Day: January 21, 2011

Ken Burns

I’m beginning to think this is a television blog; but, I suppose that should be expected as I was always the biggest TV fan in my family.  Neither of my parents have any interested in a single show on television. There were many years of my childhood we went without television (we had a TV for occasional movies but no cable or rabbit ears) and in general I am in full support of such measures. Children are far too reliant on media for their creative development and the temptation to watch can be the source of unneeded conflict in homes.   That said, I still grew up with a love for television?  Weird hah?

Anyway, I have been literally stuck in my house for the last three days because the Grabber employees are  using my car.  This has forced me into three days of  inside work (my friend Jill took me to meet with my trainer today and I did a full work out!  Wahoo! It was so hard but I did it!).  With 1099s coming due at the end of the month I have been particularly working on dry data entry accounting.  This does not require much thought- merely looking at receipts, spreadsheets, statements and then transferring the information onto Quickbooks.  One of my favorite things to do to help enliven such tedious work is to watch documentaries.  It is a good genre because I can phase out for a long time or just listen to the narration and be fine.  There is no intricate plot to follow that would require my full attention (for instance, Inception would be a terrible thing to watch while doing accounting).

One of my favorite documentary film makers is Ken Burns.  He makes documentaries for PBS that center around the American story.  The only series of his I have not seen are the entries on Jazz and Baseball.  Recently I have been moved to tears by his amazing series on the Civil War. It is overwhelming to think of the great sacrifice which was made for all Americans to be free.  I have not only cried but learned so much and I’m only half-way through.  For instance, did you know that General McClellan of the Union army stumbled upon a scroll with General Lee’s battle plans but he was too afraid to use the information? He could have ended the war years early but he failed to be bold. Interesting. I also learned about the Battle of Fort Wagner where in South Carolina one of the first black regiments fought bravely.  That’s just two of the wonderful things I learned from watching The Civil War.

Last year I enjoyed his latest series National Parks: America’s Best Idea centering of course around the national parks.  Even for a non-nature enthusiast like me, the cinematography was amazing, the history interesting but most importantly the stories of sacrifice demonstrated by those who cherished the parks was inspiring.  Some made it their life’s ambition to preserve the land they loved. Anyone who has a noble life’s ambition and carries it out I admire.

The previous year I was in awe at his series about World War II called The War.   I thought I was pretty well versed on WWII but I was constantly amazed at what I learned- especially about the Pacific theater.  For some reason the European conflict is more covered in the schools.  Why is that? I had no idea how brutal the Japanese were to our servicemen and how long it took us to get a real victory- over 3 years.  The stories of the Bataan Death March were gut-wrenching and poignant.  Some of The War is tough to watch and fairly graphic but it is a must watch for any American.

I’ve seen many other films by Ken Burns (including his small movie about the Shakers which is fascinating).  Each time he finds away to connect the viewer with ordinary American’s living through the American Experience whether it be the Civil War, WWII or visiting a national park.  He creates voices as clear as any in a fictional film and turns stale brown photos into people we care about.  The voice work he gets are always spot on and the music inspirational. The films by Ken Burns are works of art and I love them.  They are one of the few television programs I feel should be watched by every American.

As a side note- all of the films mentioned, including the Shakers piece, are available as a netflix free stream if you have that service.