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Ken Burns: Prohibition Season 1
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2011
Because my dad grew up in urban America during the era of Prohibition, I was intrigued by the title of the film. What I learned came through the rich tapestry of film, photos, music, and recordings of the "flapper and speakeasy era" put together so intelligently by "Burns and company." The film shows that Prohibition impacted an entire generation to the core, kids, women, and men, with its long-term erosion of our national "soul" and spirit--with its hypocrisy--imprinting young and old, rich and poor, male and female. (I found myself wondering if perhaps my dad's favorite line, "Do as I say, not as I do," was a teaching not just of Leviticus but of so many years living in the world of duality that was Prohibition.) Not just a story of the temperance fanatics and gin mills, a great story in itself, this is also a story of how women shaped the political landscape of the U. S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also, Burns tells a story of the misguided efforts to control alcoholism, a family disease that harms individuals and society at large. Also, I couldn't help but compare the Volstead Act for Prohibition, which led to the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, to other overarching political acts of history, where the "cure" became worse than the "problem." I learned specifics for how effective political change happens, as a function of public experience and perceptions, shaped by articulate leaders who have persistence and the ability to attract followers and build concensus. The humor of NYC's Mayor Laguardia even played a role, in helping Americans of that day to laugh at themselves. Ultimately, the illusive factors of the shifting tides of change and greater human despair of the Great Depression and elightened leadership that could align its will effectively with the broader populace, were among the key elixirs and catalysts needed. In our "post-Boom of the 90s" America, I was left wondering, "How might women and men leaders and the Public use these lessons today to effect focused change?" Also, "How did the political process for establishing and enacting the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution (which established Prohibition in the U. S.) and the Twenty-first Amendment (which repealed Prohibition) show the effectiveness of our Constitution? How did these processes show the challenges of our Constitution?"
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2011
What should a PBS viewer pour himself to enhance his enjoyment of Prohibition? In posing the question, I don't mean to suggest that this documentary, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, needs any help to go down easy. But it seems correct to celebrate the freedom to get one's buzz on. The freedom is, of course, vastly more important than the buzz itself, as Prohibition notes in its closing words. Here, the writer Pete Hamill, one talking head among a distinguished roster, says that he has hasn't had a drink in three decades. But, hypothetically, he'd be proud to touch the stuff again in a public protest against any legislative attempt to deny his fellow citizens that right.

So what to pour? Whiskey--the excessive consumption of which, in the 1800s, provided an early impetus for temperance organization--is a fine choice. You could also mix up a cocktail called the scofflaw. In a nifty aside, the documentary mentions that the word was coined to denote the very common criminals who kept boozing after the Last Night. Watery domestic beer would also work; passage of the 18th Amendment became possible partly because of the World War I-era vilification of German-Americans, some of whom had names like Pabst and Schlitz and Anheuser and Busch. Want to concoct something in your bathtub? Terrific. The notes of Soft Scrub in the bouquet will impart historically accurate odors.

Over three nights and five and half hours, Prohibition provides a very fine analytic survey of the noble experiment, and most criticisms of it are quibbles. However, if you are the type of viewer who, after The Civil War and Baseball, gets ticked off by certain Burnsian tics of style, then consider yourself warned. I mean, when the film recounts the moment that Carrie Nation received a message from God to vandalize saloons, a reading of her words plays over an image of yellow sunlight gracing a rural cobweb. There are a couple of corny re-creations of phone calls placed by the blockbuster bootlegger Roy Olmstead to his accomplices. But these seem a small price to pay for the delights of the series' archival footage and sturdy exposition--and for the sozzled trumpet that rings in the ridiculous era stretching from 1920 to 1933.

The first installment, titled "A Nation of Drunkards," proves the most compelling, not least because alcohol and its American foes runs in a clear, easily traceable line. An early segment speeds through the back story of American drinking--the booze in the hold of the Mayflower, the daily ration of rum at Valley Forge, John Adams' hard-cider eye-openers. Then we're on to the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening and then evangelists of the Washington Society, a confederacy of reformed drunkards. Early campaigns for personal responsibility gave way to anti-saloon movements and to calls for enforced abstinence. The documentary quotes an anonymous clergyman condemning the last of these: "Very little good has ever been done by the absolute shall." A sound insight into human nature. Also, an idea for a liquor brand: Absolut Shall, the vodka for connoisseurs of auxiliary verbs.

