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TV Review: ‘The National Parks: America’s Best Idea’ Ken Burns Goes Camping, and Has Photos

Posted by Buellboy and Audiegrl

Horace Albright, then Yellowstone’s superintendent, dining with friends in 1922 in an image from Ken Burns’s series, “The National Parks,” which begins on Sunday on PBS.

Horace Albright, then Yellowstone’s superintendent, dining with friends in 1922 in an image from Ken Burns’s series, “The National Parks,” which begins on Sunday on PBS.


New York Times/Mike Hale—Ken Burns’s new opus for public television, a six-night history of America’s national parks, contains quite a bit of contemporary footage — more than we’re accustomed to from the maker of “The Civil War” and “Jazz.” Along with the usual archival photographs and blurry home movies, there are frequent high-definition color views of the majestic scenery in parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia and Denali.

An interesting thing about those images, though: there are no people in them. Also no roads, parking lots, metal railings or refreshment stands. Bears gambol, clouds rush by, but it’s not until the last 10 minutes of this 12-hour documentary that we see contemporary people in the parks (though there are people in the archival images). And then they’re in fast motion, like Keystone Kops capering down the paths, or like those clouds scudding over the Grand Canyon.

There could be thematic reasons for this. One of the central conflicts traced in the film is between the notions of preserving wilderness untouched and preserving it for the recreation and education of as many people as possible. Mr. Burns may be casting a silent vote with his lonely vistas.

But they also reflect a central feature of the Ken Burns aesthetic. Not that he doesn’t like people, exactly. He just doesn’t like mess. Visually and intellectually, he likes order: clear compositions, clear stories, clear heroes and villains. He doesn’t like clutter, and he doesn’t like surprises. (He never met a twist of history that he couldn’t heavily foreshadow a half-hour earlier.)

More @ New York Times

Watch the Video Excerpt: The National Parks, Americas Best Idea Coming
Ken Burns’s latest documentary begins on PBS on Sept. 27.

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