Thomas Jefferson - A Film by Ken Burns
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Returning from France, Jefferson strives to preserve the fragile new U.S. government and helps create the first political party, in bitter struggles with the Federalists. He becomes vice president in 1797, and the third U.S. president in 1801. His Louisiana Purchase doubles the nation's size, but he faces controversy and scandal, finally retiring to his beloved Monticello in 1809. His last years are spent founding the University of Virginia.
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Top customer reviews
Watching their films truly brings history to life as no book or other documentaries can- and not only that, but they are just so aesthetically well-done, that they are the epitome of the art of entertainment- a veritable smörgåsbord for the senses.
I've always been a big fan of Tommy Jefferson's, also- so this DVD seemed like a natural for me! While I would rate the entertainment value of this film as tops, I do feel that it's treatment of the subject matter was a little lacking, and not quite up to the standards I would expect from either of the Burns's.
While it does serve as a very good primer and intro to TJ; and as a good basic timeline of his life; and it does a reasonably good job of conveying the context of the times in which he lived, I do feel that it is sorely lacking as far as illustrating the political and philosophical concepts which TJ stood for, and which made him such a genius and a great man.
Also, I'm sorry to say, that having a black man narrate most of film [and one with not the greatest voice] did seem to be a blatant contrast to the mood of the period in which the historic events took place, and considering that this piece is about a man who did not see blacks as being quite "equal".
Kudos to Mr. Burns though, for presenting both sides of issues, such as TJ's alleged diddling of one of his slaves, after his wife's death; and for pointing out that TJ was in-fact an advocate of abolition (and would have even succeeded in accomplishing it, but for one of his foes).
One thing that really bugs me (and this is true of virtually all historical books and films) is the careless use of words and phrases which had quite different meanings in the past, than they do today. Words such as "humanist"; or "public education"[which, in the 18th and 19th centuries, meant: As contrasted with religious education- i.e. schools which were not started and operated by churches or religious institutions. It did NOT mean a communal government school paid for through the taxation of all people, like we have today].
Failing to make clear the true meaning of words which had vastly different meanings and connotations in the past, can be very misleading to a modern viewer- even if not meant to be so. Our revisionist text-books of today are blatantly guilty of that; only they do so on-purpose.
All in all, this is a good intro to the life and times of TJ; as well as a thoroughly enjoyable form of entertainment. While it barely scratches the surface for even the mild history buff or aficionado of TJ, it is none-the-less a very enjoyable watch for all, even if you will not learn anything new from it.
Reveals Jefferson as a very complex character who perhaps cannot be fully understood by history (let alone by his peers). Perhaps overly focused on the slavery issue in Jefferson's life, especially towards the end, but perhaps this is fair as the contradictory Jefferson displays both intellectual forwardness and the fixed attitudes of the plantation owner.
A small complaint, but Sam Waterston's voice as Jefferson bugs me since I believed he defined himself as Lincoln in 'The Civil War'. He does a solid job, however. Highly recommended documentary on American history.
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Also outdated, not including the DNA results of Jefferson's & Sally Hemming's children.