Famous Filmmaker Ken Burns and PBS Team Up for Four-Part Documentary Series “Muhammad Ali” in September
Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns My Guest gave us an emotional, informative, educational and entertaining journey into history and provided us with a mirror and window to understand the stories that explain why we are created equal. Since his Oscar-nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Burns has achieved historic status as the director and producer of some of the most acclaimed documentaries ever made. Among them, Civil war (1990), Baseball (1994) and Jazz (2001).
Burns’ Final Four-Part PBS Documentary Series Mohamed Ali premieres September 19. He once again succeeds in his goal of touching something distinctly American with each of his amazing projects.
Burns joins SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the new series which lasted six years. Mohamed Ali was also written and co-directed by Ken’s daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon, whose previous collaborations with Burns include The Central Park Five (2012), Jackie robinson (2016) and East Lake Meadows: A History of Social Housing (2020).
“Huge credit goes to them (Sarah and David) and our amazing team of editors and footage researchers for getting the material. I mean, there are a lot of documentaries on Muhammad Ali, none of them from birth to death in so much detail, but I think we were also able to offer not only the experts and experts but also the family members who called us, crying, saying that I had never seen this photo of my father or that I had never seen this photo of my husband or this video footage. So I was kind of delighted with the first response. “
Burns says he loves Muhammad Ali.
“I think I realized after spending over 40 years making movies and a lot of them biographies and certainly biographies being the building blocks of great series like Civil war, Baseball and Jazz, how important he is. As it is mythical. You know, Walt Whitman describes this kind of idea of a super-American, someone who contradicts himself. Muhammad Ali is a great teacher, a great mythical figure in our culture. He is obviously the greatest athlete of the 20th century. I don’t think you can have an argument on this and I’m ready to have that kind of a discussion, and I respect some people who say it’s someone else. I don’t know who this other is. But it is also someone who crosses all the major questions of the second half of the 20th century. Bottom and here after having raised his head after these six years of work, it is a figure who speaks to us directly about what is happening now, in all its forms. If it’s race, if it’s politics, if it’s religion, if it’s me too, if it’s Black Lives Matter, he’s here and he’s doing it with an evolved heart, it’s so vast that you realize that there are very few people who die the most loved, if anyone, the most loved person on the planet. “
Burns uses retired actor and boxer Michael Bentt to analyze Ali’s heavyweight fights.
“When we start the fights it is our man who tells us what is going on. He is a wonderful guide for all of us, especially for those who are not attracted to boxing except when it is someone extraordinary. I don’t really like boxing but I’ve done two boxing movies, one about Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight and now Muhammad Ali with Sarah and Dave. “
The documentary maker says that although many of Ali’s in-ring tactics are wrong, such as leaning back to avoid a punch, but points out that “The Greatest” always fits, dances and sometimes does the rope. -dope to frustrate his opponent.
“There’s a kind of exquisite beauty in looking at his intelligence. It’s a brutal, physically brutal sport that he brought that heart and that spirit to. Now obviously other boxers have to bring their hearts. You have to want to beat. your opponent. You I must really want it. Our eyes show us in (Joe) Frazier’s first fight, Frazier wanted it more. But it’s very clear and you see in Ali, that exquisite way of trying to understand the dimensions. ”
Episode two of the series focuses on the boxer’s struggle to be heard and respected. Broadcasters, journalists and even his opponents refused to refer to Cassius Clay once he changed his name after accepting the teachings of the Nation of Islam. It was on March 6, 1964 that the Olympic gold medalist and charismatic fighter took the name Muhammad Ali, which was given to him by his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad. Burns says disrespect motivated Ali to manhandle some of his opponents in the ring.
“I don’t think more than in (Ernie) Terrell when he’s fed up with people saying you’re Cassius Clay. One of the Burns documentaries won two Oscar nominations (for 1981 brooklyn bridge and 1985 Statue of Liberty) and have won multiple Emmy Awards, among other accolades of great fights. He just towers over and he just says “What’s my name? What’s my name?” We just ask him to be respected as a man. “
This Monday marks the 25th anniversary of the lighting of the Olympic flame of Muhammad Ali in Atlanta. Burns is teaming up with ESPN’s “The Undefeated” program to host an hour-long talk series with special guests. Monday’s panel is titled “Ali on the World Stage”. You can go to pbs.org for more information on these
discussions or join the conversation on social media at #MuhammadAliPBS.
Some of Burns’ other documentaries include The War (2007), National parks: America’s best idea (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Roosevelts (2014), Vietnam War (2017), and Country music (2019).
Ken Burns lost his mother to breast cancer before he was 12, but says she and others helped shape his love of reading and history.
“I was so lucky, I had so many mentors and teachers, starting with mom and dad. My mom was sick for almost a decade. She was incredibly brave and lived a lot. longer than the doctors predicted, but it was a devastating childhood for my younger brother Rick and I. My dad didn’t do very well afterwards either, but I had my love cinema of him who cried once in front of a movie that he let me watch and watch. I had a teacher who reminded me that there is as much drama in what is and what was as all that human imagination. So this idea of being a filmmaker wasn’t necessarily Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford or Steven Spielberg, I could be a documentary. I’ve always had this love of history and reading, untrained. I didn’t take a history class, except when they put you through. The last history class I took in college was the history of Russia, so go figure.
The great jazzman Wynton Marsalis called Burns “a master of timing and knowing the sweet spot of a story, how to ask questions to achieve basic human sentiment and to clear the true spirit of a given subject. “.
Burns says his appreciation for jazz continues to grow, especially since his extremely well-received documentary Jazz in 2001.
“I’m a kid of R & B and Rock and Roll and that’s what I’m right and I love it all, but suddenly I was introduced primarily by Wynton and my writer and contributor to Long time Jeffrey Ward at this American art form it’s recognized around the world and it’s rearranged all my molecules. I listen to it all the time. It’s a medium of sorts. It has a kind of dimension. and a food that I love. “
The video version of the SportsJam Ken Burns’ interview can be seen at https://fb.watch/6Pb8GBbooz/