Customer Reviews: American Experience: New York Season 1
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on October 29, 2005
If you are interested in a thorough but entertaining history of New York City this is as good as it gets. Ric Burns provides plenty of details but doesn't forget that part of the reason viewers are watching is to have some fun too. Eight DVDS may seem like too much but with a city like New York it is surprising how quickly the show passes by, this collection is large enough to give you a serious history of the topic without getting too complicated. If you are looking for a travel guide to NYC this isn't for you, if you are a sports fan look elsewhere, don't expect a guide to theatre or restaurants either. This DVD set is meant as a visual history course of America's, if not the world's, most fascinating city.
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on May 23, 2008
This is the definitive gift for anyone who loves New York City. The series is presented in easily digestible pieces and all the episodes draw you into a period in NYC's history and give you a good understanding of what makes the City so unique. The final episode, about the building and the destruction of the World Trade Center, will touch your heart as well as your mind.
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on November 4, 2008
Perhaps the very best documentary on any subject ever produced...a gargantuan, incomprehensible effort, amassing a haunting and romantic archive of original film footage, photographs, print, vintage cartography, and priceless commentary by various cultural luminaries and historians. Spellbinding from first episode to the last...I found myself not wanting it to end. The series presents a broad tapestry of New York's history with an emphasis on the indomitable and resilient human spirit above all else. Ric Burns succeeds with a definitive masterpiece and tribute to New York in a unique style that captures one's imagination while tugging at the heart. If history had been taught with this medium when I was in school, it would have made the difference between passing marginally or with excellence. This DVD set is a treasure and one which I will revisit again and again. I highly recommend the amended version with 8 DVD discs, including the final post-9/11 disc.
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on September 20, 2008
As a lover of both film and history, this is undoubtably the best documentary I've ever seen. I was awed at Ric Burns ability to make the city a living breathing character with as much trials and tribulations as any great character in history. At times I forgot I was watching a documentary, because I was so dramatically tuned into the story.

With ample time devoted to it's many evolutions, each chapter is both informative and facinating. I have watched the entire series many times, and I am always amazed at how emotionally moving the legacy of this great city really is.

For the record, I have never been to New York, but I feel I will have a tremendous historic and cultural insight, when I eventually do.
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on January 26, 2016
The series is super! However, there is one single episode toward the end where the entire episode moves away from being a historical documentary and becomes instead a tendentious bashing of Robert Moses by using a couple of so called "experts". Some of these "experts" make their living as "architectural critics". They couldn't build a tree house, but they are "experts" at criticizing monumental builders.
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VINE VOICEon April 14, 2012
Ric Burns tells the story of New York, from the time settlement began, in an entertaining and yet informative way. The early discs include interviews with top historians and great images, and the later ones include film footage and interviews with the New York movers and shakers of the late 20th Century.
The very last disc, produced after the others were released, covers the building and destruction of the World Trade Center, and gets into the politics of New York's place as the economic center of the world.
This is NOT a tourist DVD, although it will make the viewer a more informed visitor to New York City. I would recommend that anyone considering a trip to New York watch these videos first.
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on September 26, 2013
I've seen the entire series, "New York - Directed by Rick Burns," many times - the reason for this purchase was simply updating from VHS to DVD. Granted, the prospect of watching a 171/2 hour portrait of New York City sounds on the surface a bit daunting even for American History buffs but, (for me,) the combination of stunning visuals, splendid prose read so beautifully by David Ogden Stiers underscored by Brian Keane's atmospheric music makes for perfect video viewing. Best wishes to all those who made it possible.
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on April 23, 2012
This is my favorite documentary of all time. I've watched it probably three times all the way through, and it doesn't get old. The most recent section that they added later is a little cheesy, but the rest of the story is fantastic. I feel so much more knowledgeable when I visit NY after having watched this. It's amazing how interesting they can make this story when the first half of the documentary is mostly still photographs.

If you're interested in NY (even if you don't live there), it's worth your time!
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on November 13, 2007
For those who love NY, this series will make you fall in love with NY all over again. Its an easy, entertaining way to get a rich history of NY.
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on June 15, 2010
The life of any great city exists on three levels - social, political and cultural. What is surprising about this documentary is how well it succeeds at presenting the first two aspects of New York, while failing so miserably at addressing the third. While I agree that a film should be evaluated on the basis of what it intended to do and not on what one thinks it should have done, it is difficult not to be critical of this omission, especially in a film with a running time approaching 18 hours.

What Ric Burns and his team have done here is present an exhaustive history of a great American city, with particular focus on the political figures at the center of it all. Peter Stuyvesant, Boss Tweed, F.H. LaGuardia, Robert Moses and countless others are given extensive coverage, as are the lives of the immigrant population that were affected, for better or worse, by these political giants. We see the various crises, upheavals and tragedies that went on to shape the city, and how the lives of its residents adapted, often with great difficulty, to the city's changes and growth.

And yet those who know New York as a center of American culture will quickly notice something missing in this film. We see the great influx of immigrants but we learn little to nothing about how these different cultures went on to form the great melting pot. The creation of ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy are given only a passing mention. New York institutions like the Italian market and the Jewish deli are never seen, despite New York's position as the multicultural food capital of the world. The great Gilded Age of New York, as recounted by literary giants like Henry James and Edith Wharton, is virtually ignored. (Burns is somewhat more successful with F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Jazz Age".)

Then there is the crucial arts and entertainment aspect. The development of Broadway is not here, nor is the early motion picture industry, which existed in NYC before anyone had heard of Hollywood. The great literary circles like American Bloomsbury and the Beats are never mentioned, nor are the many famous literary journals that followed them. Greenwich Village is never looked at. We do not see Yankee Stadium or the many historic events that took place there. The great museums, theaters and concert halls are passed over. We do not meet (with a few exceptions) the great writers, artists, musicians or actors, or the architectural geniuses who created Central Park, Grand Central Station, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the New York Public Library and the many other famous structures the city is known for. We learn little about the development of big-city publishing, the fashion industry or, omission of all omissions, the birth of radio and television.

Granted, any of these topics alone could fill a lengthy documentary, but the fact that they are barely mentioned in a film of this length is hard to overlook.

I give the film three stars because what it does, it does well. I just wish that after investing eighteen hours of my time, I had a better understanding of why New York holds such a high place in American culture. As it is, I feel like I attended a very long history lesson, much of which will be forgotten shortly after the exam is over.
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