So the Ken Burns documentary The War has been running this week. If you’re like me, flipping through PBS these past few evenings has felt a bit like passing over the Seinfeld reruns since that Michael Richards thing.
At about the time the concern over The War‘s homogeneity in interview subjects was bubbling into outrage, my dad published a piece on the Burns brothers for the New England Review. My father has been a documentary filmmaker for more than 40 years; he’s also a great writer. I think this piece might be the best critique out there of the patented Burns style of filmmaking, notwithstanding the personal testimony of Latino WWII veterans.
He wrote the article pre-The War, ostensibly as a review of Ric Burns’s Warhol, but the first half is a thoroughgoing critique of the entire Burns body of work and its impact on documentary filmmaking. He uses the “Ken Burns Effect” now featured in popular video editing software as an insightful point of entry. The second half is also a great read, taking the Warhol film apart in some detail.
I recommend taking some time out of your Friday afternoon to read the piece. You can find it online here: Eric Breitbart, “The Burns Effect: Documentary as Celebrity Advertisement.”