It's virtually impossible to talk about the history of photography without at least mentioning Ansel Adams. In fact, to many students of the form, Adams is almost synonymous with fine art photography. His images are pervasive throughout American popular culture and are instantly recognizable to even the most casual photography enthusiasts.
The American Experience: Ansel Adams is a documentary film on the acclaimed photographer by Rick Burns, brother of well-known producer/director Ken Burns. Though not sporting the same level of name recognition as his brother, Rick Burns is a consummate director in his own right, and Ansel Adams is a worthy addition to the Burns brother's ever-evolving tapestry of American documentaries.
Few subjects seem so perfectly suited to the Burns' style as Ansel Adams. Both Rick and Ken use their camera to pan and zoom across still photographs, picking out important details, constructing compelling compositions and pulling out to reveal the images anew. Combined with stately and informative narration, the Burns brothers are able to make these static images come alive.
Adams' best photographs express emotion and idealism by offering a super detailed, almost crystallized views of the natural environment. These amazing images, combined with Burns' unique camera work lead to a synergy that exceeds the sum of its parts. Along the way viewers are treated to a poignant exploration of the life of one of one of America's finest artists and arguably the most impassioned environmentalist this nation has ever seen.
About the DVD
The American Experience: Ansel Adams is presented in widescreen anamorphic video (1.66:1). The images are very rich and crisp. They do look a little over-compressed at times but digital artifacting is kept to a bare minimum. Since Adams' black and white photographs are the stars of the show, grey scale values are key to this transfer's success. Thankfully PBS has done a fantastic job in that area. There's a broad range of rich and subtle values between deep black and pure white that really do justice to Adams' work. In addition there doesn't seem to be even a hint of bothersome edge enhancement.
The audio track (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo) on this disc isn't going to put your home theater through its paces but it is very clean and clear. Voices stick to the center channel while the front left and right speakers handle music. The mix is more than serviceable with a nice wide dynamic range and an even balance between voice and music.
The only ancillary content on this disc is a brief trailer for the American Experience series.
Fans of Ansel Adams will find this disc to be a welcome addition to their collections. The documentary itself is a bit too brief (100 minutes) to delve very deeply into the artist's life but it does give a very good overview for the uninitiated. My rating: Recommended.