Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts on The War

Because so much of my professional life has been focused on history, many people assume that I must enjoy watching documentaries. Certainly there are plenty of people with similar careers who do enjoy them, but for me, I think it's a case of knowing too much. The magic disappears as soon as you know how the trick is done.

I'm currently watching the Ken Burns documentary, but only because I want to see what his team did with all the material they collected and all the many interviews they conducted. Near the beginning of tonight's episode, while the narrator described racism problems in Mobile, Alabama, they briefly showed a photo supplied to them by the Mattatuck Museum. The photo was taken in 1899 at Ansonia Brass & Copper. But the documentary doesn't explain the images we see. The viewer is left to assume that the images relate directly to the topic they are hearing about. In this case, I think most viewers would assume that the image was of a Mobile factory during the 1940s. And, just past the start of the second hour, they showed a photo of Waterbury's Fulton Market from the 1950s to illustrate something happening in Luverne, Minnesota. It's maddening for me.

I understand why documentary-makers do this. It's a visual medium, and they need to keep viewers supplied with constantly changing images, and with images that appear to illustrate the point being made. It works fine so long as you don't know when they "cheat". I stopped watching documentaries years ago, when I was watching one about Catherine the Great. There was a sequence of images of painted portraits of women, and the documentary presented the images as if they were all of Catherine. I knew that they weren't, and it pretty much ruined the show for me.

Despite all of that, I am enjoying The War, particularly the segments about the home front in all four towns. I think what I'm enjoying the most are the personal stories. At the Mattatuck Museum luncheon with Ken Burns on September 10, Ethel Goldberg (sister of Ray Leopold) spoke eloquently about how each and every person has a "glory" story to tell, and that we should take the time to recognize this about one another.

I'm also impressed by the very different perspective of the battles. World War II, unlike the current war in Iraq, was presented very carefully to the general public. There was a tremendous amount of censorship and propaganda on the part of the US government, which I think led to a sort of mythic remembrance. WWII has frequently been referred to in this country as a "good" war, and the people involved have been labeled "the greatest generation" (which seems very unfair to every other generation!). So far, this documentary has proven that there is no such thing as a good war.

In 1948, the company newsletter for the Princeton Knitting Mill (located in Watertown) ran a selection of employee responses to a question about the anticipated impact of television. One employee believed that television could bring about world peace. His response seems hopelessly naive, but I think he wasn't entirely wrong. Maybe I am hopelessly naive and overly optimistic, but I don't see how anyone could watch something like The War, which emphasizes the miseries and atrocities of all wars, and still think that starting a war is a good idea.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shakesperience in Earnest

Shakesperience Productions is performing Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest at their new home on Bank Street (in the former M.A. Green building). Last night's show was great -- and sold out. There are three more shows next weekend, Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm.

Brass City Brew Fest 2007

The Second Annual brew fest was held in library park yesterday. The weather cleared up just in time for it to be a sunny afternoon. Today's paper reported that there were 1200 people in attendance. Which explains why I had trouble finding my friend after she wandered off!

There was a classic car show on Grand Street before the beer fest. The cars included one used in the upcoming Indiana Jones movie (I think it is the turquoise car in the middle).

There were a few people who arrived just as the gates opened, drank & ate quickly, then left, presumably for another function.

Early crowds milling about:

Lots of younger beer drinkers. Rumor is that Boru's sold 90 tickets. There were a lot of people at the brew fest wearing Boru's t-shirts.

I overheard a couple of non-drinkers express a wish for coffee. The only non-beer beverages were water and soda.

The ever-popular kettle corn stand near the entrance. There was also food from The Hills and Crossroads Cantina--things like hot dogs, buffalo wings and chili.

Saranac's inflatable bear surveying the scene. It was later duct-taped to someone's back.

By 4pm, a lot of the brewers had run out of beer, but there was enough left to keep everyone going another hour and then some. Crossroads Cantina did a pretty good dinner business afterwards, since a lot of people were parked next to them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Burns Day

Ken Burns came to town on Monday. Below are my assorted camera phone pics of the day.

At 12:30 there was a luncheon at the Mattatuck Museum. It was very corporate...

At 3pm, the Mattatuck hosted a celebration to honor WWII veterans. It was a lot more fun than the luncheon.

Next are images of people enjoying the WWII exhibit at the Mattatuck.

At 5pm, there was a rally on the Green, with assorted speeches, music and ceremonies. There had been a lot of back-and-forth during the afternoon about whether or not to move the rally indoors, but the rain held off (but boy was it humid!).

At 6pm, a large group paraded from the Green to the Palace Theater. Just as the parade was starting, one of the police on motorcycles yelled at some kids on bicycles to get out of the way. The cop was really kind of harsh, especially considering that the kids weren't anywhere near the people walking down the middle of the road.

The show at the Palace started at 7pm. I did a mad scramble to get a pair of tickets, and wound up buying upper orchestra seats at discount from someone who didn't need them after all. Burns and Lynn Novick (I think The War really is more her project than his) presented 70 minutes of clips, mostly of Waterbury-related stories, from the documentary.

For many weeks this summer, most of the news about the documentary focused on the inclusion of a couple of swear words that might inspire the FCC to fine any PBS station airing those episodes. I think I read that some PBS stations will blank out the swear words. After watching sections of the documentary that include film footage of the atrocities committed during the war, I can't imagine how anyone could possibly care about the inclusion of foul language. There are no words that come at all close to being as offensive as some of the things that happened.

The War premiers on PBS Sunday, September 23, at 8pm. Burns pointed out that this is coincidentally 17 years to the moment that The Civil War first aired. It sounded like CPTV will be airing the episodes nearly nonstop, so there's no need to worry about missing one. I think watching all of them might be difficult. I think it's going to be very emotionally wrenching.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

World War II

This weekend, leading up to the Ken Burns day on Monday, there is a WWII encampment on the Green. I stopped by briefly this afternoon to check it out.

Garage Spider

I don't know what kind of spider this is, but she's sort of pretty. Every day she spins a web in the corner of the garage entryway. I have to remember to duck, but so long as the spider stays in the corner, she can stay in my garage.