New York

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If you’re a fan of Ken Burns PBS documentaries such as The Civil War and Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, then you’ll want to add New York, produced by Ken’s brother Ric, to your collection. This exhaustively thorough documentary chronicles the evolution of the city from its time as a Dutch settlement in the early 17th century to its current status as megalopolis extraordinaire. Famous New Yorkers including Martin Scorsese, Senator Daniel Patrick Moyniha… More >>

New York

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  1. PBS work is almost always ultra liberal and this documentary does not disappoint rabid die hard liberals one bit. The truth is New York was and is the City Unbridled Arrogant Greed Built and continues building. However in some ways Large All American cities are testimonials to immense ego, bravado and testosterone gone wild. Cities are grand public works the entry foyer to the massive economic cathedrals of rugged individualism tanacity, and enterprise that spout forth as archietectural wonders from the firtile ground of capitalism.

    Cities are the embodiment of a regions daring and New York City has had the very best and worse of humanity invested in its growth since its beginnings as New Anstradam. New York was built but many corrupt men full of untamed vigor and self indulgent importance but that was the nature of the heddy times. To judge the bigots and morally depraved men who built many of New York’s landmarks and civic technological wonders is to judge people out of context with the backward ignorant times in which they lived and that is unfair of any historian.

    I have been to New York City post 9-11 and found it to be a city alive and awesome. I found New York City a Kenetic festival of never ending activity that never let up from the moment I left the train entering Penn Station. I stayed in New York City on business for only three days but those three days were certainly three of the most joyous endlessly, fun, interesting days I ever spent on earth. I found the people of New York incredibly nice and helpful. Yes New Yorkers are very hyper and impersonal compared to humble homely slow paced Baltimore, Maryland but if given a chance New Yorker’s reveal an awesome sophisticated cosmopolitan charm that is very warm and welcoming.

    New York is like a Merry Go Round on steriods that does not slow down for anyone it is your duty to catch up with it and hold on for dear life and I suppose that is arrogant. New York City is a culture in and to itself it is not like the rest of the United States in many ways but that is the charm the joy of life in New York. New York is a city built on a foundation of the most profound excess. New York is a city that reinvents itself constantly to conform to nothing and question everything with a gusto that makes most sadate people uncomfortable. New York is great beauty in art, design or science and tedious ugliness of robber barrons who exploited anything they could whenever they could for long as was allowed.

    New York is the Portrait of Dorian Gray the keeper of our countries conscience and to what degree we like or hate what we see reflects on our own inner demons or the better angels of our nature. In the final analysis New York is not a demon or an angel it is merely a mirror that dares speak the whole uncompromised truth about our nation. Did this documentary get it all right heck no but, any informed person who cares about New York City enough to watch this series has all the intellectual tools needed to decide what stares back at them from the mirror that is New York City. Others would rather trash this series on NYC because they need a reason not to look in the mirror that is New York City for fear of what they will see reflected back them and that is ok too.

    I am aware of the ugly under currents that are the often currupt foundation on which New York City rests but, on my visit to the Big Apple I allowed myself to enjoy the beautiful fruits of life in NYC’s while still being ever mindful but not obsessed with the rot lurking at in the Big Apple’s core. This DVD series is not balanced typical for PBS but good people can see past its flaws and make up their own minds. Perhaps I place too great a trust in the native intelligence of human kind but thats my folly I suspect.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  2. The Burns brothers talent in combining still photographs with historical narrative is exceeded only in their ability to drench the viewer with bloated, rambling commentary by self-satisfied 60’s leftovers. In a effort to be profound and insightful, the mid-level intellectuals selected to provide filler to stretch the film out to epic length come off as condescending, braying jackasses. The incessant flow crocodile tears for the plight of working class immmigrants and alienated people of African decent calls to mind not polictical activism, but rather the teleprompter generated effusions of a dried-out Hollywood starlet at the Academy Awards. The end result is not one that inspires awe but rather diassapointment in a job done well enough.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  3. As is typical of PBS documentaries, especially those done by a Burns, this one has a not so subtle leftish political agenda. It’s so predictable…portray the growth of government as progress, portray labor unions as champions of workers and forget about the notorious violence and corruption, mention “the poor” or “African-Americans” at least once every 30 seconds, go into detail about all the horrors whites perpetrated against blacks but never, ever portray blacks in a negative light. (Black-on-white rapes, muggings, and murders in New York City? Never a problem at all!). This is what political correctness demands and Burns dutifully delivers.

    Historians are supposed to relate history the way it was to those who lived it, not impose present-day liberal values on it. Unfortunately, revisionist presentism infects many parts of this documentary. Burns focuses obsessively (for nearly an hour) on Robert Moses’ transportation projects, demonizing him and his expressways over and over again with every pejorative he could think of. This was really over the top and really unprofessional coming from a historian. I don’t necessarily disagree with his assessment of Moses, but I’d like to to hear opposing views and a more neutral narration so that I can make up my own mind for myself.

