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The Roosevelts: Ken Burns' brilliant documentary

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I've just finished watching Ken Burns' seven-part, fourteen-hour documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. I think it's brilliant, one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It's about three New Yorkers whom I much admire but didn't know as much about as I should.  It's great on so many levels -- as world, political, social, and family history; and for it's incredible timeliness and relevance to today's world.

 

Although I liked Ken Burns' Civil War opus, I haven't really liked his other works that much (in all fairness, I didn't watch any of them in their entirety). I think The Roosevelts is his greatest triumph.  Great script, great use of historians, witnesses, newsreels, and of course animated photographs. Readings by Meryl Streep as Eleanor;  Paul Giamatti as TR, and Edward Hermann as FDR are all spot on.  The linkages between the three are very artfully and elegantly accomplished. This is an incredibly rich and moving portrait of a family on the one hand; and Twentieth-Century America on the other.

 

I often pass the New York City residences of TR, ER, and FDR. Now I want to travel to Oyster Bay and Hyde Park, to visit the museums and other homes of these three giants.

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I was absolutely hooked all week.  I felt rather lost tonight now that it's over, as if  I've lived with all these people.  I was lucky enough to have visited the Roosevelt homes and libraries in Hyde Park several times because my daughter went to college in Poughkeepsie, and now I feel even more connected to this family.  We will never see their like again, and it makes me angry that some would even undo the legacy of these great men and woman, who made the American Dream so possible for so many.

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I was absolutely hooked all week.  I felt rather lost tonight now that it's over, as if  I've lived with all these people.  I was lucky enough to have visited the Roosevelt homes and libraries in Hyde Park several times because my daughter went to college in Poughkeepsie, and now I feel even more connected to this family.  We will never see their like again, and it makes me angry that some would even undo the legacy of these great men and woman, who made the American Dream so possible for so many.

 

Like a fool I only saw parts of this series because I didn't plan well.    I hope PBS shows the entire series again soon.

 

As ffor Burn's other series;  I enjoyed the civil war one a lot and of course the Jazz one was very special to me.  

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I recorded all 7 parts on the DVR.  I watched part of the first one but haven't watched the remaining episodes.  I must say that I was impressed by the narration and I liked how Burns organized the "story."  I love Burns' documentaries, they are definitely among the best.  On Netflix, many of his documentaries are on Instant Streaming (Jazz, Prohibition, Civil War, Baseball, National Parks, World War II, and the Dust Bowl).  I have seen the Prohibition one and thought it was excellent.  I'm looking forward to watching the remaining parts before they leave Netflix.  I remember my dad watching the Civil War documentary on PBS when it was new and remembering how boring it looked.  Looking at Wikipedia, it seems that documentary came out in 1990... so I was 6.  I don't know many 6-year olds who'd be interested in the Civil War.  I feel I should probably give it another shot.  Lol. 

 

I think Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are two of the best presidents the US ever had.  Thank goodness for FDR being able to help get he US out of the Great Depression.  It would be interesting to see what would have happened to the US if someone else had been elected and the New Deal, FDIC, CCC and (all the other things FDR created) never went into effect.  It'd also be interesting to see how the US would have dealt with the Japanese's attack on Pearl Harbor if FDR weren't there.  I have a feeling we would have still entered the war.

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All of those Burns documentaries are terrific introductions to their subjects, and this was one of the better ones.  I'm really looking forward to his next one in 2015, which will be on Jack Roosevelt Robinson----a nice little bit of continuity to the series that just concluded.

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I was only a kid when I first saw "The Civil War".  I was hooked from the moment that it began (but maybe I was just an odd kid, anyway, that got into that kind of stuff).  I made sure to watch it every night.  I loved it.  I found it fascinating.

 

So, as the years went on, I made sure to watch each of his documentaries.

 

 

I absolutely loved "The Roosevelts".  I was very depressed when it was done (as I tend to be when I have really enjoyed one of his documentaries).  And I got used to watching it every night this past week that I actually felt like there really was nothing to do tonight because I didn't have that to look forward to.  :)

 

I really do appreciate such a well-made documentary on all of the Roosevelts.  This is how they deserved to have their stories told.

 

 

"The Civil War" will always be my favorite.  I still don't think any of the others could compare.  I think, though, that "The Roosevelts" have made it to second place.  It pushed "Baseball" down to third.  That is still followed by "Mark Twain" and "Thomas Jefferson".

 

Yeah, I heard the other day that Jackie Robinson is next.  I wonder when it will be shown exactly in 2015.

 

I always want something of this quality to be produced and shown every year on TV.  :)

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How I loved this documentary.  Somehow the first part escaped my notice, but I saw the rest of it.  I grew up in that era, being born in the last months of Coolidge's administration.  My mother was a congressman's secretary and as I became conscious of things around me, I was surrounded by talk of the New Deal; we had an NRA eagle on our front door; it was the beginning of the way out of the Great Depression and people became full of hope for the first time. 

