Customer Reviews: Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl [Blu-ray]
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on October 8, 2012
I was fortunate enough to see a preview cut of The Dust Bowl last week in an event hosted by PBS and it's typical Ken Burns. Burns revolutionized the documentary format in 1990 with The Civil War. His style and technique changed the way stories are told now by historians and filmakers around the world through film. So it should come as no surprise that The Dust Bowl is yet another great work by the masterful director. The film documents the Dust Bowl through iconic pictures and film as Burns usually does, but it is told through the eyes of the survivors in a way that makes the experience even more powerful. I would describe the film as The Worst Hard Time comes ALIVE! If you enjoyed the book by Timothy Egan you will no doubt love this film. If you have not read the book by all means do yourself a favor and do so. Egan is a major contributor of course along with other historians as they are used to frame the events of the era, but it is the "survivors" that truly make the film special! I HIGHLY recommend this film to individuals that love history,to anyone who wants to learn more about the struggle of survival in one of the greatest man-made disasters in world history to anyone who just loves a great documentary.
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on December 21, 2012
my dad joseph franklin alcorn, was born in 1857 yes that's right, 1857. he had twin boys me and my brother paul alcorn at age of 75. so we were born in 1931. so those times were fresh in our minds. this video is as real as it gets. although we were only 6 years old when dad died at age 81 my age now . shortest 4 hour movie i ever watched. buy it.........
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on November 24, 2012
It starts with a few words: "Let me tell you how it was." In the space of four hours, Ken Burns tells you how it was on the great wide plains of America, in the 1930's, in the Dust Bowl.

Ken Burns' real talent is his focus on the average man and woman. Rather than focusing on the famous, the politicians and celebrities (though they do come into play at times), he introduces us to names from history that we never knew. So, in 'The Dust Bowl,' we get the story of the college-trained writer who set up a homestead in no-man's land, finding her husband there. We hear the story of the family with nine children, and the ambition to pass on a square mile of fertile land to each of them. We hear the stories of children born into a world of blowing dust and dirt, of some who survive, and some who didn't make it.

Make no mistake, this is a story of struggle and human endurance stretched to the limit, of hopes raised and then dashed again, year after year. It's a story of ecological disaster and deprivation. It's tough to watch and often heartbreaking.

We learn the origins of the phrase "dust bowl," and gain new appreciation for terms like "duster" and "black blizzard," used to describe the frequent waves of windswept dirt and dust the washed across the plains in the 1930's, sometimes blowing across the country before their fury is spent. We learn about what it means to be a "next-year people" and the mantra of the Dust Bowl farmer: "If it rains..."

And all of this comes to us in photographs, in old film clips, in interviews with men and women who were children of the Dust Bowl, from letters and diary excerpts read by talented voices, as though the people of that time were speaking to us from across the years.

And what comes through is this: while the story of the Dust Bowl is a story of hardship and tragedy, it's also a story of tenacity, of perseverance, of determination.

I knew next to nothing about the Dust Bowl before watching this, and I came away with a sense of not only the scope of the disaster and its history, but also a very real feeling for those who were there, those who saw it and felt it.

Ken Burns does more than tell the story of what it was like during those dark years on the Great Plains of America, when dust and dirt tested the limits of human endurance for almost a decade. He makes those of us watching feel as though we were a part of it. He brings the American experience to life in the voices of those who lived through it - an experience of strength and courage in the face of great adversity.

"Let me tell you how it was..." And in four hours, they do.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon November 12, 2012
What John Ford attempted (and, in my opinion, succeeded) to do in the 1940 feature film "The Grapes of Wrath" - to put a human face on those farmers and their families who survived the challenges of the deadly dust storms, as well as the Great Depression in the "dust bowl quadrant" during the 1930s - Ken Burns has succeeded with his latest four-hour documentary that aired on PBS in November 2012 and was released by PBS Home Video on Blu-ray with some bonus features. If you've seen Burns' documentaries on the Civil War or World War Two, you will have an idea of what to expect. Actor Peter Coyote is back as narrator and Burns chose specific families whose members are still alive to tell their own stories. When Burns planned the film he took out ads in the four-state area which comprised the "dust bowl" seeking survivors. He received over 70 responses and - through a process of elimination, chose more than two dozen to interview at great length. These were individuals who were children when the first storms came in 1933 (and lasted nearly a decade). A few interviewees were siblings. All make fascinating interviewees and their stories are compelling.

