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"New Orleans"

American Experience

The city of New Orleans was built on high ground. It was only a few blocks wide at the time, though, so it was easy to fit the whole settlement on a bluff above the Mississippi. New Orleans in its infancy is the starting point for PBS's new American Experience documentary, New Orleans, and the historical perspective is a great way to see this legendary city in a new light.

All too often we know New Orleans through its cliches ... as the birthplace of jazz, the birthplace of cajun food, ground zero for Mardi Gras. But there's a long history behind this city's dynamism, and this new documentary wisely chooses to tell us about things we don't already know. Like the fact that early New Orleans was two cities separated by a canal: one French, Haitian, Cajun and Creole, the other protestant English. It also turns out that the sad landmark US Supreme Court Plessy vs. Ferguson case, which upheld legalized segregation, was about an incident in New Orleans.

The city's wealthy financiers do not come off well in this documentary, especially in 1927 when they carry out a plan to flood a neighborhood near New Orleans so as to prevent a flood in the main city. But New Orleans is mostly about the city's great vistas and colorful citizens, including a charming gumbo chef who tours us through her flood-wrecked kitchen where she's unashamedly happy to be getting new appliances. A tomb restorer is photographed applying loving dabs of cement between bricks on an antique grave, telling us about the local practice of cemetery picnics.

This is a more visual documentary than most, and in many of the above moments it's the photography, rather than the narrative, that provides the strongest message. Director Stephen Ives was clearly able to find beauty everywhere he looked, and most often in this documentary he lets the visuals speak for themselves.

My only (minor) complaint is with the show's intro segment, which tells us one too many times how significant New Orleans is. Nobody needs to hard-sell this city; to look at it is to fall in love with it. I think that's why this show works so well.

Comments

ROCKEY IN THE NEWS TODAY, January 17, 2007:

Today Rockey Vaccarella was on Fox News Network with Neil Cavuto to discuss the current situation in the New Orleans region in respect to the progress of the rebuilding effort. Rocky's interview was live on FOX NEWS across America today at 3:30pm CST from the WVUE Television studios in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rockey told Cavuto that he is concerned that the rebuilding is moving slowly and that his mission is to continue to remind America that the job is not finished and not to forget the people of the New Orleans area and Gulf Coast region. Rockey also told the FOX News Anchor that President Bush and him discussed the 110 billion dollars that was sent to help the people in need during their August meeting in the Oval Office. The President told Rockey that the money sent to the region was the largest sum of money ever spent on American soil to help people affected by a natural disaster. Rockey's new documentary film FORGOTTEN ON THE BAYOU: Rockey's Mission to the White House is complete and takes the audience behind the scenes of his struggle to survive Katrina and his personal mission to deliver his message of hope to the President of the United States and the American people. The film's producers are now seeking distribution. The film is represented by David Garber of Lantern Lane Entertainment in Calabasas, California. For more information visit www.ThePeoplesStory.com .

Can we buy a copy of the New Orleans documentary? How and how much? thanks.

I am also interested in purchasing a copy of the documentary of New Orleans on DVD...any chance of this happening?

ShopPBS.com is selling the program on DVD and VHS. You can order now to receive it when it ships in March. http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=2611500

I thought the special on New Orleans very insightful. However, it seemed to be more topical than in depth. I was hoping the issue of illiteracy would be addressed, in particular, the shockingly inadequate school system. Living in Houston and having direct contact with the survivors, I found their level of education across all ages almost non-existent. I want to know why!

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