Hall of Idols # 58: Ken Burns

Ken Burns

Fifty-eighth installment in a series exploring very important people in my life.

Let me start explaining how this will work: I listed 65 idols of mine. Every Friday (with the exception of those reserved for the Rock Chain posts) I’ll draw one of the names (following a system that it’s really not important to be explained here) and talk about it.

Therefore, the order in which the names will appear doesn’t necessarily shows where they rank in my preference.

As a final introductory note, this is also not a biography article. I’ll just write how I feel about people represented in it, their talent and their importance in my life.

Have you ever stopped to think how important documentaries are? Usually, they are the only form of showing you things you wouldn’t see in any other kind of film and they deal with reality.

They are showing you images and explaining to you what they are and you’re sure they are all true (if the director is well intentioned, of course). And these images are also explained and contextualized.

A good documentary is the one that takes you inside the story and grabs your attention like a fiction film. You finished seeing it and you feel fulfilled.

Besides Dave Attenborough, who has no equal when it comes to Nature documentaries, probably the greatest documentarian of our time is Ken Burns.

Kenneth Lauren Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York, July 29, 1953. His mother was a biotechnician and his father an anthropologist. His mother died when he was 11 and that had a deep effect in Ken’s life. According to his father-in-law, Ken’s work is trying to make people long gone come back to life. And maybe that traces back to his mother’s death.

He was an avid reader and his preferred book was the encyclopedia, as he preferred history than fiction. The family lived in France, Delaware and settled in Ann Harbor, Michigan, where his father taught in the university.

However, when it came time for university Ken preferred Hampshire College in Massachusetts, an alternative school with different forms of evaluation. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in film studies and design and worked in a record store to pay his tuition.

Burns worked as a cinematographer for the BBC, Italian television and others, when in 77 he made his feature documentary debut with Brooklyn Bridge, which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

From then on, there was no stopping. He was nominated again for The Statue of Liberty in 1985, but the main reason why Burn is inducted here is his 1994 masterpiece Baseball, which was updated in 2010.

To me, Baseball is the perfect example of how you can turn sports into art. Even if you don’t like the sport is much worth seeing due to everything it encompasses. From the Civil War to racism, to fixing games, the Black Leagues and the steroid scandal in the 2010 updated version.

By the way, in his own words, he only updated the documentary because he wanted to tell the story of the Boston Red Sox reversing the curse of the Bambino. And that’s just one more reason for me to like him.

Unfortunately I still haven’t watched all his masterpieces like The Civil War (1990), The War (2007) and The Roosevelts: An Intimate Story (2014) but I watched the wonderful Thomas Jefferson (1997), parts of Jazz (2001) am about to watch Mark Twain (2001) and am anxiously awaiting for this year’s Jackie Robinson, next year’s Vietnam, 2018’s Country Music and 2019’s Ernest Hemingway.

Now, Ken, how about one about football and one about basketball?

And maybe when someone produces a documentary about you, they’ll say you were in the Hall of Idols.

Be sure to check out my book “Straight and Lethal”

You can contact me at: carloantico666@gmail.com

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