Few filmmakers are more unique than Ken Burns
Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
14 March 2017
I consider Ken Burns one of the greats
In my time away from the grind, I like to consider myself an amateur historian. My passion is the Civil War, so you can imagine how I feel about documentarian Ken Burns.
Take a visit to my office and you’ll find retouched images of prominent figures of the war like Joshua Chamberlin and Stonewall Jackson. At home, I have rifles and bayonets mounted on my bedroom wall (much to the chagrin of my wife).
I feel a unique kinship to the South and consider Robert E. Lee one of America’s most fascinating figures. Not far removed from Lee is Ulysses S. Grant, whose autobiography is the finest I have ever read. My interest is unyielding. So much so that my art director (who is just as much a nut about this stuff as me) and I take yearly jaunts to prime locations of the war all along the east coast.
“There are a handful of filmmakers with a style all their own. Bergman, Hitchcock, Fellini, maybe Kurosawa. Burns belongs up there with them on the pantheon.”
Upon consideration, I have two people to thank for my passion: Shelby Foote (author of the Civil War Trilogy), and Ken Burns.
And I don’t say that lightly. The distinctive films of Ken Burns are historic in and of themselves. They are time capsules, so expertly created that I have become a monthly PBS sustainer just to show my support of them. That’s not to say I don’t love PBS for other reasons because I do. Heck, I even think the kid’s shows are tops.
But for me, nothing compares to the seminal works of Ken Burns. There simply is no filmmaker ever like him. There are a handful of filmmakers with a style all their own. Bergman, Hitchcock, Fellini, maybe Kurosawa. Burns belongs up there with them on the pantheon.
Right now, I am watching, once again, The Roosevelts: An American History. And man, is it brilliant. Burns has even made baseball interesting for me, and jazz and our National Parks even more intriguing.
But nothing beats The Civil War series. Burns solidified his own personal filmmaking brand with that series. Loving it is easy, from David McCullough’s narration to the soundtrack to first-hand accounts and historian snippets, to the lilting violin and guitar melody of Ashokan Farewell. A style so singular that Apple made a screensaver paying homage to it. Few others have such a singular style.
So, as I plan my next battleground foray, as always happens, I’ll be reminded of the most touching part of Burns’ series. It’s a parting letter from Union soldier, Sullivan Ballou, to his “Dear Wife,” Sarah. A moment so wrenching and well written it lingers with you a lifetime. That is the power of Ken Burns’ work. His next series tackles Vietnam, a war I lived through. I’m sure it’ll be unforgettable.
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