Since debuting The Civil War on PBS in 1990, the Ken Burns style of documentary filmmaking has become very familiar to viewers—even if they don't know that's what it's called. Burns has been panning over archival photographs, enlisting celebrities to recite famous quotes of the day, and playing tinkly piano music under historical narration for over 25 movies and counting now. But while his dense, absorbing works have set the standard, not many people would describe them as cutting edge.
Burns is working to change that. Yesterday he launched his very own iPad app. Simply called "Ken Burns," the app breaks down his 136 hours’ worth of footage into short clips, groups them chronologically, then lets viewers sift through the entirety of American history year by year, in a way that allows them to see how different parts of Burns' films "speak to" each other. Click on the year 1933, for example, and you can select a clip about FDR's fireside chats from Empire Of The Air, check out a bit about the effect of the Depression on professional baseball from his film Baseball, and so on.
Burns is currently working on new documentaries about the Vietnam War, the Gettysburg Address, and the Roosevelt family. Clips from his new films will be added to the app as they are completed. And i Burns keeps producing films at the rate he's going, the app should achieve total dominion over American history in short order.
The Ken Burns app can be downloaded for free here, although it costs $9.00 to unlock all of the content. Watch a trailer for it below.