Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ken Burns: "The Shakers"

Netflix offers the 61 minute 1984 documentary “The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God” for instant play, as another documentary about a minority religious group. The film is directed by Ken Burns and Amy Stechler, and is in Burns’s typical quiet and wistful style, although with fewer drawings.


The film was produced by Burns’s Florentine Films, and was shown in 2002 by WETA and WNET of PBS as part of the "Ken Burns's American Stories" series.

The Shakers were officially known as The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and were founded by Anne Lee in England and settled north of New York in colonial times.

One of their most remarkable practices was total celibacy, which helps explain their small numbers (and their gradual decline in the 20th Century), and raises questions of karma. They lived communally and worked hard, rotating jobs, and invented many common household tools, such as the whisk broom. Work became its own virtue. They actually produced and sold most of the opium in the US at one time.

In time, their style of work was overpowered by the mass production methods of the industrial revolution.

The film features much of their song and music.

The official website for the film is here.

Short trailer from Folkstreamer on YouTube.

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