The show aired on TV over two nights - two hours each - and the Bluray places each of the two hour episodes on a separate disc with related bonus material for each segment. In addition to about 20 minutes of "deleted interviews", there are a few "featurettes" hosted by Burns telling why, and how, he decided to cover this subject.

While I found the production fascinating, after a while it began to become repetitive. Yes, the storms returned again and again but often Burns covered them from the same angle. Personally, I think the basic film could have been covered in two hours (with the extra footage as bonuses) to hold the audiences attention. But I still can recommend it.

I'm a music journalist so the music used was of particular interest to me. For nearly all of the first of the two chapters the music playing in the background was traditional Appalachian folk music on the fiddle and guitar. Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" continued to reappear. The subject - if you recognized the title - was appropriate but the style seemed a bit out of place. When you hear the words "Dust Bowl" songs you think of Woody Guthrie (whose Centenary was celebrated this year). His series of Dust Bowl Ballads are well known. Burns introduced the first of two Guthrie recordings at the end of the second hour and uses one to open the third. Little is said about Guthrie other than the fact that he wrote the songs. I searched the long list of credits at the end of the film to see if the musicians were credited and there were none. Just a "Music Editor". Music has been a major part of most Burns projects like "Prohibition", "Baseball" and "The War" (not to mention "Jazz". The lack of credits surprised me - but probably won't affect most viewers.

If you missed this show on PBS, I recommend the Bluray - or the DVD which, I think, has the same bonus features. It will also give you a chance to watch it over multiple sittings. I will say that, days after you have finished watching it, some of the interviewees faces and voices will still be with you!

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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on November 28, 2012
My wife forced me and our 14 year old daughter to watch this. It would serve as extra credit for her studies. I normally resist but became fascinated with the historic tragedy of it. The quality was excellent. The images and footage were powerful.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 8, 2012
It is one of the most gut-wrenching films I have ever seen. Like an episode of the old TV series "Time Tunnel" noted filmmaker Ken Burns transports his audience back to the Great Plains in the 1930's. The stories of personal hardship and determination in his brand new PBS offering "The Dust Bowl" will likely hit you like a ton of bricks. This is a story that needs to be told again and again. As you will discover in "The Dust Bowl" this was in a good many ways a self-imposed tragedy. It is extremely important that the American people understand just what went wrong with the land in America's mid-section during those tumultuous years and to learn the hard lessons from this monumental environmental disaster. The sad fact of the matter is that unless we are vigilant it could very well happen again.

I first became interested in the Dust Bowl when I read Timothy Egan's outstanding book "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl" back in 2006. Prior to that my knowledge of this calamity had been limited to not much more than a passing reference in a high school history book and perhaps a few articles in the newspaper. I simply had no idea of the scope and the magnitude of this tragedy. It appears to me that the four-hour presentation that Ken Burns has cobbled together is largely based on that book. In fact, Timothy Egan appears throughout the film offering his informed commentary on the heartbreaking story that is unfolding before your very eyes. In "The Dust Bowl" Ken Burns focuses on about a dozen families who had settled in various parts of the affected region. These were hardy folks who came to settle in this area from many different places and for a variety of reasons. It was the height of the Great Depression and for most the lure of farming your own tract of land was just too enticing to pass up. For an all too brief time it appeared to be a wise decision. But as the 1930's progressed most of the people who had settled in places like Boise City in the Oklahoma panhandle, Dalhart in Northwestern Texas or Cimmaron County, New Mexico would rue the day they decided to settle there. Something had gone horribly wrong with the land. Most would experience unspeakable hardship over the next several years and lose practically everything. Surely, "The Dust Bowl" would prove to be an environmental disaster of almost epic proportions.

Aside from Timothy Egan's insightful commentary "The Dust Bowl" also offers hundreds of truly unforgettable black and white photographs and vintage film footage that will leave you with an indelible image of the landscape in places like "No Man's Land" and Baca County, Colorado during the height of the "Dust Bowl" in the mid 1930's. These scenes will break your heart and make you wonder how these people were able to cope with such devastation and economic deprivation that lingered for nearly a decade. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of a crisis where millions upon millions of tons of prime topsoil blow away in violent storms. In less than a generation what had been hundreds of millions of acres of prime grasslands had been destroyed, perhaps forever. Discover just who was to blame for this calamity and learn about FDR's ambitious plans to resuscitate the area.

