The American Experience: Huey Long

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Ken Burns

REVIEWED: 09-08-97

Before there was Baseball, before The Civil War even, documentarian Ken Burns was sifting history for PBS' The American Experience, and doing a fine job at that. Titles include The Shakers, Brooklyn Bridge, and Huey Long, a 90-minute portrait of one of the most fascinating and divisive figures in American politics. As governor and senator during the Great Depression, Long achieved godlike status among Louisiana's rural poor, winning their support with a levelled tax code, a vast program of public works, and a fiery populist promise to treat the rich and powerful as the "thieves, bugs, and lice" they were. To his enemies, he was no less than a homegrown dictator -- ruthless, arrogant, and hopelessly corrupt -- who wielded his enormous power to increasingly dubious ends. He was assassinated in 1935, just as he was moving onto the national stage. His story is one of our nation's most pungent political fables and director Burns tells it well, combining archival materials with thoughtful commentary from a diverse (and opinionated) gallery of Long's contemporaries -- writers, politicians, and just plain folk. Love him or hate him, there were few who weren't in awe of him: Huey Long shows you why.

--Jay Hardwig

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