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The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984)

Ken Burns examines the American utopian 19th century religious sect known as the Shakers.


Ken Burns, Amy Stechler (as Amy Stechler Burns)


Amy Stechler (as Amy Stechler Burns)
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Olga Bellin ... (voice)
Tucker Burr Tucker Burr ... (voice)
Jesse Carr Jesse Carr ... (voice)
Julie Harris ... (voice)
David McCullough ... Narrator
Steven Pudenz Steven Pudenz ... (voice)
Paul Roebling Paul Roebling ... (voice)
Wendy Tilghman Wendy Tilghman ... (voice)


Ken Burns examines the American utopian 19th century religious sect known as the Shakers.

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Release Date:

7 August 1985 (USA) See more »

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Florentine Films See more »
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Very well made but not exactly complete
16 September 2011 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

David McCullough narrates this early documentary by Ken Burns--before Burns became a PBS celebrity. It's a film about the Shakers--an offshoot of the Quakers that was formed in 1774. The membership was quite large in the 1840s and consisted of, I think, 19 communes spread across the northern and central United States. Members lived very austere lives--devoting their time to hard work and worship--and complete abstinence from sex. Not surprisingly, this lack of sex, ultimately, meant that the group was doomed--as new members could only be recruited from the outside world. When the film was made, less than a dozen Shakers still alive back in 1984. Best internet source indicates there are 3 left in one facility in New England.

The look of the film is pure Burns. Lots of vintage photos were used and his use of zooming and moving the camera about made the images seem to come to life. Additionally, a few surviving members were interviewed and even sang. The singing, though in some ways rather sweet, was also a bit hard on the ears. While the film did a great job of showing the history of the Shakers, it did seem incomplete in one way. What the Shakers exactly believed was a bit vague in the film. How their beliefs coincided or diverged from mainstream Christianity never was discussed other than the form of worship. It left me curious to know more. Still, it is a finely crafted film and interesting (provided you are willing to give it a chance). Worth seeing.

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