With "The Dust Bowl" Ken Burns brings this debacle to the attention of a new generation of Americans. Aside from reacquainting all of us with the who, what, when and where of this unfortunate chapter in American history, Ken Burns reminds us of the important lessons that we should have gleaned from these events. The "Dust Bowl" was an environmental disaster of nearly biblical proportions. And it could very well happen again. Towards the end of the film Burns points out some of highly questionable agricultural practices being utilized in the Great Plains even to this day. They seem incredibly foolhardy and serve as a reminder that we human beings have incredibly short memories. As is the case with just about every film that Ken Burns produces "The Dust Bowl" will captivate you from the opening scenes and hold your interest throughout. Among other things you will discover the origins of the term "dust bowl" and hear some great tunes by the legendary Woody Guthrie. This is history at it's very best. Very highly recommended!
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on August 19, 2013
This is Ken Burns once again at his best, on a period on U.S. history that most of us don't know much about. We assume it was a "natural disaster," if we even know about it. But it was man made. The photography, the words of the people who were there, the ones who somehow made it through against ALL odds, and stayed, and the ones who were wiped out and headed west with everything they owned in one car -- a huge human train of starvation, fear, and misery made its way across the western states, and once in California they were discriminated against and abused even more. How many people will be surprised to learn that the "bad guy" in this whole tragedy is Wall Street greed and the always aggressive American profit motive? I was. This is just as much worth seeing as Burns's Civil War series. It will give you a heartfelt understanding of this important piece of American history almost as if you had been there. Very highly recommended.
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on November 24, 2012
This should be a must-read for all Americans. History buffs will truly appreciate the great research and marvelous presentation of this environmental and socio-economic tragedy. Since history is often poorly taught in American schools, this will stimulate young minds and provoke many thoughts and questions about the nation's future--especially given the planet's climate change.
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I think this documentary is very important. A national treasure.

My mom lived through this time, and I never appreciated what it was like, or really what it meant to them most of my life. There were lessons learned by her and my father that stuck with them their whole lives.

I think we get to see a perspective in history that once the people who experienced this die, is gone forever. I am glad it is captured here.

The film mostly illistrates the perspective of what it was like for the people living in this place, in this era. Interviews with people that actually lived through this event, and the ramifications of it. It gives you a real sense of what it must have felt like if you would have been there.

This is also backed up by what was happening in Washington to try and help the situation, and the attitude the people had that weren't effected by this in other areas.

Finally, in the end of the film, it talks about the practices of today, and illistrates how some people actually learned lessons from the Dust Bowl event that they carried with them the rest of thier lives, while a lot of others quickly forgot all about it.

The thing is this cataclysm, was man made. It wasn't because of a freak drought, it was because of bad farming practices in an area that couldn't support the mistake. The thing is droughts WILL happen.

It is interesting that AFTER restoration of the land happened, the rain returned, and things improved, which is counter to what I would have thought.

Now, we are doing the same short sighted thing that got us in trouble in the first place today. Once the aquifer dries up, that flat land will dry up, and dust will blow.

Don't think an underground aquifer can dry up? Ever read about the Colorado River?

Feel free to ignore everything I have said, and just watch it yourself. Whether you agree with the ultimate message I got from it, it is interesting to gain a new perspective that probably almost non of us today can fully understand.

It is a great, entertaining, and interesting film.

Mark :)
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on December 13, 2012
Because we are repeating history...As explained by Ken Burns, the terrible near "end of the world" disaster of THE DUST BOWL was the worst man made ecological mistake in American history. This aspect of this chapter of the American Experience was not told to me when I learned American history...and I thank Ken Burns for explaining it so well. As he documents the facts through archival films, letters, and interviews with survivors, we harmed the land through ignorance. Men and women wilfully destroyed the necessary wild grasses that evolved over time to hold the soil together in the Great Plains. Without those grasses, the newer soil would no longer hold moisture. As it turned out, the most shocking scenes in the film are those of black, long walls of new tractors destroying those grasses, upturning the valuable soil. Forget horror movies....this is real terror. {Not unlike the 1918 influenza pandemic}. Man's most dangerous himself.

In the documentary, Ken Burns reminds us that Native Americans of the Great Plains experienced their "end of the world" disaster when we recklessly slaughtered their buffalo herds. Did we think we could not do this to ourselves? The plague of grasshoppers that ate everything in sight in the Dust Bowl is of equal ferocity to the one predicted by Moses in the Old Testament.

In 1956, Life Magazine had a cover which warned of serious global climate change if Americans did not make modifications to wasteful, destructive lifestyles. That warning to respect the Earth was ignored. Today, the victims of Hurricane Sandy experienced first hand what devastating effects of global warming can do to Americans - miserable droughts. ferocious storms, and unimaginable floods. Will we ever learn? Ken Burns hopes we do.
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