Ken the Embalmer strikes again, this time at National Parks. Burns has shown that he can make even something as exciting as the Civil War tedious, but has successively lowered his sites, tediumising a specific style of popular music (Jazz), and a sport that certainly doesn’t need any help being boring (Baseball). And these things went on for hours. He now turns his attention to a specific type of land-use administrative unit. The guy is...well, I can’t possibly say slowing down, but losing some kind of mojo, anyway.
Look, I like national parks. I’ve visited and stayed at plenty of them. But, aside from visiting them, hiking in them, and watching suns set over them, I have little interest in hearing about their history, learning more about the legal machinations involved in creating them, or hearing serious people tell me how inspired they are by them. And this, from a huge fan of the architect and designer Mary Coulter, and known dweller at the Zion Lodge.
Ken Burns has a gift for turning even interesting subjects into boring ones. I thought his Civil War a massive snoozefest. Elegiac violin music, pans over sepia photographs, and serious people telling me how important it all was. I’ve known it was important since being introduced to it by the Classic Comics War Between the States. I love reading about the Civil War. I have trilogies and atlases, I’ve puzzled over the ground at the Wilderness and looked up with horror at Marye’s Heights, I’ve stood beneath Martin Milmore’s Citizen Soldier (1868), at Forest Hills cemetery, with its surrounding graves of young boys, a large proportion dead on a single day, September 17, 1862 (Antietam). You want to learn about the Civil War? Start with McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, the best one-volume version, and move on from there.
Interestingly, not a single piece of movie footage exists from the Civil War. That makes watching it on TV, well, dumb. How many times can you stare into Stonewall Jackson’s eyes before you realize he moved around too much to leave many photographs behind? If there's no movie footage, and you can't interview anyone who was actually there, only a lecture-type presentation is possible. Find the best medium to convey the information available.
Baseball did have people moving around on film, though slowly and doing pretty much the same thing in various decades, and jazz had people playing musical instruments (mostly from an era of incredibly poor sound quality). Aside from a few waterfalls, bears, and round-fendered sedans driving on newly blasted-out scenic routes, what are we going to watch in an extensive National Park documentary series?
You'll have to tell me, because I probably won't watch.