Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Volstead Act was one of the few amendments to the constitution that limited freedoms, and served to criminalize the 5th biggest industry in the United States. Made with the noblest intentions of preserving home life which had been torn apart by drunkenness, prohibition would serve to have the opposite effect by making drinking more enticing and increasing lawlessness and corruption in the process. Prohibition is a dissection of the period by America's foremost documentarian Ken Burns, along with collaborator Lynn Novick, beginning with female temperance movements of the mid 19 century, continuing with successful legislation following WWI, up until its eventual repeal in 1933. Those familiar with Burns films will know what to expect hear, but as the adage goes "if it ain't broke", and "Prohibition" is another engrossing and complete look at the period. Through great voice work from Paul Giamatti, Tom Hank, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Irons, and John Lithgow to wonderful, insightful commentary from historians Pete Hamill, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch, Daniel Okrent, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens we gather a remarkable sense of this wild and almost unimaginable period in American history. I also liked the way the film focuses largely on individuals: the staunch "drys" such as Wayne Wheeler, Mabel Walker Willebrandt, and Carrie Nation. The men who capitalized on the demand for alcohol like Al Capone, George Remus, and Roy Olmstead. Finally, the "wets" such as Al Smith and Pauline Sabin who sought the repeal of the 19th Amendment. Ken Burn's "Prohibition" is an exacting culmination of a period of forced morality and celebrated lawlessness.