But now I have a problem. I've nearly consumed the entire works of Ken Burns. Well, every dilemma comes with opportunity and this particular case has given me the notion to list my favorite Ken Burns projects as well as provide ideas to Mr. Burns (free of charge) for upcoming films.
First, I will detail my Top-5 favorite Ken Burns projects.
Baseball (1994) – this was my first Ken Burns film. Growing up, I was a massive baseball fan and had an odd appreciation for baseball statistics and records. But now I can’t name one player that was in the MLB home run derby earlier this week. This film speaks to that nerdy boy. And yes, I am including the 2010 follow-up 10th Inning in this entry. It does a great job of recalling my favorite period in baseball: The Steroid Era.
The Dust Bowl (2012) – even though it's one of his more recent films, this is the template for all Ken Burns documentaries. It examines an otherwise boring, forgotten topic and makes viewers say, "I cannot believe that happened." The people that lived in that portion of the country during the 1930’s and 1940’s lived in pure misery.
The West (1996) – check the name of this list. These are my favorite Kens Burns projects. The West is not a Ken Burns film. Burns was the executive producer and Stephen Ives was the director for this film. Ives used the same cinematic styling and same narrator (Peter Coyote) that Burns has uses in his own films. I watched The West in the days leading up to the July 4th holiday. Let me tell you…it made me feel very unpatriotic on Independence Day. Why? Because this films tells the story of how, other than the Louisiana Territory (which was purchased), Americans pretty much stole all the land west of the Mississippi River from Native Americans , Great Britain and Mexico. Especially in the case of the Native Americans, there wasn't anything honorable or patriotic about the way this land became part of the United States.
The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009) – this film helps viewers realize that there were a handful of Americans that foresaw the wasting of a lot of treasures that could not be replaced. Thank God for those people! This film gave me a sense of satisfaction in knowing that our government is doing the right thing by preserving these wonderful lands. I watched this film before I watched The West. Had that order been reversed, I'm not so sure that I would have received the same sense of satisfaction. Thinking about National Parks now, it seems to me that we’re preserving lands that were stolen. I guess that’s still a good thing.
Prohibition (2011) – we Americans had a really bad problem with alcohol at one time. This film shows why Prohibition came to be, the players behind the Temperance movement and the fallout from one of the most polarizing decisions ever made by the United States government. Prior to watching this film, I had little knowledge about the Prohibition era and even less desire to learn about it. But Ken Burns (and Lynn Novick) changed that for me.
Ken Burns definitely has his own style and he's made a name for himself by covering very historically-dated topics. Given this fact, my following suggestions may not work in his niche but I sure would like to see him give these a try:
The United States Space Program – The Right Stuff is one of my all-time favorite movies because of the chronological approach it takes towards explaining the history of rockets. Given enough time and access to never-before-seen photos and film footage, Ken Burns would have a field day with this topic.
The Internet – this might be too new of a topic but I’m sure I would enjoy Burns’ take on how the Internet grew from a militarized communications system into its current, unavoidable state.
The United States Capitol – have you ever noticed how amazingly big the United States Capitol is? Do you know much about story of the Capitol’s design or construction? Me neither but I bet Ken Burns could put together a very entertaining film that would help us learn more about this landmark. The main information I need from this film pertains to how in the world those workers built something so big so long ago. We're talkin' 1793 here. It's not like they had an army of cranes at their service.
Thank you again, Mr. Burns. I look forward to viewing the remainder of your catalog and cannot wait to see what you have in store for us next.