Burns Hits One Out of the (Nat’l) Park

Lowell and Middlesex Community College had a big night tonight at the Auditorium, where “documentarian” Ken Burns wowed the crowd with his visual and verbal eloquence. I particularly enjoyed the question-and-answer portion of the program in which Burns demonstrated how quick he is on his “intellectual feet,” fielding questions on baseball from Paul Sheehy, the democracy of parks from Michael Creasey, the editorial and financial mechanics of filmmaking from Amy Werner, and several more. He didn’t mention Father’s Day, but his heartfelt remembrance of his father taking him to the Blue Ridge when he was six years old was apt for this week. Kudos to MCC for bringing this extraordinary artist to the city. He’s become an American original through sheer hard creative work and a stubborn commitment to asking what it means to be an American. He said he has in a sense been making the same film over and over, compelled to examine and re-examine both race in the American experience and the way space has shaped the American mind, if such a multifarious people can have a common mind.

His response to Paul Sheehy’s baseball question about the blown call that negated a no-hitter was one of the more memorable moments of the night. Burns came down on the side of human judgement as opposed to machined perfection because baseball evokes the messiness of life with its flaws, failures, and occasional success. Hitting safely three out of ten times gets you to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown more often than not. The prelude to the National Parks series is profound, and anyone from Lowell couldn’t help but feel proud that our city is on that select list of American treasures. I was hoping we’d see a sneak preview of new work. He does have a follow-up to the Baseball series coming in September — “The Tenth Inning,” with a major section on the 2004 Red Sox featured.