TV Review: The Address (Ken Burns)

Posted: May 4, 2014 in Documentary

the address

The Greenwood School in Putney Vermont is a boys boarding school that specializes in teaching kids with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, a difficulty to read, dysgraphia, a difficulty in writing, and ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  The school takes a holistic approach to teaching the kids, intense speech therapy, intense occupational therapy, music classic and woodshop.  The Greenwood school does something that makes it unique, it asks the boys to memorize and recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The boys from Middle School and high school who recite the Gettysburg Address the best wins the Greenwood Coin, a status symbol from the school to the winners.

Let me say that I thoroughly enjoy Ken Burns.  He has a unique documentary style that no one else can copy.  It’s his own, and that style has made him famous.  The still pictures, the voice over narration, the evocative music, it is all part of a Ken Burns documentary.  The music especially is so emotional, sometimes sad, sometimes jaunty, always stirring.  This documentary was a departure, and not always in a good way, the boys are surly, and difficult to get emotionally involved with, the music seems cheap and misplaced, and it’ becomes more about the school, and not the Gettysburg Address.  It’s hard to explain the importance of the Gettysburg Address to any middle school or high school boy, never mind a boy with learning disabilities, they learned the words, they learned the meaning of the words, but did they learn the historical significance of the words?  I doubt it.  On the contrary, I think memorizing the words may have put an undue amount of pressure on these kids, and enhanced their frustration.  God bless those teachers who go through an emotional roller coaster every day to find the talents of these kids and bring them out.  That’s where the focus of this documentary should be, but that’s the problem with this documentary, it should either focus on the kids, the teachers, or the address, it does none of that.  Instead it meanders from the teachers, to the students to the address, without being about any of these.

The Address tries to evoke memories of the Civil War documentary by letting the kids narrate scenes about the Gettysburg Address from the Civil War documentary, but it seems like a cheap copy of a groundbreaking documentary.  But to the larger question of whether memorizing The Gettysburg Address helps kids with learning disabilities is an open question.  I think that intensive study of anything, music, dance, public speaking, will undoubtedly help kids with learning disabilities gain confidence, but tying it to that speech in particular, was a stretch, and not worthy of Burns’ prodigious filmmaking talents.

The Address.  Unable to hold my interest


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