April 13, 2009

Reviews of After the Mayflower

'We Shall Remain':  From Plymouth to Wounded Knee, a Tale of SurvivalIn many ways, this is the weakest of the episodes, in part because it's at the greatest chronological remove. Talking heads speculate and the grammar is tortured: Massasoit "must have" thought this or "would have" said that. The actors must carry a larger burden because of the lack of documentary material. But they also vary in quality from film to film and in "After the Mayflower" one is thankful when they're seen but not heard, and the narration, by Benjamin Bratt, covers the burden of telling the story.Television Review | 'We Shall Remain'

Centuries of American Indian Valor, Celebrated and RecreatedThe early chapters of the film rely heavily on historical re-enactment, recreated battle scenes and lots of war paint and cowhide. I cringed when I thought I spotted an actor who appeared on the first season of “24” playing a colonial; I like my re-enactors to be recognizable only from appearances at restoration villages. Re-enactment is the default device of historical documentaries now, but I don’t think it is too much to ask that a project with the apparent ambitions of this one try a little harder not to feel like a Thanksgiving play.'American Experience: We Shall Remain'

Five signal moments in Native American history are explored in the new PBS series.The series gets better as it goes along. The first three installments--set among the Wampanoag of colonial New England, the Shawnee of Ohio and the Cherokee of the Southeast--lean heavily on dramatic re-creation, as they would have to to pad out a 90-minute film. But such scenes have neither the power of authentic images nor of fully blown drama. (We're also left to guess which words might have come from the actual record and which were invented by the screenwriter.)

The bigger problem is that they're also drawn out, perhaps to approximate the pace of life at the time but possibly to help fill that 90-minute box. And some of the Colonial sequences do have the feel of Welcome to Historic Plymouth!
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

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