 

As the story unfolded in the Ken Burns production, I couldn't wait for the next night's installment to see what else I knew about from those days.  I found myself looking at the shots of the House of Representatives to see if I could see Billy Connery or his brother Larry, who succeeded him in the House after his death ... their seat was in the left front row and was quite easy to spot if the angle was right.  Since both were bald, I couldn't be sure I was looking at either.  Just a row of bald heads when the camera was pointed toward the lectern.  The stories about the Roosevelt family were transfixing.  I knew some, but most of them were new to me.  We had not grown up conscious of the president's disability, since they took such care to hide it, but we were aware of it.  When we saw him in newsreels he was always sitting behind a desk or riding in the back of his car.  He came to our town when his son John was married to Ann Clark in Nahant, Mass., and rode through the area smiling and waving, with the famous cigarette holder in the air.  I think the thing that got me most about the documentary was the feeling that these were real people with real feelings, loneliness, hurt, glorious happiness at times, total abject misery when children died. 

 

I hadn't known much about TR, and it was quite a revelation to find his life so gripping.  Eleanor I had admired for so many years that almost all of her life was an open book to me.  We who loved her in those years collected information about her the way we did about singers or movie stars from the fan magazines.  I remember her famous espousal of civil rights and the Marian Anderson case when the DAR wouldn't let her sing in Constitution Hall because she was black.  ER resigned from the DAR and arranged the concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial that cut the ground right out from under them.  I remember how she bawled out Andrei Gromyko at the UN in front of the whole assembly and called him a liar to his face, and told him he ought to be ashamed of himself.  I remember how her enemies attacked her ... Westbrook Pegler was the most egregious ... her sons threatened to go after him physically, but she said, "He's such a small gnat to swat."  I loved the reference in the documentary to the woman who wrote the president that if she didn't get relief from him, she'd be forced to write to Mrs. Roosevelt!  That was our Eleanor.  And yet there were people who hated her because they resisted any change to their luxurious lifestyles, like the cannery owner's wife in Oakland who took some friends, also friends of mine, to Tahiti and was sitting on the veranda listening to the locals singing, and said, "And this is what Eleanor would change!"  They never got it, the rich.

 

Obviously, no one will beat this for entertainment value, or for educational value either.  Many things in it were never known.  Now we know.  Thanks to Ken Burns and everyone attached to it.

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C  Span recently had a series of talks (accompanied by an author who wrote a book about the subject of the discussion) on all of the President's wives and the role that each women played in her husband's life. I saw most of the shows, lots of interesting stuff.  Eleanor  received a lot of death threats , the Burns documentary mentioned that briefly, and Eleanor often carried a gun for her own protection. In the 60's, Lady Bird Johnson had similar experiences with death threats, all because of the women (and their husbands) championing civil rights.  

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Like a fool I only saw parts of this series because I didn't plan well.    I hope PBS shows the entire series again soon.

 

As ffor Burn's other series;  I enjoyed the civil war one a lot and of course the Jazz one was very special to me.  

 

Check the PBS On Demand menu on your local cable system. All seven episodes may be available for the next week or so. I stopped watching the series live after Episode 3 and spent a lot of time on demand, rewinding and fast forwarding segments at will.

 

In my humble opinion, "The Roosevelts" follows "The Civil War" and "Baseball" in terms of greatness. I particularly admired Burns' style of defining the "Baseball" episodes in terms of innings and "shadow" ball (also known as the Negro Leagues). And then he did an update a decade later -- "Baseball Extra Innings." He told Keith Olbermann last week that he may do another "Baseball" update in addition to the more expansive series on Jackie Robinson.

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Thank goodness for FDR being able to help get he US out of the Great Depression.  It would be interesting to see what would have happened to the US if someone else had been elected and the New Deal, FDIC, CCC and (all the other things FDR created) never went into effect.  It'd also be interesting to see how the US would have dealt with the Japanese's attack on Pearl Harbor if FDR weren't there.  I have a feeling we would have still entered the war.

 

There's a line of thought that FDR was so anxious to enter the war that Pearl Harbor's defenses were lowered intentionally so the Japanese would take the bait. Although that theory wasn't addressed in "The Roosevelts," you could see what a delicate balancing act the president had to pull off before December 7, 1941.

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There's a line of thought that FDR was so anxious to enter the war that Pearl Harbor's defenses were lowered intentionally so the Japanese would take the bait. Although that theory wasn't addressed in "The Roosevelts," you could see what a delicate balancing act the president had to pull off before December 7, 1941.

