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kottke.org posts about Lynn Novick

The Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2017

Together with Lynn Novick, filmmaker Ken Burns, who has previously made long documentary films on The Civil War and World War II, has made a film about perhaps the most controversial and contentious event in American history, The Vietnam War. The film runs for 18 hours across 10 installments and begins on September 17 on PBS.

David Kamp interviewed Novick and Burns for Vanity Fair and proclaims the film a triumph:

I watched the whole series in a marathon viewing session a few days before meeting with the filmmakers — a knock-you-sideways experience that was as enlightening as it was emotionally taxing. For all their unguarded anxiety about doing the war justice, Burns and Novick have pulled off a monumental achievement. Audiovisually, the documentary is like no other Burns-branded undertaking. Instead of folksy sepia and black-and-white, there are vivid jade-green jungles and horrific blooms of napalm that explode into orange and then gradually turn smoky black. The Vietnam War was the first and last American conflict to be filmed by news organizations with minimal governmental interference, and the filmmakers have drawn from more than 130 sources for motion-picture footage, including the U.S. networks, private home-movie collections, and several archives administered by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The series’s depiction of the Tet offensive, in which the North Vietnamese launched coordinated attacks on the South’s urban centers, is particularly and brutally immersive, approaching a 360-degree experience in its deft stitching together of footage from various sources.

The sound and music promises to thrill as well. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who did the scores for The Social Network, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) provided original music to supplement popular music contemporary to the time. They even got The Beatles.

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

I’m very much looking forward to this.