25. The Civil War
(1990, 680 mins) 9/10 | 9 points
Lately, in my spare time, I have been reading up on each President of the United States, starting with the first, George Washington, and going chronologically from there. When I reached Abraham Lincoln (1861), I had also reached the Civil War. Knowing little about the conflict and having had Ken Burns’ The Civil War in my watchlist for years, I thought now was the time to finally find out more about his kind of documentaries, as well as learning more about how The Civil War to a large degree shaped the country since.
Of course, while the battles of the war themselves were important, partially in securing the second term in office for Abraham Lincoln, history makes clear in its 20/20 hindsight that the history of the United States since the first President up to today has always been about slavery and racism. With almost no exceptions, the 15 presidents I have read about until Lincoln had all been slave owners or were married into plantation families. As Ken Burns’ The Civil War makes absolutely clear, the war was never really about secession from the Union, it was really about slavery all along. Secession was only a means to preserve slavery. Thus the Confederates, in their wicked battle doomed to fail, were fighting for the worst reasons. But the people of the Union were, as this documentary makes clear, by no means saints themselves.
Ken Burns’ The Civil War is a singular achievement, much like Shelby Foote’s 1.2 million words on the war, whose presence is a welcoming feature in the documentary. Incredibly, the heavy reliance on photographs, paintings, choice quotes by voice actors, interviews and a melancholic score never make the 11,5 hours turn stale. This is in part helped by how all of this is used together poetically in a way that, like the best kind of history writing, gives a great sense of understanding of how life back then was lived. Also helping in that regard are the many clips from interviews with Foote. Foote's passion for telling stories of great small moments of poetics throughout the many devastating battles makes it is easy to see the players of this history as both very ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
Interviews with African American historian Barbara J. Fields are incredibly powerful for different but obvious reasons, making it very clear how the Civil War did not end racism or slavery, but only reduced the most extreme versions of it. The inclusion of interviews with her and the occasional focus on the important role of women and African Americans throughout the war are very welcomed, and does not strike me as an afterthought in a narrative that definitely was always going to focus mostly on the battles, the generals and the President. Instead, Ken Burns’ documentary is a complex beast that through extensive use of many varied sources paint an image of a contradictory US with deep historical wounds both from hellish battles and in its horrible treatment of fellow citizens.
Ken Burns’ documentary has been critized for not really dealing with the Reconstruction Era that followed after the Civil War, as obviously slavery did not end with the 13th Amendment and the end of the war. That would take many decades. This criticism of the documentary is fair, and, as many other reviewers note, an extensive documentary on the war would look pretty different if it was made today. This does not mean however that this is not a masterful utilization of the documentary form, and arguably, popular history, in a way that provides thick description and meaning to a chaotic but crucial part of US history, and a war that, to paraphrase Barbara Fields, is still ongoing.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) 8/10 | 1 point
2. True Detective (2014) 8/10 | 5 points
3. Scener ur att aktenskap (1973) 9/10 | 2 points
4. Short Cuts (1993) 7/10 | 1 point
5. Malcolm X (1992) 8/10 | 1 point
6. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015) 9/10 | 3 points
7. Heaven's Gate (1980) 6/10 | 1 point
8. JFK (1991) 8/10 | 1 point
9. La roue (1923) 9/10 | 2 points
10. Napoléon (1927) 8/10 | 3 points
11. Twin Peaks (1990-91) 7/10 | 23 points
12. P'tit Quinquin (2014) 6/10 | 1 point
13. Monte Cristo (1929) 8/10 | 1 point
14. O.J: Made in America (2016) 8/10 | 5 points
15. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980, 910 mins) 9/10 | 13 points
16. Lebensläufe / Biographies (1981, 257 mins) 8/10 | 2 points
17. Drehbuch - Die Zeiten (1993, 270 mins) | 2 points
18. Das Leben des Jürgen von Golzow (1994, 192 mins) | 1 point
19. Piloten im Pyjama (1968, 331 mins) 8/10 | 3 points
20. Winter Sleep (2014, 196 mins) 5/10 | 1 point
21. Ex Libris: New York Public Library (2017, 197 mins) 9/10 | 1 point
22. At Berkeley (2013, 244 mins) 9/10 | 2 points
23. Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind... Die Kinder von Golzow - Das Ende der unendlichen Geschichte (2006, 278 mins) 6/10 | 2 points
24. … dann leben sie noch heute – Die Kinder von Golzow (2007, 290 mins) 8/10 | 2 points
25. The Civil War (1990, 680 mins) 9/10 | 9 points
Total: 88 points