Film and TV

KEN BURNS’ THE DUST BOWL (Documentary) 9GPPs – Available now from Amazon £19.99

by on 15/11/2012
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Straight to the point: It’s nearly a hat trick for Ken Burns, another insightful documentary with all the hall marks of his other two master pieces. Sadly though (and without being too puntastic) due to the subject matter the series got dryer more quickly than the others. Still very enjoyable and worth the watch.

From legendary film maker Ken Burns comes THE DUST BOWL, an incredible four hour documentary detailing the worst man-made ecological disaster in American History.

During the 1930’s the greed of extensive wheat farming, followed by a decade-long drought, brought along severe dust storms that nearly swept away the breadbasket of the US.

Once the drought hit in 1931, winds began picking up soil from the open fields, which quickly grew into dust storms of biblical proportions. Each year for nearly a decade the storms grew more ferocious and more frequent, sweeping up millions of tons of earth, killing crops and livestock, threatening to turn the southern plains into a Sahara, even spreading the dust clear across the country.

Children developed fatal ‘dust pneumonia’, business owners unable to cope with the financial ruin committed suicide and thousands of desperate Americans were torn from their homes and forced on the road in an exodus unlike anything the United States had ever seen. Featuring vivid interviews with 26 survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, THE DUST BOWL brings to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us: a lesson we ignore at our peril.

 

What we like

More of the same Doing three reviews on Ken Burns material is starting to get slightly repetitive. Luckily as I explain in the other two reviews I did (ACW and prohibition), there is nothing wrong with using a tried and test method to get a point across and tell a story.

Yet again the use of: Maps, pictures, video footage, Music, interviews and voiceovers; all tied together by an understated narration, help you digest the information in front of you and enjoy what would generally be a pretty boring (in my opinion) subject.

The naivety of people and how far we’ve come– One thing that really struck me in this series was peoples naivety and how they just accepted the lies, or misguided views of supposed experts. How they truly thought that after 100s of years of unpredictable weather and drought that the weather would suddenly change in their favour ( “the weather follows the plough” was one sayings) and that digging up all the deep rooted grass from the plains would have no effect ecologically?? Some people in fact said that digging the grass was a good thing, as it would let water percolate through the soil better… and now you see what disaster was inevitable.

The build up to disaster The first episode of DB was the best one for me, simply because it felt like it was stretching and elastic band, ready for the inevitable to happen. It went from the effect World War 1 had on wheat production, making a lot of farmers a lot of money, and then moved on through the “great Plough up,” to the great depression, which instead of reducing production increased it and so put more strain on the land; eventually causing the elastic band to snap and the 15 years of good crops and plenty to disappear in a humungous cloud of dust, sand and dirt.

Watch Surviving the Dust Bowl on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Niggles

Too long for the subject matter – I like in depth documentaries but even I struggled with this one towards the end. Don’t get me wrong I still really enjoyed it but there is only so much about a big dust cloud that I care o learn about.

Conclusion

Not as good as the other 2 But it was on a subject that didn’t include booze, guns or pitched battles so it’s going to be a hard subject for anyone to sell. Definitely worth watching.. after you have watched the other two.

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