I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving weekend has been restful. I did not leave the house once yesterday. I spend so much time running that it was good to stay in. About two months ago in the waning days of summer I told myself I would watch Ken Burns’s 2019 “Country Music” over Thanksgiving weekend. I started Wednesday night and have now watched five of the eight two-hour segments. I mentioned in a post not long ago that late stage Burns has been his strongest period. His films have taken on a purpose and gravity that was sometimes lacking in his earlier work, especially some the projects from the mid-1990s and early-2000s. I believe it is his most-watched work, but parts of “Baseball” for instance are just so treacly and overly sentimental. There has been none of that in the recent projects that he and his colleagues have done.
“Country Music” does a great job of putting the genre into historical context. The music’s evolution is much more complicated than listeners tend to realize. Part of that, I suppose, is because those in the industry–and make no mistake, country music is, was, and always has been an industry–want you to think of this or that artist in the carefully created manner they have curated. The sooner we get past our conceits about “authenticity” the better.
I always read the media commentary when such films come out and am always taken aback at the lack of generosity from so many observers. Many cannot grasp the amount of work that goes into creating a film like this. They simply watch and take what they’re seeing for granted. Just digging up the thousands of still and moving images, let alone sifting through it all and creating a narrative around it all, is a task for which we should be appreciative. One can argue with this or that editorial decision, and I myself would have emphasized this or that artist a bit less or more, but one should respect anyone who puts themselves out there in any medium. If one is looking for a good place to begin exploring the genre, “Country Music” is a great place to begin.
(image/University of Missouri at Kansas City library)