Yup, no one can ever convince me otherwise.

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C  Span recently had a series of talks (accompanied by an author who wrote a book about the subject of the discussion) on all of the President's wives and the role that each women played in her husband's life. I saw most of the shows, lots of interesting stuff.  Eleanor  received a lot of death threats , the Burns documentary mentioned that briefly, and Eleanor often carried a gun for her own protection. In the 60's, Lady Bird Johnson had similar experiences with death threats, all because of the women (and their husbands) championing civil rights.  

Image Michelle Obama disappearing from public view for weeks on end, and it turned out she was on a rural retreat vacation in New England, accompanied only by a friend and a gun!  I'm not sure what seems more unbelievable to the modern eye, Eleanor's refusal of secret service protection or the media's respect for her privacy.

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Image Michelle Obama disappearing from public view for weeks on end, and it turned out she was on a rural retreat vacation in New England, accompanied only by a friend and a gun!  I'm not sure what seems more unbelievable to the modern eye, Eleanor's refusal of secret service protection or the media's respect for her privacy.

 

It was such a different world then. Imagine what things would have been like had there been an explosion of social media. These days, the First Lady can't even get away with shopping at a Target store without intense scrutiny.

 

It's also amazing how the White House press corps put up with restrictions against reporting FDR's inability to walk.

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What a series Ken Burns gave us. Grandma had a copy of "My Day" that sat next to her radio. I grew up looking at that portrait of Eleanor. 

FYI. Ken Burns is now compiling a series on Jackie Robinson. Can't wait. Our generation is so lucky to have him and he's still so young.  

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The title of the documentary is The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. This production gets into the psychology and personal histories in a way that the numerous political histories have not done: what the Roosevelts were made of, how they were shaped by their backgrounds and their experiences.  

 

When I was a child, Eleanor Roosevelt was like a goddess locally, here in NYC. She was quite active in the Reform movement in the Democratic party, fighting the remnants of the old Tammany Hall. I liked learning from the documentary that her hostility to political boss Carmine DeSapio was partly personal: he had blocked FDR Jr's. political career. It was good to learn that this amazing woman could also be motivated by the desire for vengeance, the carrying out of which also served the public good: DeSapio was the worst sort of political boss and a crook.  Eleanor later said:

 

 "I told Carmine I would get him for what he did to Franklin, and get him I did."

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Very interesting, but way too long.  Should be edited down to about 5 or 6 hours.  I recorded a few of the episodes and watched them, but ended up using fast forward a lot after first half hour or so.  They also tend to plow the same ground over again from episode to episode.

Ironically, I receive a printed catalog for a discount DVD/Book distributor.  Both the DVD set and the companion book are already in it at a discounted price.  Still wouldn't purchase the DVD or the book.

Worth watching IF you have the time and provides a lot of information about the time period that students will never hear in school.

FDR did NOT lower the security at Pearl Harbor.  US military was not very security conscience at the time and did not appreciate that the Japanese could plan, mount and conduct sucn an enormous attack.

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If you really enjoy Ken Burns' work and similar, send money to your state's PBS affiliate.

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The title of the documentary is The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. This production gets into the psychology and personal histories in a way that the numerous political histories have not done: what the Roosevelts were made of, how they were shaped by their backgrounds and their experiences.  

 

 

 

As Keith Olbermann mentioned in his interview with Burns last week, how many of us knew that all three of the Roosevelts suffered from bouts of depression? I also never realized that after TR's death, there was a bitter rivalry between the Oyster Bay Roosevelts and the Hyde Park faction.

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If you really enjoy Ken Burns' work and similar, send money to your state's PBS affiliate.

I actually liked the length and richness of the documentary. It gave the impression of an epic tapestry that couldn't be achieved in less time. Regarding PBS, I haven't been impressed with them lately -- at least our local NY-area PBS stations. Too much Suze Orman, personal improvement lectures that sound almost cultish, and those increasingly tedious doo-w op concerts during pledge drives. (Not that I don't love 60s music; I just don't like to be pandered to so brazenly.)

 

I felt this quote, from a review of the Roosevelt series in a UK newspaper, to be to the point:

 

"The combination of epic scale and, as the subtitle claims, intimacy makes this thoroughly American story Tolstoyan – with the Dostoevskian spectres of alcoholism, depression and madness looming in the background. Eyes on the Prize, the magnificent history of the civil rights movement, is, by comparison, a chronicle of events. The Roosevelts has a psychological subtlety and depth that is virtually unprecedented in television histories."

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Image Michelle Obama disappearing from public view for weeks on end, and it turned out she was on a rural retreat vacation in New England, accompanied only by a friend and a gun!  I'm not sure what seems more unbelievable to the modern eye, Eleanor's refusal of secret service protection or the media's respect for her privacy.

