The Cincinnati Enquirer from Cincinnati, Ohio on October 20, 1991 · Page 397
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The Cincinnati Enquirer from Cincinnati, Ohio · Page 397

Cincinnati, Ohio
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 20, 1991
Page 397
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Page 397 article text (OCR)

n his briefcase, Ken Burns, maker of the much-watched and still-celebrated PBS documentary The Civil War, carries a baseball. He found it under the stands of the American Legion ballpark in How Bums makes the familiar fresh: One of the most famous moments in baseball history is Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (inset), which won the game for the Boston Red Sox. Bums says it could be brought to life on TV the same way he handled the Gettysburg Address his hometown of Walpole, N.H. It was r n i in n n in The Civil War. "The solution was to take these most clich6d and seemingly familiar words and go right by them. We tell the story of the address. We say Lincoln got up, he spoke 269 words, then sat down. We give a couple of quotes: One person says it's a failure; one person thinks it was a success. We tried to make you think L III r & I 1 I I I I Mgfcju.rfii,,"i i7 mirinr-fAi,'m "riff, r'rZ 1 I 1 I I I I UPlKmuHN you'd missed the jaddress then give it to you when your attention is there.- "If you merely describe Fisk's home run, yes, it will sound familiar. But if you focus on the complexity, get descriptions from a couple of different angles, perhaps structure the film so the anticipation is greater than usual, or perhaps bypass it, so you can come back and get it again all of these, and more, are possibilities for rendering that new." a bit waterlogged, but it had the right look, the golden-brown patina of ancient parchment. Certainly a ball that had met many a bat, many a glove. A ball now destined for other meetings. On a recent Monday, Burns is, as usual, up with the sun. He's bound for Bath, Maine, and a 10 a.m. filming session on his next multiyear project, a $4.2 million documentary on baseball, which he has likened to a "Rosetta stone of the American spirit and soul." In the seat beside him in his big blue Chevy van sits his daughter Sarah, 8. Filming and editing the 11-hour Civil War series kept Burns on the road as much as 300 days a year near the project's end, a grueling schedule that has not lessened appreciably. For The Civil War continues to reverberate. Saturday night, the 38-year-old Bums was in Richmond, Va., the keynote speaker at a black-tie fund-raiser for central Virginia's public TV station. Thursday he spoke in Norfolk, Va.; Tuesday, in Dayton, Ohio. Often the best way to spend time with Sarah and Lilly, 4, is to take one of them along. The van's tape deck plays a collection of baseball songs. The cool morning air has cloaked the roadside fields in mist, which gets Burns thinking about a possible setup shot for the opening of the baseball series, projected to air on public television in 1994. k JUl i- I'm Ken Burns, and this is llU my daughter Sarah. She's my executive producer." Shirley Povich welcomes both Burnses. He was the sports editor of The Washington Post at age 21, covered Walter Bums, left, Johnson's career with jnteVews Shiriey Povich his World Series press- e im box seat for Don Lar- SportSWriters. sen's perfect game and, now in his 80s, still writes for The Post. He's one of scores of "witnesses to history" who Burns hopes will help shape his cinematic portrait of baseball. Burns' real co-producer, Lynn No-vick, and cameraman Buddy Squires are a room away, setting up lights and sound equipment in the dining room. Burns chats but briefly with Povich, fearing that the conversation will turn to baseball and that some gem of an observation or anecdote will emerge off camera, something spontaneous, u u uwwuwuy 0 r .Am perfectly phrased, that invariably sparkles less brilliantly on the second telling. Soon he and Povich are seated nearly toe-to-toe on dining room chairs. Povich wears a blue pin-striped shirt, tie and spit-polished loafers. Burns has on a green polo shirt, jeans and Reeboks. The camera rolls. "Shirley, thank you for having us. What is it about this game of baseball that so attracts us?" A moment later, he pitches again, straight down the middle. Burns is here mainly to sec some of the game's hallowed Hall of Famers Johnson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb through the eyes of someone who had the privilege of seeing them play. But he also is in search of bigger game. "Is it a metaphor for the country, this pageant called baseball?" Burns clearly believes it is. Ask why he is devoting four years of his life to a game, one that in his longhaired youth he deemed uncool and frivolous, and he responds: "Because it tells us who we are, much as the Civil War does. Baseball is a microcosm, in a Blake-ian sense of the universe in a grain of sand, Can the man who made the 'Civil War' documentary hit one out of the park again? As the World Series begins, Burns tells of his 4-year odyssey to chronicle baseball history. J- v: i v SV .'. ,M "'I DY JOHN QROOOMANN 6 USA WEEKEND Oeiabtt 1S-20, 199t Photograph by Kip Brundage

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