    Building expressways through the city is destructive, according to this documentary, but graffiti “artists” who leave their mark on subways are making the city more beautiful, as one dissheveled interviewee, who appears over and over in the film, explained — without being rebutted, of course. (Take that Rudy Giulliani!)

    Burns spent so much time attacking Robert Moses that he was never even able to devote a minute of this marathon documentary to professional sports in New York. Do you think maybe the Yankees…maybe Babe Ruth…have had just a bit of significance to New Yorkers over the years? You wouldn’t suspect it from watching this!

    Despite these complaints, most of this production is actually well put together, interesting, and informative. It’s excessive, though. There are way too many interviews with historians and commentators, who all seem to echo Burns’ worldview anyway. It runs a total of 14 hours (even longer with the new episode 8)! Who has that kind of time? Ric Burns should have done more editing and cut it in half to make it more accessible.

    I would recommend this documentary series to people with a serious interest in New York and/or American history who are willing to devote the required time. I would only recommend it, however, to people who are experienced and sophisticated enough to recognize and disregard/challenge as necessary imbedded ideological biases. Students with a long attention span may enjoy this, but if they are not politically astute, they should be debriefed by an objective person as to the biases.

    Rating: 3 / 5

  4. There were many things I loved about this documentary film: The soundtrack, the incredible stock footage, the commentary, and the interviews. However, I must agree with the earlier reviewer about the ridiculous length. Burns seems to suffer from the same illness that plagued Titanic and most Tarantino films– lack of editing room floor dicipline!

    As a viewer, I found the director overindulgent, in subjecting us to so many long pauses and useless montage sequences after every single pseudo-witty observation made by an interviewee. At times, the film felt like a conversation with a senile elderly person, who struggles to get the words out, and then repeats himself again and again in circular logic. Also, I found the tone of the documentary too arrogant. The overly-somber voice of the narrator and the grandiose soft-opening teaser before each episode and opening sequence, were far too pompous for my liking. Was I the only viewer alienated by all this?

    If my criticism seems harsh, it’s only because I would have preferred more screen time devoted to exploring important topics that barely got any attention. The focus of the documentary was very uneven– Burns would devote 30-40 minutes covering one topic (eg. Triangle Shirt Co. Disaster or Al Smith) and then skip 50 years of history by quickly glossing over another equally important subject. I would have liked to see more time devoted to Greenwich Village, Harlem, and some of the other neighbourhoods.

    Finally to end my review on a positive note, after seeing the documentary, I was inspired on my last visit to New York to visit Cooper Union Hall. I snuck into the auditorium and was able to stand at the podium on stage. This was truly incredible as I thought about all the revolutionary speeches that had been given from that very podium.
    Rating: 3 / 5

  5. Let me start by saying that I was born and raised in New York City, and like anyone else from there, this film becomes a very personal and emotional experience.

    This is a film that has changed the way I live my life and the way I think about the city that I am from. I moved away from New York when I was 23 and am now 47. After seeing this film, I realize that nothing made my life better than leaving New York city 25 years ago. The history of New York City is a continuous cycle of absolute greed and excess. It is also apparent that virtually every major building project in the city’s history was done for two reasons: money and ego. As Ric Burns points out so well, the city has a self-centered and arrogant attitude about itself that is the biggest reason why it is hated by so many people. The music score of this film is epochal, as it evokes the tragedy and sadness that has been produced over and over in the history of New York City. However, I am left with the impression that the millions of people who continue to live there either don’t realize how much their life is diminished, or don’t care. The last episode of this film about the World Trade Center is the most intense three hours of film I have ever seen. Like everyone else, I was completely changed by the events of September 11th. But after seeing this film, I come away believing that New York City doesn’t really learn from its mistakes. The people of this city live within an infrastructure that is constantly on the verge of collapse. The cost of virtually everything is higher than anywhere else in the United States. The ordeal of just getting to and from work and merely getting around is more stressful than most other aspects of life. The demise of the World Trade Center points out everything that was wrong about its very existence. It was built as the ultimate expression of excess, and unlike the Empire State Building became a symbol for the city’s condescending opinion of the rest of the world.

    Not long ago, a blackout shut the city down. I lived through the blackouts of 1965 and 1977. The city obviously didn’t learn much from the first two, and it now appears that they didn’t learn much from the last one. The system that supplies electricity to the area is ancient and will one day collapse again. The same can be said for the subway system that manages to continue to function despite being held together by a structure that is almost a century old.

    All this contributes to why this film is so powerful. It is the story of a city that was created by people out of pure greed, and takes far more from its people than it ever gives back. The most amazing thing is that so many people still live there and continue to live under those conditions.
    Rating: 5 / 5

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