The Tragic Beauty of Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl (2012)

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Critical Studies in Television Online

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any critics have misperceived Ken Burns as a romantic. I’ve never seen him that way. My take has always been that he’s more a documentary poet attuned to America’s idealistic aspirations. As a point of contrast, consider the above poem by the romantic poet William Wordsworth, which came to mind after watching a DVD screener of Ken Burns’s latest Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary, The Dust Bowl. Wordsworth expresses an adult’s guileless and childlike reconnection with nature at the sight of a rainbow. The two-dozen elderly witnesses who Burns employs also speak from the heart as they describe in compelling detail how the once-in-a-century natural tragedy now known as the Dust Bowl has marked them for the rest of their lives.


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