Movie Review: Prohibition (2011)


Title: Prohibition
Release Date: 2 October 2011
Director: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Production Co: Florentine Films
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | History
Rating: ****

This Ken Burns documentary illustrates the United States’ experiment with banning alcoholic beverages. The story is told in three parts.

Part I documents the adverse effect alcohol consumption had on Americans, especially men, who drank away their pay while women and children suffered poverty and abuse.  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union organized to successfully (albeit temporarily) shut down saloons, and inadvertently providing a political outlet for women that helped the suffrage movement. On the other hand, alcohol played an important social role, especially in immigrant communities.  The dark side of the temperance movement is that it was made up of rural and small-town Protestants from the mid-west and south who were prejudice against the immigrant groups in the big cities.  The strongest opponents to prohibition were German-American brewers, so it was no surprise that anti-German sentiment during WWI helped sway the national opinion towards Prohibition.

Part II shows America under Prohibition.  Interestingly enough, many people (including politicians who voted for the amendment) expected beer and wine to be permitted under Prohibition.  The Anti-Saloon League under Wayne Wheeler are able to influence the drafting of the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition by banning all beverages with more than one-half of one-percent alcohol.  There were many loopholes such as people who stocked up before the ban or those who could get prescriptions for medicinal alcohol.  While many in the heartland were pleased to abstain, places like New York City exploded with illegal importation and distilling of liquors.  These illegal activities were soon consolidated under organized crime bosses whose territorial battles contributed to notorious violence.

Part III illustrates the growing awareness that the levels of hypocrisy and unintended consequences of Prohibition, ultimately leading to repeal.

An interesting aspect of this documentary is it shows how the Prohibition story accompanies the increased role of women in American public life.  The temperance movement was led by women.  Mabel Walker Willebrandt enforced the Volstead Act in her duties as U.S. Assistant Attorney General.  Lois Long documented the glamour and sexual liberation of speakeasy nightlife in her articles for the The New Yorker.  And Pauline Sabin lead the political movement for repeal as head of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform.

Like Ken Burn’s other works, this was an excellent and informative documentary, richly illustrated with period photographs and films and words read from primary documents by actors and narrators.  I learned a lot from this film.

 

Book Review: Drinking Boston by Stephanie Schorow


Author:  Stephanie Schorow
Title Drinking Boston : a history of the city and its spirits
Publication Info: Wellesley, MA : Union Park Press, c2012.

Other books by same author: The Crime of the Century

Summary/Review:

It’s an interesting premise to study one city and it’s relationship to alcoholic beverages. Arranged roughly in chronological order, Schorow covers the following topics: Colonial taverns, saloons for immigrant communities, the role of bars in ward politics, several chapters on Prohibition, the golden age of night clubs (1930s-1950s), neighborhood bars, and the present day revival of the fancy cocktail.  Schorow takes particular interest in the Ward Eight, a cocktail invented in Boston with fascinating and contradictory stories of its origin, although most people admit it’s not a very good cocktail.  The book is filled with stories and anecdotes, but does not cohere as whole.  I enjoyed reading it but I can understand criticisms of other readers who did not feel engaged by the material.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne


Author: Lawrence Osbourne
Title: The Wet and the Dry 
Publication Info:   New York : Crown, c2013.
ISBN: 9780770436889

Summary/Review: 

I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

I selected this book expecting whimsical travel adventures seen through a drinking glass.  I forgot that alcohol is a depressant.  The author Lawrence Osbourne comes from a family of alcoholics and has recently lost his mother.  He spends a lot of time in various parts of the world isolated in bars merely drinking.  A particular challenge for him his to find places to drink in the Islamic world, which seems to be as tedious for him to pursue as it for the reader to see described.  While he has some interesting observations on the drinking culture (or lack thereof) in the places he visits, much of this work is inward facing.  And to be frank, Osbourne seems like an unpleasant person so it is a difficult read.

Rating: **

Recommended BooksA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage and Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz