Ken Burns - Vietnam

..and why not?
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Tactful Cactus
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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby Tactful Cactus » 12 Oct 2017, 19:45

I watched the last episode last night. What can I say, the whole thing was epic and brilliant.

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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby Belle Lettre » 14 Oct 2017, 22:36

Just watched the episode about the Tet offensive. Christ.
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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 20 Oct 2017, 02:55

Belle Lettre wrote:Just watched the episode about the Tet offensive. Christ.

Yeah I just saw that last night. The expression on the soldiers (from both sides) faces will stay. It's up there with the best Burns has done, but it's hard going emotionally.
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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby German Dave » 29 Oct 2017, 11:39

Belle Lettre wrote:Just watched the episode about the Tet offensive. Christ.


Yeah, we watched that last night. Fuck me.
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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby Geezee » 30 Oct 2017, 09:36

Just wrapped this up last night - and it really packs a very strong final punch with a fairly prolonged section on the meaning of the memorial. "This is going to save lives" - wow. And perhaps even more interestingly, the strongly conflicted view of one of the vets who felt it was a dark grave for victims rather than heroes - but who still eventually ended up going there every year.

It's a big, ambitious topic that clearly deserved this kind of extended treatment - and yet i still feel it was actually too superficial in many of its elements. As I've mentioned before, I find it very problematic when these kinds of documentaries show a tonne of footage where you don't actually know precisely what it is they are showing - random air bombings, artillery fire, soldiers running through the jungle etc. Even something as symbolic/poetic as a picture of an empty staircase that they zoom in on while talking about North Vietnamese who are coming home but who are not celebrating since their neighbours all lost their sons, fathers and families etc - I get that sometimes you don't need to be pedantic/prescriptive and reveal everything...but when they show an image like that I keep thinking, well, what the hell is that? Is that even taken in Vietnam or is it just a random photo of Ken Burns home? But it's even more important when you are showing photography and videos of victims/battles/meetings or whatever - are you seeing footage of what they are talking about, or is this random footage? It's often very unclear - and sometimes what you see is astonishing, such as a very powerful image of a man falling out of a helicopter (which they focus on for quite a few seconds, but never explain who/what/where), or a helicopter which is swirling around out of control with people being thrown out - incredible footage...but what on earth is it?

I feel like they could have cut out quite a bit of some of the very well-known bits of the story (such as the background to some of the famous photographs/images from the conflict - which are powerful, but pretty sure they have been served themselves by other documentaries over the years), or indeed remove the first episode which goes back to the earliest history of the conflict, and perhaps a little bit less on the US political/social angle to the conflict (it's natural for Burns to focus so much on the American angle, but in that case perhaps it should ahve been called "America's Vietnam War")...and extend the exposition on the conflict itself, explain what is happening on the screen a bit more thoroughly, and also perhaps talk more about the impact on Vietnam itself after the war is finished (they talk only of economic repercussions of communism in very simplistic/superficial terms, and some random reconciliation between American Vets and Vietnamese survivors - but not, for example, the impact of the incredible amount of bombings on Cambodia and Laos in giving rise to for example the Killing Fields and Vietnam's subsequent humanitarian invasion of Cambodia).
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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby Tactful Cactus » 30 Oct 2017, 10:10

The thought never occurred to me that the footage wasn't matched to the event but I did notice alot of repeat use of footage. It probably is leaning towards being too pedantic gz. There's only so many hours of actual footage. Whats the alternative, re-enactments? A shorter documentary thats more accurate but can't take its time to unfold the story carefully? I wouldn't prefer either. Their website probably has lots of raw footage thats time stamped.

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Re: Ken Burns - Vietnam

Postby Geezee » 30 Oct 2017, 13:07

Tactful Cactus wrote:The thought never occurred to me that the footage wasn't matched to the event but I did notice alot of repeat use of footage. It probably is leaning towards being too pedantic gz. There's only so many hours of actual footage. Whats the alternative, re-enactments? A shorter documentary thats more accurate but can't take its time to unfold the story carefully? I wouldn't prefer either. Their website probably has lots of raw footage thats time stamped.


Pedantic, moi?! :)
You're right for sure - it's something that's become a real bug-bear of mine over the last few years, often in relation to WWII/WWI documentaries where it seems like they roll out the same stock footage of a Nuremburg rally or whatever. Absolutely I don't want re-enactments, and I don't want them to remove footage, including stock footage, but what I'd really like is to spend a decent amount of time confirming what it is that we're looking at. Otherwise, it is de facto deception, even if it is not intended as such - I'm of course aware the director is wanting to tell a story, and will present the images that best dramatise or convey that story, even if the selected images may be about something completely different. But so for example what I'd like to see, if they are talking about Dien Bien Phu and show some battle footage, then show a little note at the bottom confirming something like "Battle scene on the outskirts of Dien Bien Phu, April 14 1954" (or whatever). Essentially like a footnote. And when they are talking about Tet Offensive and they show some random battle, then to specify which part of the Tet Offensive they are showing (or if they are showing footage of something else because it is more appropriate, or there is no relevant actual footage of the event, then be honest and explain that). I just find I often get lost in what they are showing us, and end up getting frustrated at the lack of harmony between what is being talked about and what is being shown. I even get frustrated when they show random pictures of the White House, or stock pictures of Kennedy looking pensive or Nixon looking evil, when they showcase some recording of them in conversation - images are so powerful, and it's very easy for directors to force a narrative down the throat of the viewer.
And to be clear, I didn't want a shorter documentary - I wanted a documentary of roughly the same length, but that went into more detail over what we were looking at.
That website that you are referring sounds like it is up my street...but ideally that should be more embedded in the documentary itself.
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