'Country Music - A Film by Ken Burns' [8-Disc]
(8-Disc Blu-ray / PG / 2019 / PBS)
Overview: Ken Burns's eight-part, 16-hour documentary series, 'Country Music - A Film by Ken Burns', chronicles the history of a uniquely American art form, focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters who created it.
The film follows the evolution of country music from its diverse and humble origins as it emerged, by the end of the twentieth century, into a worldwide phenomenon.
Blu-ray Verdict: Simply put, filled with memorable musical moments, interviews with more than 80 country music artists, and evocative footage and photographs - many never seen before - 'Country Music - A Film by Ken Burns' weaves an unforgettable story that is both intimate and sweeping.
Trust me when I say that no one has told the story this way before.
Over the years Ken Burns has made a significant contribution to our knowledge of American history, the country's music, the thinking of its people, how ideas and culture changes, and much more.
But here in the epic opus 'Country Music - A Film by Ken Burns' we get to go ankle deep into the spirit of where the genre of music first originated and what has kept it alive all these oh-so many years later.
With the majority of interviews with musicians and their family members, don't get me wrong, a like them, but over the 16 hours you kind of wish Burns had reached out to some nose-to-the-grindstone historians; just to shake things up a bit, of course.
Included are such iconic figures as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Hank Williams providing narrative and with some episodes encompassing an entire decade to themselves, well, those that show just the "pivotal years" somehow seem glossed over at times.
Chock full of recovered, albeit mostly grainy footage and insights from country music luminaries (some of whom have since died, making their appearances here feel that much more poignant), further interview blocks are dedicated to such icons as women like the aforementioned Parton, Emmylou Harris, Roseanne Cash, and Reba McEntire.
Each talk about their successes and ambitions, flashing bright and pointed smiles whenever they have to address the sexism that greeted them along the way.
Men like Marty Stuart and Merle Haggard reminisce about their heroes and openly weep while reciting their favorite lyrics. Almost more rewarding than seeing familiar faces is how 'Country Music' unearths stories about people who only diehard fans might know.
Such as songwriters Felice and Boydleaux Bryant, whose love story (told in part here by their beaming son) fueled more hits than many watching would have known.
Watching along, for me spread over four (4) nights, 'Country Music' slowly reveals that it took decades for the mainstream music industry to recognize country music’s power; and only when it was such an undeniable moneymaker that ignoring it meant losing out on potential windfalls!
Ergo, Country music was born with a chip on its shoulder and a stubborn adherence to “tradition,” which 'Country Music' spends many of its hours explaining without getting too deep into the uglier aspects of that combination.
Weirdly, 'Country Music' (the series) ends somewhat randomly in 1996, meaning it doesn’t have to touch todays modern day complications, but by them you have already been left with enough Country music history that your head is fit to explode!
Indeed, one of the stand out segments comes early on (in the first few episodes) as Burns details the African origins of the banjo and the unavoidable truth of country’s popular minstrel shows.
And with that, and the episodes crucial turning point, suddenly we are made aware about the groundbreaking Black Country singer Charley Pride.
In closing, and with over 90 years of Country history to cover, 'Country Music' does what it says on the tin to at least try and capture an 'accurate" picture of the industry and its place within American history; during the time period it describes.
Does it succeed? Well, my friends, that's down to you to decide once you have purchased this quite wondrous 8-Disc Blu-ray (or DVD) box-set from PBS. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Over 3 Hours of Additional Content Included!
Over 30 Bonus Videos