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Ken Burns: Prohibition

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Product Description

PROHIBITION, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The film starts with the early history of alcohol in America and examines the 19th-century temperance and progressive movements through the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. This 6-hour, three part documentary also includes over 2 hours of bonus content.

It's hard to comprehend now, but nearly a century ago, Americans were denied both the pleasures and evils of alcohol for a period of almost 14 years--a strange and tumultuous time chronicled in edifying detail in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's Prohibition, a three-part (and three-disc) documentary first broadcast by PBS. Part One, "A Nation of Drunkards," contemplates the lead-up to Prohibition. And a long lead-up it was, as preachers, women alarmed by their husbands' debilitating drunkenness, and others were railing against the evils of drinking nearly 100 years before the 18th Amendment, which banned "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors," went into effect in January 1920. Calls for temperance in the mid-19th century soon gave way to strident demands for total abstinence, influenced by groups like the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, along with self-righteous crusaders like Carrie Nation (who wielded a hatchet as she decimated drinking establishments in her home state of Kansas). Once the federal income tax was introduced, thus eliminating government dependence on liquor taxes--which at one point accounted for 70 percent of all US revenue!--the path to passage of the amendment was cleared. But in their zeal to impose their morals on the rest of the country, the "Drys," as they were called, failed to foresee that enforcement of the amendment and its harsh enabling legislation, the Volstead Act, would be nearly impossible. That issue is examined in Part Two, "A Nation of Scofflaws," which describes the deluge of bribery, corruption, defiance of the law by ordinary citizens (the "Wets"), and, perhaps most notably, the enormous amounts of money to be made from the distribution of illegal liquor (which in turn led to the rise of Al Capone and many, many other powerful gangsters) that came in the law's wake. In Part Three, "A Nation of Hypocrites," we witness the ultimate failure of Prohibition, culminating in the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. In the end, we're told, the rigid religious fundamentalism of the Drys, who refused to consider even the slightest modification of the law, was the principal cause of its downfall--accompanied, of course, by the simple fact that people love to drink.

This is a fascinating subject, and Burns, Novick, and their collaborators present it with the precision and flair seen in other Burns documentaries, combining comments from historians and other experts, evocative music, a wealth of photos and film footage, and wonderfully rich personal stories (with period reminiscences read by actors like Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Philip Bosco, Samuel L. Jackson, Patricia Clarkson, Tom Hanks, and Blythe Danner) in a rich tapestry of information and entertainment. Prohibition is not to be missed. --Sam Graham

Special Features

- Saloons
- The Notion that Man Is Perfectable
- It's Better to Know the Judge
- That's Just the Way Life Was
- Rebels of New York
- Somebody Got a Pineapple
- Kentucky
- Capone
- Roy Olmstead
- Tabloid Heroes
- You People Were Thirsty
- Gangs
- Bad Booze
- Lessons

Extra Scene Titles
- Owled, Edged, Jingled, Piffed...
- Kentucky Bourbon
- And I Caught Hell
- He Never Did Get Caught
- San Francisco Welcomes Visitors from Italy, 1921
- Hoover's Medicine Ball Cabinet
- An Object of Ridicule
- Ten Nights in a Bar Room

- Original music by Wynton Marsalis
- A Spanish Audio Track
- Descriptive Video for the Visually Impaired
- Subtitles in English (SDH)