Imagine the current media, e.g. TMZ, not snapping every picture they could of FDR's withered legs.

 

Better now? Better then?

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In terms of politics, the relevance for our time has to do with the programs of TR and FDR. Both incredibly progressive for their time (and even ours). From the National Parks to Social Security, both men would be (and I believe FDR was) called socialist for his programs which we take for granted today. 

 

But this thread is not about comparative politics or specific programs -- it's about the documentary itself.

 

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I actually liked the length and richness of the documentary. It gave the impression of an epic tapestry that couldn't be achieved in less time. Regarding PBS, I haven't been impressed with them lately -- at least our local NY-area PBS stations. Too much Suze Orman, personal improvement lectures that sound almost cultish, and those increasingly tedious doo-w op concerts during pledge drives. (Not that I don't love 60s music; I just don't like to be pandered to so brazenly.)

 

I felt this quote, from a review of the Roosevelt series in a UK newspaper, to be to the point:

 

"The combination of epic scale and, as the subtitle claims, intimacy makes this thoroughly American story Tolstoyan – with the Dostoevskian spectres of alcoholism, depression and madness looming in the background. Eyes on the Prize, the magnificent history of the civil rights movement, is, by comparison, a chronicle of events. The Roosevelts has a psychological subtlety and depth that is virtually unprecedented in television histories."

I agree. I don't know which audience PBS thinks appreciates the big mouth of Orman, or the constant repetition of the faith healing soap boxers selling their books and DVDs, but it's not the one sitting in my chair, that's for sure.

 

In addition, these carny hawking weeks are getting more and more frequent. I am thinking of actually going over to the dark side of Acorn to see the UK shows I crave, which was my only reason to watch PBS.

 

Oh well.

 

This documentary was very good and very enlightening - everything (well, not everything, I'm sure there was still more dirt to be had) we didn't learn in school. Maybe 50 years from now they'll tell the truth on the Kennedys, equally if not moreso everything the Roosevelts were behind the scenes, and finally let the world know that Oswald was not the lone shooter.

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This documentary was very good and very enlightening - everything (well, not everything, I'm sure there was still more dirt to be had) we didn't learn in school. Maybe 50 years from now they'll tell the truth on the Kennedys, equally if not moreso everything the Roosevelts were behind the scenes, and finally let the world know that Oswald was not the lone shooter.

Please let's not turn this thread another Osward conspiracy thread! Just mentioning that may get the compulsively off-topic people going...

 

I was taken by FDR's comment during his 1944 rally at Ebbet's Field, where the Dodgers used to play. He said as a native New Yorker he was embarrassed that he had never been there before. As a native New Yorker, I'm embarrassed that I've never visited Hyde Park or Sagamore Hill!

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There's a line of thought that FDR was so anxious to enter the war that Pearl Harbor's defenses were lowered intentionally so the Japanese would take the bait. Although that theory wasn't addressed in "The Roosevelts," you could see what a delicate balancing act the president had to pull off before December 7, 1941.

Sending the main body of the Pacific fleet from the west coast out to Pearl Harbor and  building up the number of aircraft (fighters and bombers) stationed in Hawaii wasn't exactly lowering the defenses, in fact some opposed those moves because it was seeing as unnecessarily promoting a hostile attitude towards Japan. We were also strengthening the defenses throughout the Pacific region (Phillipines , Midway, Guam, etc.  And  as for the  conspiracy theories (that FDR knew of the coming attack and kept quiet) , that's complete nonsense. Any knowledge of an actual attack would have involved too many people and keeping it  a secret would have been impossible. There was a strong belief among political and military people that Japan would soon act in some aggressive manner, the question was where and when. And Pearl Harbor Hawaii was considered too far of a reach for Japan. That, of course proved wrong, simply put  we greatly underestimated the abilities and the daring of the Japanese.

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Sending the main body of the Pacific fleet from the west coast out to Pearl Harbor and  building up the number of aircraft (fighters and bombers) stationed in Hawaii wasn't exactly lowering the defenses, in fact some opposed those moves because it was seeing as unnecessarily promoting a hostile attitude towards Japan. We were also strengthening the defenses throughout the Pacific region (Phillipines , Midway, Guam, etc.  And  as for the  conspiracy theories (that FDR knew of the coming attack and kept quiet) , that's complete nonsense. Any knowledge of an actual attack would have involved too many people and keeping it  a secret would have been impossible. There was a strong belief among political and military people that Japan would soon act in some aggressive manner, the question was where and when. And Pearl Harbor Hawaii was considered too far of a reach for Japan. That, of course proved wrong, simply put  we greatly underestimated the abilities and the daring of the Japanese.

Would you mind, please, starting an off-topic thread to discuss tactics and conspiracy theories? 

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