First: a strong anchoring to the calendar would have held me much closer to the story. A few minutes setting the physical, climatological, geological, biological, et al., backgrounds in place would have helped me greatly. Yes, the way the sod was broken was hugely consequential, as was the later introduction of contour plowing and terracing. (Soil conservation was part of my grade school curriculum in the 1950s.) And the WWI wheat bubble + the Great Depression were proximate causes of the financial disaster. But we know more now about the regional climatological causes and feedbacks now, don't we? Would have loved to have seen graphs of rainfall, maps of distribution of removed & deposited soil, maps of temperature and rainfall trends -- all as a function of time, interviews of scientists *with* cultural anthropologists. We learned how many stayed put: how many died, of starvation or dust pneumonia or other? what areas of No Man's Land have 'recovered', and how (other than by accessing the Ogallala Aquifer)? was the wind worse during those years than before or after, and what cause(d)/(s) the powerful winds? Just why didn't the Dust Bowl eat its way further eastward? Where did all that wind-blown soil end up? Any North Atlantic/Mississippi Delta core sample data? etc. etc.
The single most powerful impression I received from the first couple of hours was Horror. If I weren't descended from centuries of farmers, if my mother hadn't been a starving teenager already before the Crash, if my Daddy hadn't used his time in the CCC to become an engineer, perhaps I would have been even less invested. Once the horror had set in, though, it faded too quickly.
How about some 'then vs. now' images taken along Route 64,66 / I-40?
It's been my custom to play Ken Burns' films many times to glean all their info; not expecting to need to do so this time. Sorry to need to say so.