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Showing results for tags 'Ken Burns'.
I watched Ken Burns' second documentary on American Life, "The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God" (1984), released three years after his fine "Brooklyn Bridge" (1981) documentary, and while I learned a lot, I thought it was somewhat dull in comparison with the Brooklyn Bridge (which I touch on here). Don't get me wrong: It was worth watching, but for Burns to be able to pick *any* American Historical topic, and to choose The Shakers seems obscure to the point of being odd. The Shakers were, quite literally, "Shaking Quakers," named as such for the ecstatic dances they would perform, falling into an almost hypnotic trance as they sang and worshipped - that, in and of itself, is fascinating, and would have been great to see, but other than one small drawing, and a five-second clip of an aging shaker demonstrating a move, there was absolutely nothing about the dancing - which I found inexplicable. When you hear "Shaker," you think Shaker furniture, and this film reveals why: They celebrated God by trying to achieve perfection in their work, which is why their work was of such high quality. I, personally, have shaker-style (ladder-back) dining room chairs, and I love them (E.A. Clore in Madison, VA, if anyone is interested in artisan furniture, but that's really going off on a tangent). To summarize, while I'm glad I watched the documentary, and while I learned something about Shakers, this came across to me as an opportunity lost. There were too many interviews with aging women (which may be intentional, as the Shakers are dying out very quickly, and may soon no longer exist), but these interviews, after awhile, became painfully dull. This is one of those things like reading "Walden" (1854): Yes, I'm glad I read it, yes, I'm a better person for having gotten through it - and I was largely bored the entire time. For Burns "completists," it's a must, but for someone in search of a great example of what Burns is capable of (and he is capable of fantastic, entertaining documentaries - he truly does have a gift), I would bypass this one - although I've only watched several of his works to date, I believe "The Shakers" will end up being one of his more obscure films. One thing that I vividly remember: a representative of the Shakers went to Washington, DC as the Civil War broke out, went directly to President Lincoln, and requested the right to passive dissent when it came to fighting, i.e., he was a conscientious objector. At first Lincoln declined, saying that these men were able-bodied, but he was finally talked into exempting Shaker males from participating in the war due to their religious beliefs - this is thought to be the first case of an exemption from fighting in a war due to religious beliefs in United States history - an important milestone. And they weren't just trying to worm out; they genuinely were against harming their fellow brethren; quite to the contrary, they would take in total strangers, and treat them as family. Sometimes, knowing full well that these strangers were merely seeking warmth during the winter - these people became known as "Winter Shakers," and you know what? They didn't care - they accommodated them anyway, with open arms. When thieves stole a portion of their crops, do you know what they did? They planted more seeds, figuring that a certain percentage would be lost to those desperate enough to steal food. These were good people who loved their fellow man, and went out of their way to be kind to them. If only the world had more people such as this.