As the critically-acclaimed documentary, "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq," continues to air on HBO in its various formats through November 1 (full schedule), Ken Burns delivers a penetrating look at the sacrifices of the WWII generation on PBS in a seven-part series beginning tomorrow.
Ken Burns, one of America's greatest visual historians, unveils his most ambitious television project yet on Sunday, a seven-part, 15-hour documentary that tells the story of World War II "from the bottom up."
Six years in the making, "The War" explores one of the most devastating episodes in human history from a purely American perspective, as told by dozens of otherwise ordinary men and women who lived through the conflict.
Absent from the $13 million PBS series are the scholars, generals and other historical figures whose testimonials typically provide a foundation for such documentaries, as they did in Burns' 1990 epic examination of the U.S. Civil War.
"It was our conscious decision to do this entirely from the bottom up," Burns said in an interview. "And that meant if you weren't in this war, or you weren't waiting anxiously for somebody to come back from this war, you're not in our film."
With members of America's "Greatest Generation" dying at a rate of more than 1,000 veterans a day, Burns raced the clock to assemble his first-person account of the war.
The show's 26-minute preview:
See PBS' broadcast schedule for times in your area.
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PBS has created a 13-page viewer's guide [pdf] and has additional film clips available online as well. The following is a Thirteen WNET interview with Ken Burns on "The War":
From the Globe and Mail:
The series looks at the Second World War through the experiences of four U.S. towns: Sacramento, Calif.; Mobile, Ala; Luverne, Minn.; and Waterbury, Conn., thereby touching a chord with hundreds of small communities that don't often find themselves in the spotlight.
Burns takes a bottom-up approach, building the series from interviews with dozens of men and women from the four towns, those who departed to fight in the European and Pacific theatres as well as those who were left minding the home front. And though Burns completed most of the interviews before the U.S. invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003, his emphasis on the common soldier, rather than the celebrity generals or glad-handing politicians, seems especially prescient, given the current desire of the U.S. public to support the troops on the ground but challenge its leaders.
The War notes how many of the boys - and they were indubitably boys when they first donned the uniform - enlisted simply because they were swept up in the current of a nation tripping excitedly toward war. Many didn't even believe the government propaganda; they just longed for adventure.
One veteran recalls that they spent their spare time playing dice, talking about girls and getting drunk. Only at the war's end, as he and his comrades liberated a death camp, did they realize something else was at stake. "It all began to make a kind of sense to us," the veteran says, his chin quivering. "I'm not sure that made it any better. It may have made it worse, to see that it was actually conducted in defence of some noble idea."
From the Hollywood Reporter:
Tom Brokaw called them "the greatest generation," and that description is seconded by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in "The War." This 15-hour treasure recounts America's role in World War II on the battlefronts and the home front. It took longer to produce than the U.S. spent fighting the war, but the result is nearly as glorious.
It couldn't come at a better time. Although it offers no comparisons, there are obvious and stark contrasts viewers can draw between this war, which reached into every American life, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, despite advances in communication technology, feel remote and have scant impact on most Americans.
By showing the way American lives were shaped and changed by the conflict, "War" sets itself apart from previous documentaries on the subject. Even more ambitious than any previous Burns docu, including "The Civil War," this one paints a panoramic portrait not just of the fighting and the strategy in Europe and the Pacific but also of the impact on the country -- the entire American experience (to borrow the title of another PBS series).