The Statue of Liberty ★★

Ken Burns was still finding his voice in 1985, and with Reagan in office, PBS was even more inclined than usual to document its federal benefactor through a few layers of gauze. So it’s not shocking that two thirds of The Statue of Liberty borders on peacetime jingoism, but it is disappointing. I had been hoping to learn about the marvel of engineering and diplomacy that was the statue’s origin, and I did. But in the scope of the film, that story was a rushed appetizer leading up to the main course: pretentious talking heads waxing philosophical about the concept of liberty. Milos Forman, who is interviewed, shrewdly anticipates my criticism, contending that this film will be wasted on natural-born Americans, whose complacency prevents them from appreciating the true symbolic significance of the statue. James Baldwin goes so far as to say that to African Americans, the statue is a cruel joke. With the inclusion of these lone dissenting notions, the film seems to say, “We can always do better...” But the overall message is a solemnly emphatic, “We’re number one!” If you’re not in need of that reassurance, you can skip this one.

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