Tuned In

Ken Burns, the Interview: Episode 5–The Past, the Future, and Vietnam

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The last in the series. I’m not sure whether this qualifies as a scoop or not, but I don’t believe I’ve seen Burns say that he plans to make a Vietnam documentary elsewhere (not that I’ve scoured all the clips):

What kind of distance in time do you need from an event to feel comfortable making a documentary about it?

KB: I think what we’re engaged in is a kind of temporal triangulation. You need to be 25 or 30 years from an event to make any kind of Judgment. Just look at Vietnam. The example I always use is that if you waited ten years and made a film in 1985, it would have been, America is in a recession, this was our only defeat, the symbol of our decline, Japan was ascendant. In 1995, we’d just won the Gulf War one hand tied behind our back, international coalition, greatest peacetime expansion, Japan is in recession and stagnation. There’s another film. In 2005, we’re in the lee of 9/11, we’re involved in a war in Iraq, people are making parallels to Vietnam. You need to average out these perspectives.

LN: And yet no matter what you do, you’ll always reflect the world you’re in. It’s not to say that there’s any one pure truth that you’ll arrive at if you wait long enough.

KB: When we made Jazz, we were severely criticized. It was one of the few films based on Jazz that come up to the present. We were severly criticized for taking a kind of impressionistic look at the last 30 years. And we just said we don’t have the perspective to say that this person is as great as Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker.

So are you going to do Vietnam?

KB: Yes. Not today, but–there was a point where, with the same vehemence of conviction that I said it after The Civil War, I’d said that we’d never do another war. I felt just within the last few months that we absolutely had to do it. I think we have to wait enough time, several years, until the veterans are, not so much at the onset of death, but at the age where their advancing age will provide them with the kind of perspectives that we’ve been able to tap into for this film.