Product Details

  • Directors: Ken Burns, Lynn Novick
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS (DIRECT)
  • DVD Release Date: October 4, 2011
  • Run Time: 360 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004NJC0R0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,719 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Ken Burns: Prohibition" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Roxy_523 on October 6, 2011
Format: Blu-ray
I am not an historian nor am I usually interested in documentaries. I accidentally turned the channel on the t.v. and was immediately captivated by the history of the prohibition era. I read the last review. I can't dispute the author's factual accounts, but from what I saw and learned the minute details that were missed or left out were irrelevant. I say that because even though the last reviewer tells of inaccuracies I think that the amount of information that was given left me with a passion to want to research more for myself. It's like having bad teachers and wanting to drop out of school then the next semester you have a dedicated teacher. That teacher can't teach you all you'll ever need to learn but gives you the thirst to want to learn more. So much to want to leave a review and purchase the Blu-ray. That's what I got from it.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Michael Tullberg on February 19, 2012
Format: DVD
Anyone who wants to understand just why the present-day War On Drugs has been such a good-intentioned but simultaneously cataclysmic failure should take a good, long look at this film. It becomes so abundantly clear that sadly so many in this country have not learned valuable lessons from the events from the past. The (correct) point that any attempt to try and legislate human morality is doomed to fail has rarely been made so clear than in Ken Burns' latest triumph. Bravo yet once again to the USA's most important film-maker.
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Format: DVD
Ken Burns, the undisputed master of the TV documentary, has done it again. This 3-part 5-1/2 hour PBS series kept my eyes glued to the screen while my own impressions of the world of prohibition, which were mostly gleaned from stories my parents told me, became real through the old film clips and the excellent narration and historical perspective.

Looking back, it seems as if the nation was crazy to actually pass a law that prohibited alcoholic beverages in all its forms. But times were different then. In the small town Americana of 1919 men were getting dead drunk and abusing their families. For the first time in history, women asserted themselves and organized the Women's Christian Temperance Union, marching in the streets and eventually influencing legislation. It was different in the cities however, where an immigrant population did not see liquor as a menace. Thus began the age of Prohibition and the biggest crime wave and social change that America has ever seen.

This documentary tells it all with excellent film clips, fine historical research and clear and focused narration. I loved every minute of it, learned a lot, and revisited old stories told to me as a child. This series is absolutely spectacular, I give it my highest rating and am delighted that it is now available for purchase.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Smith on February 26, 2012
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
First -- the images on the blu ray are beautiful. Since much of the story occurs after the advent of motion pictures this program incorporates many moving picture clips and so is much more dynamic than some of the Ken Burns programs that cover earlier historical periods. The story line is compelling. However there is a definite editorial point of view that runs through the entire series which I understand to be "one cannot legislate morality and because of this prohibition did more harm than good" and though not explicit I see a suggestion that the current anti drug laws are similarly flawed and doomed to failure at great cost to the country, its people and the respect for law. I can understand why many would object to this program because of the strong editorial slant.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JazzFeathers on December 26, 2012
Format: DVD
I read Okrent's book, `Last Call' (on which this documentary is based) last year and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I enjoyed this documentary quite as well.

There are three dvds in here, for a total of more than 6 hours of footage. The first dvd covers the birth of the idea of prohibiting alcohol from Americans' lives, back in the 1800s: how people lived, what they drank and how much, how this affected everyday life, how the first prohibition movements worked. The second discusses the life of the 18th Amendment: how it was lobbied by the anti-saloon league, the way distrust towards immigrants played a big part in it, how this changed the life of people, especially youth. The last dvd addresses the way gangsters profited from the law, how this took away the trust of people for the law and order and especially for Prohibition, how when the Great Depression kicked in the 18th Amendment was finally repealed.

There is a huge amount of images from the time discussed. Mainly photographs in the first dvd, but a huge amount of it. So many videos in the other two, coming from Twenties films, but also non-fiction footage and even some personal photos and video. I love this.
Beside interview with experts - including Okrent - there are a number of interviews with people who were young during Prohibition. Oral history is incredible. People who remember often have a very different view, their tales have a different mood from the commentary from experts. And the one always enriches the other.

There is a thing where the documentary goes in a different direction than the book. Where the book focuses on everyday life and the way Prohibition affected it, the documentary focuses more on personalities.
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is there any english subtitles
English yes. Not to embarrass you, but in the product description it clearly says, "English and Spanish".
Feb 1, 2012 by Eric Pregosin |  See all 2 posts
Any soundtrack available?
NO. None are planned - I was told by the PR firm. For great music of this period, check out the new "Boardwalk Empire, Volume 1" Soundtrack. It's the new recreations of period recordings with some great arrangements."

Oct 7, 2011 by Steve Ramm |  See all 3 posts
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