View Full Version : new Ken Burns doc on PBS tonight
01-14-2002, 06:40 PM
"Mark Twain." Great man, but will it be a great documentary? Personally, I've grown tired of Burns's style, so shockingly brilliant and new in THE CIVIL WAR, and now way over-used on everything he's done since. Boring. But I guess I'll watch it tonight. I wish that I could get THE CIVIL WAR set on DVD... (PBS claims it will be released later this year!)
01-15-2002, 03:19 AM
Big fan of ol' Mark.
Yeah, some say Burns isn't so hot anymore,
but I'll watch, Hell yeah, I'll watch.
01-15-2002, 10:01 AM
I hate Ken Burns. How come he gets away with this crap? One thing after another -- Baseball, Jazz, the Brooklyn Bridge... Whatsamatter? Can't anyone else make documentaries? I honestly think that his style is (now) tepid and boring. Predictable.
Okay, the darned MARK TWAIN documentary made me weep, even if it was only Burns's overly-sensitive "racial angle" that got me. And of course I'll watch the end of it tonight. But I swear that his working up to THE CIVIL WAR, his beginnings in the early films (like the really great BROOKLYN BRIDGE documentary), was interesting and new. And THE CIVIL WAR itself is still easily the most incredible thing I've ever seen on television -- a tremendous, incredible undertaking that succeeds beyond any imaging; that SUCCEEDS completely.
But last night's documentary, like the later previous documentaries (mostly BASEBALL and JAZZ), just lacked that SUCCESS. Really, the only thing that I learned last night was that film of Twain alive actually exists. Seeing that footage right off of Mark Twain himself in action really bolted me up out of my seat. The rest of it was mostly lit crit 101 accompanied by cool pictures, and made me laugh at his writings and inspired me to re-read HUCK FINN. It was really interesting to see Banks and Styron commenting on Twain. And it was funny to hear "Passion" playing on the soundtrack. But overall it lacked the GRAVITY of Burns's masterpiece.
I didn't like the "voice of Twain"; but then I was missing the amazing voice acting of THE CIVIL WAR (why no Hal Holbrook?, even tho they explained it away in the "afterword"). I didn't like the narrator or the narration (even tho it was written by the guy who wrote THE CIVIL WAR); but of course I was missing the incredible, important, moving, GRAVE and emotional delivery of David McCullough in THE CIVIL WAR.
I just think that Burns needs to either stop making documentaries, or make a documentary about every single goddamn little thing, event or person that ever lived or happened so I can soothe myself that I don't have to watch them, or invent a wholey new style again that will make these things interesting again. As it is, his style so perfected in THE CIVIL WAR has been hijacked for everything that even fashions itself a "documentary" from alien abduction trash on TLC to nature shows on the "Animal Planet" channel, to PBS documentaries by anyone else. Time to stop! Just stop making documentaries. They are becoming like those high school science films no one watches. Lacking GRAVITY.
But with the sole exception being the gloriously evil and unconflicted Henry Louis Mencken, no one in American letters wields the word "idiot" like Mark Twain.
01-16-2002, 11:28 AM
"Civil War": what a fascinating oxymoron.;)
01-16-2002, 06:25 PM
I'd actually rather call it "the war between the states," or even "the second American revolution," or something. Some historic monuments in the southern US still call it "the war for southern independance"!
01-17-2002, 12:55 PM
I thought it was a decent doc.
Less "expert testimony" than usual.
The part where his daughter Jean comes home from the institution to try and brighten his Christmas,
and ends up drowning in the bathtub from a seizure, was almost too much.
His description of the hearse pulling away from the house in the snow, was the most somber, sad thing I'd heard.
Quite the man, ol' Sam.
01-17-2002, 01:23 PM
What did I think? Well, in the end, even tho I weeped at the appropriate moments due to Ken Burns's pavlovian use of music and image; and even tho I was inspired to (one of these days) return to Twain's great works, especially HUCK FINN and the later more somber and angry stuff (LETTERS FROM EARTH, etc), I still think that I'm tired of Burns's style. It's not new anymore and it's even a bit pedestrian. Everyone's documentaries look like Ken Burns's documentaries now, which means he needs to change his style -- innovate -- in order to remain the documentarian of note.
One of these coming winter weekends, I'm going to watch THE CIVIL WAR again. It is the most powerful thing I've ever seen on television, bar nothing, and is maybe the greatest documentary ever made. I missed its GRAVITY and detail in the Twain bit.
But that footage of Twain actually alive and moving around, also, was a shocker. Amazing! And the words of the man, read aloud, are often astonishing. Would that we had a social commentator of that caliber today...
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