Ken Burns

Buffalo story is filled with complicated humans

A neon sign in Ken Burns’ editing room sums things up with two words: “It’s complicated.”
Life is, people are, history is. Burns’ latest documentary – “The American Buffao,” at 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 16-17), rerunning at 10 p.m. both days – is filled with complicated souls.
On one level, Burns said, this is straightforward. “It is an unmitigated tragedy …. You watch a species that numbered perhaps as many as 50 or 60 million” dwindle at one point to “under a thousand.” At the same time, the native Americans, who had co-existed with those buffalo for centuries, also declined.
But alongside that are all the rich complications of human behavior. Consider: Read more…

A tattered season coming? Not on PBS

The face on the screen was familiar and re-assuring.
Yes, this may be the TV season people dread, with two strikes and an overload of reality shows. But there was Ken Burns, via Zoom, reminding us that PBS is as strong as ever.
Burns has been making prize-winning documentaries for four decades.. All of them, he said, came with “no marketing decisions, no focus panels, … just whatever lands in our hearts or our guts.”
Coming next (Oct. 16-17) is a portrait of the Amrican buffalo (shown here). The first half, he admits, is “incredibly difficult to watch.” Still, both halves are richly crafted and deeply moving.
That provides a neat consolation: As awful as this TV season may be, PBS seems to be in fine shape. Here’s an updated look at what’s coming, with details through October and a few glimpses ahead: Read more…

Burns’ film eyes a hesitant world during Holocaust

One of Ken Burns’ first films celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
Immigrants described their joy at seeing the statue and feeling the impact of its words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,”
Now, 37 years later, the statue sometimes appears in Burns latest film – the richly emotional, six-hour-plus “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” at 8 p.m. Sept. 18-20 on PBS. We’re soon reminded that most of those masses were blocked from the U.S. and other countries; for many, that was a death sentence.
“We’ve always had the idea of welcoming immigrants,” Burns told the Television Critics Association. “But we’ve also always had the idea that we didn’t want to let anyone else in.” Read more…

Burns bio views both-brained Ben

Many of us might feel mired in one side of our brain. We’re left-brained scientists and engineers, right-brained artists and authors.
But there are rare exceptions, the both-brained sort. They’re as exotic as Leonardo da Vinci … or as down-to-earth as Benjamin Franklin, the subject of Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary (8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, April 4-5, repeating at 10).
“He was able to connect art and science, able to connect the humanities and the technology,” biographer Walter Isaacson said of Franklin (shown here in an artist’s rendition). “He cared about everything you could possibly learn about, from art to anatomy, math to music.” Read more…

PBS this fall: Serious subjects abound

Peeking ahead to PBS’ fall schedule, one thing is clear:
These people are serious. Other networks may have become a bit lighter and brighter and simpler, but you won’t find that here.
In a three-day stretch of virtual press sessions, PBS took the Television Critics Association through imposing subjects, from Muhammad Ali (shown here) to the aftershocks of Sept. 11.
Yes, the network can sometimes be fun – especially on Sundays, when it has dramas and (on Aug. 29) a concert version of “Wicked.” But often, it will be serious, including: Read more…

Hemingway: a large life, a larger image

Ernest Hemingway’s fame soared in two ways.
As a writer, he was popular and praised. As a person, he was something more.
People knew him (shown here) as a pop-culture figure who traveled the globe and did it all – food, drink, romance, adventure – to excess. It was an impressive reputation … even if some of it wasn’t true.
“The public persona became such a burden to him,” said Lynn Novick, who combined with Ken Burns to mold “Hemingway,” a compelling, three-night documentary that starts Monday (April 5) on PBS, So it was “wonderful to discover him young, before he became that stereotype.” Read more…

Even in a pandemic, PBS is busy

The world may be in a slow-down, shut-down mode, but you can’t prove it by PBS.
The network – now in a three-day stretch of press conferences with the Television Critics Association – somehow seems busier than ever.
There is Ken Burns (shown here), juggling films. “I am, like an idiot, working on eight projects,” he said.
And Henry Louis Gates, doing a four-hour, February film about Black churches … and glad that the church portions were filmed early. “This is not exactly the safest place to be at the time of a pandemic.” Read more…