History vs. Hollywood

I just read this column about the War and how columnist felt that it needed to be livened up a bit:

In Ken Burns’ ‘War,’ passion is MIA
Next time PBS has enough cash to hire Ken Burns for a project like the 15-hour World War II series that ended last night on Ch. 13, here’s a suggestion: See if it’s enough to buy Steven Spielberg.
Burns is skilled and knows what elements tell a story. But Spielberg – who, okay, would be unlikely to take the gig – could bring it some heart.
There’s a sense of sterility to Burns’ “The War,” a kind of academic detachment that undercuts its goal of conveying the impact of the most lethal conflict in human history on the American towns that sent their sons and daughters to fight it.
Burns finds plenty of people to tell their stories, and he knows the stories to explore, including racial tension.
But while having well-spoken people in elegant rooms makes for a fine history symposium, it distances the viewer from the raw impact of the horrors the series nominally is trying to bring home.
Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” sent viewers home shaking. “The War” often feels like preparation for a quiz.
Read the full column here.

In my opinion, the strongest point of the War is it’s academic detachment from the stories that the public is much more likely to be familiar with, such as Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. Burns, as a historian, has brought the public a very accessible and comprehensive look at the second world war – no mean feat, given the enormous size and complexity of the war. Omitting some elements that are more humanizing was probably not possible given the already massive nature of the project and not as relevant to the overall picture. The complete story of World War II is impossible to tell in 15 hours, impossible to tell in 24, 48 or more, it’s just so big.

Introducing someone like Steven Spielberg to “bring it some heart” would be a disaster. Saving Private Ryan was interesting as a war film, given the technical difficulties in capturing the look and feel of war, but from a historic point of view, was absolutely horrible. It gets details wrong and pulls it all together into a story that is so over-melodramatic that it’s laughable. It’s not history, it’s entertainment. There’s a huge difference, and in a documentary, history should not be sacrificed for a little more liveliness for the audience’s sake. They should be, and deserve to see what happened, not what someone from Hollywood thinks might look cool on the screen.

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