A seven-part series focusing on the many ways in which the Second World War impacted the lives of American families.A seven-part series focusing on the many ways in which the Second World War impacted the lives of American families.A seven-part series focusing on the many ways in which the Second World War impacted the lives of American families.
Reading the book is already a very moving and informative experience. It is very well and powerfully written. But watching the seven installments of the movie is yet more powerful, indeed often overwhelming. (I could not handle more than one episode a day.) It is one thing to read the recollections of the witnesses, almost all of whom are master story tellers. It is that much more powerful to hear their voices and see their faces as they recount them. Much interesting detail is lost in the narrative in going from the book to the movie, so the movie is less informative than the book. But in terms of conveying the emotional impact the war had on both those who fought in it and those who lived through it here in the States, which in the end is one of Burns' goals, the movie is far more successful than the already very successful book.
Some previous reviewers get lost in irrelevant sidetracks. Burns makes it very clear from the start that he cannot tell the whole story of the War, so he is limiting himself to how it affected people in four mid- to small-sized American towns. (He cheats a little on this with witnesses like Glenn Frazier, who wasn't from Mobile, and Sascha Werzheimer, who was from Sacramento but spent the War in the Philippines, but I'm not going to fault him on that.) Complaining that this series does not cover the war in Yougoslavia or other places is therefore irrelevant; no one could cover all of the war in 15 hours of documentary, and Burns tells us from the very beginning what limits he is imposing on his presentation. If you want something else, this is not the place to look for it.
Others complained about the music. I truly cannot understand why. Burns' team makes masterful use of songs popular during the War, and of a deeply moving score by Winton Marsalis that makes already powerful visual and vocal footage that much more devastating. I wouldn't listen to the sound track by itself, but putting it beneath the rest of what is going on makes it that much more devastating.
It is clear that Burns and Ward want to make several points, none of which I see as particularly left- or right-wing. They show that some of the American generals in the war had overbearing egos (MacArthur in particular) and some were simply incompetent. They show that war brings out the worst in some human beings, whatever the nationality, reducing them to something subhuman, such as the American GI who extracts teeth from an enemy corpse to get the gold fillings or the Japanese soldiers who emasculate dead GIs. (We actually see brief film footage of what appears to be GIs robbing Japanese soldiers' corpses of their possessions.) But we also hear of incredible courage and stamina, often told by men whose courage and endurance is equaled only by their humility.
As several of the veterans say, you cannot understand what it was like to live through the worst of the war unless you were there. This movie doesn't challenge that assertion. It does, however, do a remarkable job of giving us some idea not just of the facts of the matter, but of what the war did emotionally to those who lived through it, on the fields of battle and here at home.
On the last page of the book's text, one of the witnesses, Quentin Aanenson, says that "the dynamics of war are so absolutely intense, the drama of war is so absolutely emotionally spellbinding, that it's hard for you to go on with a normal life without feeling something is missing." It is that absolute intensity that this movie series does an often overwhelmingly good job of conveying.
- Jun 27, 2018