Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, aka that guy who makes movies by zooming in on daguerreotypes with jangly bluegrass music playing in the background, is ready to debut the sequel (that's totally not a sequel, nope, because Ken Burns doesn't do sequels) to his 18-hour opus from 1994 Baseball. Later this month on PBS, the four-hour Baseball: The Tenth Inning will play over two nights and will cover the national pastime from 1994 until present day.
But we know for a fact that three massive sea changes have happened in the sixteen short years since Burns debuted Baseball. First, baseball players went on strike over labor issues. Second, baseball players hit a lot of home runs and did a lot of steroids (despite a lack of proof that those two things are connected, at all). Third, baseball players who are employed by a franchise based in Boston finally had success. Twice.
The opportunity for a documentary filmmaker to inject his or her personal opinions and views into their work is enormous; the best ones end up making a statement from a seemingly neutral ground and let the viewer make choices about what he or she has just seen. The worst ones come off seeming like bloated, opinionated goons. The potential to let his biases affect this new chapter in baseball's history probably made Ken Burns think twice about how he would present the movie. After all, Burns is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and we know how insufferable they can be.
But I can't blame Burns for including a little Red Sox victory lap in his film. The part of this sequel (that is not a sequel because Ken Burns totally doesn't do sequels, he's serious) that frightens me is the STEROIDS SEGMENT. In interviews about the film Burns correctly calls it a scandal, which anyone agrees is true no matter what side of the argument they fall.
When asked by USA Today's Stephen Borelli about how he handled Mark McGwire's and Sammy Sosa's magical "Summer of 1998" given the recent revelations about steroid usage, and if that season played a part in the game's resurgence among the American public, Burns said:
"Very much so. It's hard to take back your enthusiasm. You know, and that was what presented the challenge for us as filmmakers: Do we want to do this from the perspective of McGwire's desultory testimony in Congress or his now recent belated admissions or for Sosa's outrageous, unacceptable silence on this? No, you do it from the way you felt."
Right on, movie-making guy. "You do it from the way you felt." And while both fans and the media knew for a fact that some unsavory characters were trying to improve their lot in life with pills, we felt like giddy teenagers. At a Television Critics Association panel, Burns said this:
"If you do it from the convenient perspective of hindsight, then it has no meaning. How do you recapture some of that joy and, at the same time, be mindful that you're setting the traps for a tragedy of which we are all un-indicted co-conspirators?"
Ken Burns, pointing fingers at all of us. This should be a damn good documentary. Let's just hope he doesn't include that insufferable George Will again.