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we all owe it for having overcome so much of the worst in our common past. Harvard Sitkoff University of New Hampshire Film Review Huey Long. Produced by Ken Burns and Richard Kilberg. Florentine Films, 1986. 90 mins. (Corinth Films, Inc., 410 E. 62nd. St., New York, New York. 10021) "If you were living in Louisiana," Robert Penn Warren wrote of the Huey Long Years, "you knew you were living in history defining itself before your eyes." Thus begins Huey long, a 1986 documentary on the controversial Louisiana governor and U.S. senator. Originally telecast on the Public Broadcasting System, Huey Long begins by describing Long?s rise from an obscure northern Louisiana parish, Winn, once attracted to Populism and ever resentful of concentrated wealth. Like many Louisiana parishes, Winn had few paved roads and inadequate schools. Long, in a sense, never forgot his origins. Determined as a boy to enter politics, Long wasted little time running for state office, always as the champion of the people. A tireless campaigner, Long won the governorship in 1928. Massive public works projects and state aid to education followed, as did controversy. After narrowly beating back an attempt by the legislature to remove him from office, Long consolidated his rule. He became a master of mass communication, among the first to use a sound truck while campaigning and state-wide radio while in office. When Long spoke over the air, one contemporary recalled, anywhere in Louisiana you could hear a pin drop. His own popularity reaffirmed, Long hand-picked a successor and went to the U.S. Senate in 1932. In Washington, Long's vague "Share Our Wealth" platform, promoted in his own national newsletters and in network radio hook-ups, created a nationwide constituency for the Louisianan. Long himself planned a thirdparty run for president in 1936. But his "voice of protest" was silenced by an assassin in September 1935. Visually, much of Huey Long is familiar. Many of the photographs and much of the newsreel footage have been seen before. A natural performer, Long was disarmingly roguish, perhaps better on the screen, Gilbert Seldes speculated, than Franklin Roosevelt. 46 More impressively, the narrative and editing judiciously and sensitively convey the division among survivors of the Long era as well as two generations of historians. Until the 1969 publication of T. Harry Williams' masterful biography, most academic historians shared the hostile certainty of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Appearing in the film, Schlesinger characterizes Long as a soundrel who fooled and robbed the people . Surviving members of the anti-Long faction echo Schlesinger and, with unnerving frankness, all but applaud his assassination. Others, still loyal to Huey, support the more sympathetic view of Long found in Williams' biography and, to a lesser extent, Allan Brinkley's Voices of Protest (1982). Perhaps the most moving evidence comes from those common voters across the state interviewed for the film. Their reverence for the Kingfish remains undiminished. The film's concerted attempts at "balance" are less apparent in the final segment of the film, "A Wildness in the Air," dealing with Louisiana politics during the last years of Long's life. With Long a virtual dictator, the tributes come less frequently. Still, some old enemies speak almost sympathetically of Long as confused; he had held greatness, Warren remarks, only to drop it, like water out of a bottle. Long's critics too often appear as a group possessed of all virtue. Some, like Hodding Carter, attacked Long on principle. Others did so out of spite. Nevertheless, Huey Long is great documentary history. The winner of the 1986 Erik Barnouw Prize of the Organization of American Historians, Huey Long would also be an ideal film for courses in modern Southern history and Thirties America. It should inspire student discussion—was Long an American Populist? The heir to the Populist Movement? How much more corrupt was Long than his predecessors? Did not Long's own opponents, as T. Harry Williams argued, engage in their own knavery? And if film of the Kingfish, directing an orchestra or sampling legal liquor, cannot hold a class' attention, no political leader from the 1930s can. James L. Baughman University of Wisconsin-Madison...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 46-47
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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