Soon, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were addressing the problem of epidemic overindulgence. At a time when any number of men would come home wasted and beat their powerless wives, agitation against horrible potomania was largely a distaff cause, and a running thread of Prohibition tracks the shifting status of women. On the one hand, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and its ilk scapegoated alcohol as the cause of all suffering and the root of all social failures. On the other, they represented an important step in the organization of suffragettes and social reformers.

Thank heavens they paved the way for Pauline Sabin, who founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform to campaign against what Winston Churchill termed "an affront to the whole history of mankind." Sabin began her effort in 1929, by which time speakeasies had accomplished the coeducation of the school of bar-going. And Prohibition also contributes a frisky footnote, either somewhat dubious or totally interesting, to the philosophy of flappers: Discussing the fast pace of the Jazz Age and changes in gender relations, the FDR historian William Leuchtenburg proposes that "what happened in the 1920s is that men discovered the clitoris." Apparently, no one had ever before thought to check to the north.

Despite addressing what may seem a narrow topic, the documentary succeeds at presenting a broad consideration of America. A study in politics--in lobbying legislators, manipulating media, and exploiting wedge issues--is married to a social history of socializing. For instance, Prohibition explores the background of the saloon as a "working class private club" and the booze as an agent of political organizing. By the end--after the period has proved to be a "finishing school ... for organized crime syndicates," after we have tearfully watched federal agents smash barrels of whiskey--Burns' trumpet is at once weary and celebratory.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2011
This is an excellent documentary, but beyond that, there are lessons to be learned about our current economic/social situation. Watching this series, one can draw many parallels to what is going on today. It's a shame we fail to learn from the past. One can only hope that someday these lessons sink in.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I think an important lesson that comes out of the Prohibition series is the creation of the Income Tax to replace the taxes from alcohol that were now done away with through Prohibition.

Of course after Prohibition they did not get rid of income tax. Eh Vee! Politicians!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2012
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In Episode 1 alone of "Prohibition" I've learned more about the 16th (income tax), 18th (prohibition), and 19th (women's suffrage) amendments than I ever did in 13 years of lower education. Fantastically interesting story of the history of the United States at the turn of the century, religion, immigration, women's rights, domestic violence, politics, and, of course, alcohol!

There's always more to a story than just a couple details. The concept of prohibition always seemed stupid to me. Episode 1 thoroughly explained the reasoning and rationale behind the temperance movement, something sorely lacking in my previous exposure to its history (other than "alcohol is bad, mmmkay?") Likewise, it also explores the culture of the time, why alcohol was important, and what people valued it.

One thing I watch for in documentaries is political bias. While I'm certain this, like all others, has some bias, I felt it did a good job at showing all sides, from the brewers to the religious institutions, and from the immigrants to the politicians, there was a good picture of the climate of the time.

Finally, and purely aesthetics, I appreciated all of the period photography and video footage that was included.

"Would buy again!"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant Video
Prohibition has always been a fascinating time period for me. This series shows prohibition starting much earlier than your standard high school history text would have you believe, as well as how World War 1, social racism, and women equality all came together in what we know as prohibition today.

On a side note, the narration tends to look at many of the issues from a modern liberal vs. conservative point of view, taking the standard liberal POV as the "good side". While presenting the facts in becomes obvious that neither political party was free of corruption or stupidity through out the entire prohibition time period.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
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I learned so much from this documentary that I previously had no idea about! I just wish that more episodes were offered with Prime :( This episode ended where it just started to get to the good part! I refuse to pay $6.99 an episode!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant Video
As usual, Burns has a thesis, not just a lot of (interesting) information; the notion that Prohibition forced Americans to become hypocrites is at once obvious and significant. And of course, a treasure trove of anecdotes and bits of "trivia." Now I know why they're called "bootleggers"!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2011
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I'm glad to see that Ken Burns has returned to the format that he does best. In the first installment, he examines how a combination of social and historical events led up to and brought about the 18th Amendment. There's not a lot of current social commentary that has been prevalent is some of his past recent works. He does show through the lenses of history that the current issues that we argue about as a nation, such as mandated teaching of subjects in education, the transference from social concerns to political power and action, and the effects on legislation upon business are not new. It is a very balanced piece, and both conservatives and progressives will find points to both cheer and jeer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
great learnings that have been repeated a few times in history again. a must watch from every generation. Many generations will not undestand why this happened.
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