Magazine article Insight on the News

The West

Magazine article Insight on the News

The West

Article excerpt

The new PBS series is pretty to watch, but the landscapes are colored politically correct.

Ken Burns' newest exploration in American memory and history, The West, is visually splendid and unforgettable. The West, whose dramatic panoramas have been filmed frequently, is presented in new and, quite often, mysterious and awesome ways. Every episode of this eight-part, 12-and-one-half-hour series scheduled to premier Sunday, Sept. 15, glows with footage of magnificent scenery. It's as though an eye as keen as Ansel Adams' controlled the camera that captured these Rocky Mountain sunsets and storms, these vast prairies and deserts.

Moreover, the 19th-century photographs and other images employed by the makers of this series--produced by Burns and directed by Stephen Ives--are better than first-rate. They reveal a deep understanding and, yes, a love of the subject at hand: the vast lands west of the Mississippi, the home immemorial of the Indian colonized by Americans of mostly European and sometimes African backgrounds in one of the great epoch stories world history has to offer.

But The West, which takes on so much history and myth, is very uneven. The first episode meanders, never achieving a focus that would convey the richness of the Indian lore and legend it hopes to convey

Later parts of the series are better organized. This especially is true when it deals with Mormon history, skillfully woven through each section of the series, and with the year 1876, when Gen. George Custer was defeated by Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn (portrayed in the sixth episode, perhaps the best of all eight).

The West would be better served if it identified its principal sources more clearly N. Scott Momaday, for example, a poet and able spinner of children's stories, is given equal weight with such fine scholars of the West as Stephen Ambrose. …

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