I found the first episode of The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to be so simplistic that I wanted to stop watching, but in the end I did keep watching, and I’m glad that I did, as the second episode gets better, and I’m now watching the third.
The most valuable part of this documentary are the interviews, as the people interviewed say things that are more complex and revealing than the narrative in the documentary.
For instance, through some of the interviews we can learn about the presence of racism in the interactions between Americans and South Vietnamese soldiers, a topic that the narrative of the documentary does not directly address.
I just tried to watch the first episode of The Vietnam War, a new multi-episode documentary by American filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novik. I didn’t expect this documentary be good, but I am actually surprised now at how bad it really is.
The core of the problem of (at least the first episode of) this documentary is that it is entirely America-centric. It is based on a fantasy that the American government can determine the fate of world affairs, and that individual Americans can influence US government policy.
The “lesson” that the documentary seeks to teach is then that there are times when world affairs do not follow the standards of American ideals, and that this is because the US government does not listen to the good ideas of individual Americans.
Let’s call this the “Americans are so stupid” self-loathing narrative.
There is a major new documentary about the Vietnam War that is about to be broadcast on TV in the US. It is called The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick.
Burns and Novick have made some very successful documentaries together, but they are not experts on Vietnamese history, and while experts were consulted during the making of this documentary, I think it will be safe to assume that this documentary will essentially be a documentary about “what the Vietnam War means to a certain segment of the American population.”
That is fine. As long as educated viewers understand what this documentary is, and what its perspective is, then they can appreciate it for what it is.