Ken Burns On Story

Story is powerful, one of the greatest ways our lives are impacted by the art of pop culture. Ken Burns is one of the most gifted storytellers of our time, a brilliant filmmaker who revolutionized how documentaries are made.

Four of his most famous projects are the long documentaries on the Civil War, jazz music, baseball, and World War II, but Burns has explored a wide variety of other topics. You know someone is a gifted communicator when they can fascinate you with a subject that you never cared about before.

Sarah Klein and Tom Mason took on the intimidating task of making a short documentary about this master of the form and created a wonderful vignette called Ken Burns: On Story.

Here are three of my favorite quotes made by Burns in this piece:

  1. “The real genuine stories are about one and one equaling three. That’s what I’m interested in.”
  2. “All story is manipulation.”
  3. “It might be that what I’m engaged in in a historical pursuit is a thinly or perhaps thickly disguised waking of the dead.”

I hope you’ll watch the video that follows to get the full story on those quotes including the potential beauty of deception and how a boy can be impacted by loss at an early age, definitely worth watching.

Klein and Mason premiered their documentary through The Atlantic earlier this summer which is also where you’ll find this¬†interview¬†with them.

Are you a Ken Burns fan? What’s the last documentary you watched?

  • I have actually never watched one of his documentaries. I may have to now.

    • It’s good stuff Larry, even more so if you like history, but that’s a not a requirement since he makes things interesting.

  • The Good Greatsby

    That must have been a lot of pressure to make a documentary on the master of documentaries.

    • Yup. I think they mention that in the interview with they did w/ The Atlantic.

  • What an amazing video! It must have been hard to pick out just three quotes. I was particularly intrigued by his discussion of manipulation. I have a couple of posts (and all of the Queries) that include interview dialogue. There have been times when I’ve straddled a line between “interview timeline accuracy” and manipulating the dialogue placement to evoke the emotion that I desire. Of course, this is a small-time kind of thing on my blog, and I’ve never considered manipulating someone’s words to misconstrue their meaning.

    I make little home movies (weddings, sports, events, etc. I just posted one about my dad) and there is definitely manipulation there. It’s creatively exciting to take raw footage and piece it together, in just the right way, to make something you hope is compelling. I so relate to the things he was talking about, and I want his job.

  • Good stuff. The last line is the best.