Friday, December 04, 2009

This is my problem. I actually enjoy the variety offered by my job. It almost compensates for the downsides. Here are two pieces from this week:

Behind Ken Burns’ new documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is a message.

Burns said in a press conference before his speech at the Springfield Public Forums on Dec. 1 that he wants families “to understand this valuable sense of ownership of the parks and that they would act with their feet and take their families there and do what so many of us who have visited the parks have, [gathered] not just memories of spectacular places, but memories of spectacular places experienced with the people closest to us.”

Burns is perhaps the most honored documentary filmmaker in cinema history. His famed production of “The Civil War” was honored with more than 40 major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a Producer of the Year Award from the Producer’s Guild, a People’s Choice Award, a Peabody Award, a duPont-Columbia Award, a D.W. Griffith Award and the $50,000 Lincoln Prize, among dozens of others.

Burns, a 1975 graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, received an Academy Award nomination for his 1981 film “The Brooklyn Bridge.”

The new documentary series aired on PBS explores the history of how the parks came to be and is more than just a travelogue or tips on how to visit the parks, Burns later said.

He admitted that picking a favorite park is difficult as they are “so beautiful, they’re like your children – you can’t chose one.”
He told the near capacity audience at Symphony Hall that filming the sequence on Yosemite Park awakened a long-forgotten memory of his father taking him, at age six, to visit Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Burns stressed the unique place in history the American system of national parks have. “For the first time in human history large tracts of land were set aside not for kings or noblemen or the very rich but for everyone,” he said.

“It’s an utterly democratic idea,” he added.

The parks are facing many threats, Burns said, from budgetary problems, including an estimated $8 billion in deferred maintenance. Climate change is also a real concern, especially at Glacier National Park in Montana where the glaciers are disappearing “at a terrifying rate.”

Apathy is the biggest threat to the park system according to Burns, who while he was in production on the series, met many people who assumed the parks had always been part of the country and would always be part of the country. The parks system was formalized in 1916 by legislation signed by President Woodrow Wilson that created the National Parks Service with the charge to maintain and protect the then 40 national parks and monuments.

Burns said that in all of his films he addresses the division between Americans but seeks to “figure out a way to speak to all sides.”

Burns has not been tempted to follow in fellow documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s footsteps by producing a movie with a readily apparent point of view.

“I wish to engage everybody,” he said.

While he readily admitted to having points of view that are easy to see in his own films, he said of Moore’s documentaries, “I don’t believe his films make any converts.”

While he said that Moore was talented and funny, he couldn’t share Moore’s approach.

“I just think it’s important to me to speak to as many people as possible,” he explained.

There has been a proliferation of documentary filmmakers, and Burns did acknowledge the success of his production of “The Civil War” “had a kind of dramatic sea change coming as it did at the real explosion of cable [television].”

“All of a sudden there were all of these channels and what you needed to fill them with wasn’t expensive drama but so-called reality,” he continued.

Burns was quick to add with a laugh that shows featuring people choosing their mate or eating bugs wasn’t “reality” to him.

The digital revolution in film making technology has also contributed to the increase in documentaries, but Burns noted, “you can put a camera in everyone’s hands, but that doesn’t make them a filmmaker.”

“You have to figure out how to tell a story,” he added.

Burns is currently working on six projects all in various stages of production. His new films will include a sequel to his popular “Baseball” series, “The 10th Inning;” a production covering the 1989 Central Park jogger rape and attempted murder case; a biography on Theodore Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin Roosevelt; and a history of the Vietnam War.

And here's the other:

SPRINGFIELD – Ox Baker spent his adult life as a wrestler audiences loved to hate, but there was a fair amount of respect, if not affection when Baker made an appearance at the recent Big Time Wrestling Show in Chicopee.

Selling autographed pictures and copies of his cookbook, Baker was certainly friendly with fans. That might be temporary, though, as the old Ox Baker – the man who used to wear a T-shirt that read, “I like to hurt people.” – may be back.

Baker will be making a special appearance as the manager of Bruiser Costa in a mixed-gender tag team match that will be the main event for “Old School Professional Wrestling.” The show will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Knights of Columbus, 2071 Page Blvd.

Promoter Richard Blake is a local and longtime wrestling fan who remembers the sport before the advent of national television shows and the World Wrestling Entertainment.

“We do the real stuff,” Blake told Reminder Publications. “We’re not a soap opera.”

Blake said his shows are family oriented. “You’re not embarrassed to bring your kids,” he added. “We do it the way when you used to sit on your dad’s lap and watch TV.”

Blake started thinking about running his own wrestling promotion in 2006 and 2007 when he scouted the area for potential talent. He said he knew then he wanted to get rid of “all of the soap opera, glitz and sex.”

His show on Dec. 12 will feature seven matches and an appearance by former WWE star Antonio Thomas.

His first show was in 2008 and he’s happy with the reception from the fans. He believes each show is getting better, while still remaining “old school.”

Blake added there is no one more old school than Baker, who wrestled around the country before the start of national broadcasts and was known to be ruthless in the ring.

His infamy gave him the opening to appear in two movies, “The Big Brawl” with Jackie Chan and “Escape from New York” with Kurt Russell. On the DVD commentary for “Escape to New York,” Russell revealed that Baker didn’t hold his punches much during a climactic fight between the two men.

Baker confirmed that he was a “little mad” about being paired up with a “punk kid” in his first movie and took some of his frustration out on the star.

Although in his seventies, Baker still cuts an opposing figure at six feet five inches in height. Seeing this reporter’s microphone, he launched into a rant about how he was bringing a “secret weapon” to the match to assure Costa’s victory.

“Are you going to be there?” he asked this reporter while putting him in a modified headlock. I assured him I would be.

“You better not be lying to these people,” Baker replied. I said I wouldn’t.

Tickets will be available at the door. For more information, log on to

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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