I’ve been watching films directed or co-directed by Ken Burns, for decades.
In an interview, possibly on 60 Minutes, he noted that his academic family moved frequently, including southeastern France, Delaware, and Ann Arbor, MI.
His mother, Lyla Smith (née Tupper) Burns, a biotechnician, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Ken was three and died when he was 11. He said that circumstances shaped his career. His father-in-law, psychologist Gerald Stechler, shared a significant insight: “He told me that my whole work was an attempt to make people long gone come back alive.”
From the Wikipedia: “In 1977, having completed some documentary short films, he began work on adapting David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge, about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Developing a signature style of documentary filmmaking in which he ‘adopted the technique of cutting rapidly from one still picture to another in a fluid, linear fashion [and] then pepped up the visuals with ‘first hand’ narration gleaned from contemporary writings and recited by top stage and screen actors,’ Burns made the feature documentary Brooklyn Bridge (1981), which was narrated by McCullough, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and ran on PBS in the United States.”
I saw Brooklyn Bridge well after the fact, and The Civil War (1990) ss it came out. But it was with Baseball (1994) that I fell in love with his style. Someone gave me the accompanying book, which is at arm’s length in my office.
I had to watch Thomas Jefferson (1997), Jazz (2001), The Central Park Five (2012), The Roosevelts (2012) – I even have the soundtrack), Jackie Robinson (2016) and The Vietnam War (2017) because of my great personal interest.
Here’s the blog post I wrote about Country Music (2019).
Then Hemingway (2021), because I didn’t know much about him, and Muhammad Ali (2021), because I thought I knew almost everything about him, but I did not. Benjamin Franklin (2022) was not that engaging to me.
The U.S. and the Holocaust (2023), which I’ve begun watching, is an exciting choice. Had he not covered this territory in The Roosevelts and Defying the Nazis? But it is powerful stuff.
THR’s review called it “devastating — and distressingly topical. Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein’s six-hour PBS documentary explores what the United States did and could have done in response to the Nazi atrocities of the Holocaust.” Here is A Conversation With Co-Directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick On Authoritarian Parallels. A CBS Sunday Morning piece is interspersed with info re: wildflowers, but it’s easy to skip to the interview.
In the fall of 2022, I received a mass email from Ken Burns.
|“I’ve spent more than four decades making films that tell America’s stories, and examining the crises – internal and external – that we have faced as a nation, including threats to our democracy.|
|“From the Civil War to the Great Depression, from the First and Second World Wars to the COVID-19 pandemic, these crises have challenged us to live up to the essential promise of our nation, preserving a democratic system of government that respects the rights and addresses the needs of all its citizens.|
|“Today, challenges to our republic are rampant, the democratic values that make up the very fabric of our nation under assault and at risk of unraveling. It’s never been more important to safeguard our fragile democracy: as Benjamin Franklin so wisely put it, ‘A Republic, if you can keep it.'”
It was a pitch to vote for incumbent Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) for reelection. She won in November 2022.