‘War’ preparations

Back in March I wrote about Ken Burns’s visit to BYU in connection with his new PBS documentary, The War. The program’s anticipated airdate of late September seemed so far away then.

Guess what? It’s only 19 days away.

Beginning Sunday, September 23* and continuing through the next week (check your local PBS station for the exact time), The War will air in seven 2-hour installments – okay, the last episode will be 2-1/2 hours – in a film feature that is a “must see” for anyone even remotely interested in the subject. And even if you’re not, see it anyway. You will learn a lot, and be moved considerably.

PBS has recently updated its preview page for The War with over an hour’s worth of behind-the-scenes and film footage. (Link removed by PBS.) Of particular note here is the official 26-minute preview of the film, which provides a large number of fascinating tidbits about the extended (and extensive) production process and ends with a clip from the film that packs an emotional wallop. Following that, you can choose from 28 shorter clips, a few of which repeat some of the behind-the-scenes stuff from the longer preview, but most of which are new. They’re all terrific, but of particular note are the “Sound design,” “Glenn Frazier talks about near-execution,” “Quentin Aanenson ‘killed men'”, and “Ray Leopold ‘chocolate roast beef'” segments.

If you’ve been following the news over the summer, you may know that The War stirred up a bit of controversyfrom people who had never seen it, I might add – about its lack of coverage of Latino and Native American contributions to the war effort. Hopefully after watching some of the clips on the PBS site you’ll get a better idea for the utter ridiculousness of this whole issue. Thankfully, Burns has taken the high road and recently wrapped up production on a few featurettes focusing specifically on Latino/Native American experiences which will air immediately following one or two of the episodes of the documentary proper, and which will also be included on the October 2 DVD release. The new footage will not be incorporated into the finished film, for reasons that will become (if not already so) glaringly obvious after viewing the video clips above.

I should also note that PBS has attached a “Viewer Discretion Advised” tag to the film. The DVD order page** indicates a TV-14 rating for the film, but this story indicates that it contains four words not normally allowed on television. So consider it the equivalent to a “moderate” to “hard” PG-13. Certainly if you’ve seen and enjoyed (for instance) the “Bourne” movies and Casino Royale, you needn’t be too afraid of the content in The War. It will clearly be a lot tamer than what has been depicted in such WWII movies as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters From Iwo Jima, all of which are excellent films in their own right. But I don’t think they’ll be able to hold a candle to the intellectual and emotional impact of this.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have not yet seen The War in its entirety – just lots and lots of clips. Here are a few who have (link removed by PBS), and you can expect that chorus to swell to a thundering roar in the days ahead. But based on what I have seen, and knowing the great passion and remarkable ability of Ken Burns, I’ll say again what I wrote back in March:

This seven-part, fourteen-and-a-half hour series will be the most important non-live program to air on television in the entire history of the medium. Yes, itís that good. Mark your calendars.

*Please note that I am not encouraging anyone to watch a television program on Sunday if their religious convictions impel them to do otherwise. DVRs and VCRs are wonderful contraptions designed for just such contingencies.

**By the way, if you’re planning (as I am) to purchase the DVD set, there are much better deals to be found than on PBS’s website, where you’ll pay full retail. Try Amazon or Costco if you’re a member. Most stores will charge between $80-90 for the set.

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