Ken Burns Docuseries ‘Muhammad Ali’ Streaming on PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel Sept. 19

Muhammad Ali, a new four-part documentary directed by Ken Burns, will begin streaming on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel Sept. 19.

It will be available in 4K Ultra HD.

The subscription rate for the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is $3.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription.

The new series, which was in development for six years, was also written and co-directed by Sarah Burns and David McMahon, whose previous collaborations with Burns include The Central Park Five (2012), Jackie Robinson (2016) and East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story (2020).

The film follows the life of one of the most consequential men of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated billions with his combination of speed, agility and power in the ring, as well as his charm, wit and outspokenness outside of it. At the height of his fame, Ali challenged Americans’ racial prejudices, religious biases and notions about what roles celebrities and athletes play in our society, and inspired people all over the world with his message of pride and self-affirmation.

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Drawing from archival footage and photographs, contemporary music, and the insights and memories of eyewitnesses — including family and friends, journalists, boxers and historians, among many others — the docuseries is a sweeping portrait of an American icon. The series details the story of the athlete who called himself — and was considered by many to be — “the greatest of all time” and competed in some of the most dramatic and widely viewed sporting events in history, including “The Fight of the Century” and “The Thrilla in Manila,” both against his great rival Joe Frazier, as well as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” in which he defeated George Foreman to regain the heavyweight title that was stripped from him seven years earlier.

Muhammad Ali captures Ali’s principled resistance to the Vietnam War, his steadfast commitment to his Muslim faith, and his complex relationships with Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. While largely celebrated today as an icon of American sport and culture, Ali was not always embraced. At times he was reviled by many in America, especially white Americans and members of the media. Ali faced a firestorm of criticism when he said, “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong” — a stance that would result in five years of legal jeopardy and a three-and-a-half-year banishment from boxing.

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Ali’s story is full of contradictions. Despite his ruthlessness in the ring, he was a symbol of peace and pacifism. Though committed to a faith that expected dignified conduct, he was notoriously unfaithful to his wives. A clever showman with unparalleled genius for promotion, he occasionally allowed partners and friends to take advantage of him. Endlessly trumpeting his own greatness, he anonymously donated much of his fortune.

Muhammad Ali includes interviews with Ali’s daughters Hana Ali and Rasheda Ali, his second wife Khalilah Ali, his third wife Veronica Porche, and his brother and confidant Rahaman Ali. Others appearing in the film include activist and former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sportswriter Howard Bryant, historian Gerald Early, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, friend and business manager Gene Kilroy, boxing promoter Don King, novelist Walter Mosley, long-time friend Abdul Rahman, and New Yorker editor David Remnick, among others.

Other titles coming to the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel in September include American Experience: Citizen Hearst, American Experience: Jimmy Carter, Season 1, American Experience: Reagan, Season 1, American Experience: Supreme Justice: Sandra Day O’Connor, American Masters: Raul Julia: The World’s a Stage, American Masters: Twyla Moves, Discovering Your Warrior Spirit with D.J. Vanas, Frontline: America After 9/11, Frontline: Boeing’s Fatal Flaw, Generation 9/11, Independent Lens: Harvest Season, Lives Well Lived, Nova: Bat Superpowers and Nova: The Cannabis Question.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/8/21;
PBS Distribution;
Documentary;
$99.99 DVD, $129.99 Blu-ray, 11-disc set;
Not rated.
Narrated by John Chancellor, Keith David. Featuring Roger Angell, Mike Barnicle, Robert Creamer, Billy Crystal, Gerald Early, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Jay Gould, Donald Hall, Daniel Okrent, George Plimpton, Studs Terkel, Tom Verducci, George Will, Bob Costas, Buck O’Neil, Vin Scully.

Documentarian Ken Burns’ Baseball is a must-see for any fan of America’s national pastime. Burns’ definitive recounting of the game, presented in nine parts (structured like the innings of a ballgame) running a total of about 19 hours, guides from baseball’s origins in the 19th century, to the formation of the Major Leagues, the important games, the rise of the great players, and even the history of the Negro Leagues.

Through archive footage and interviews with those who influenced the game and were influenced by it, Burns presents the national pastime as a metaphor for America, growing and changing with the times.

Baseball was originally released by PBS in 1994, serving to fill a gap in fans’ yearning for the game when the season was cut short by a players’ strike. As it was originally presented in the 4:3 ratio standard for TV at the time, subsequent home entertainment releases (VHS and a few editions on DVD) have made it available only in standard-definition, until now.

Burns’ 10th inning update in 2010, covering what had transpired in the big leagues since the end of the original documentary, was produced in high-definition, offering a clear contrast in image quality compared with its lower-resolution predecessor. In 2013, Burns remastered his classic The Civil War documentary, but it took another eight years for Baseball to get a similar upgrade.

The original nine episodes have been gloriously remastered in high-definition for the long-awaited Blu-ray release, presented as an 11-disc boxed set of both the original series and the 10th inning.

This is not just a wonderful sports program, rich in memory and detail, but also one of the all-time great documentaries, ranking up there with The Civil War, if not better, at least in terms of entertainment value if not pinpoint accuracy.

In drifting between its narrative setups and the reflections of its interview subjects, the original run of Baseball tends to indulge itself in the folklore of the game, printing the legend, so to speak, while only occasionally taking the time to set the record straight.

It also leaves out some key details, such as realignments and labor stoppages. Each decade gets two hours except for everything before 1900, and after 1970. The 1970s, 1980s and the 19th century get essentially an hour each.

Baseball is the story of the game through its biggest stars, most eccentric personalities, key moments and cultural impacts. In addition to the classic touchstones of the history of the Major Leagues, Baseball famously tracks the history of minorities in baseball, particularly the formation of the Negro Leagues to the integration of the Majors starting with the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson in 1947. This actually serves to make it an interesting companion piece with The Civil War, if not something of a sequel.

For hardcore fans of the game, the documentary’s vivid retelling of baseball’s history and the nostalgia that embodies makes it something akin to comfort food.

There’s just a timeless quality to it that makes Baseball still vibrant despite its age. However, it’s amusing how the narration will make absolute statements about things that had yet to happen when it first aired that have since happened, such as new World Series wins for the Red Sox, Yankees, Giants and Cubs, and various records that have been broken, such as the single-season and all-time home run marks.

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Just from watching the episodes and comparing them with the old standard-def version it’s pretty clear they remastered all the individual elements from the series — interviews, archive footage and photos — and reconstituted the episodes in a widescreen aspect ratio. So, yes, that means recropping a lot of footage, so tops and bottoms of scenes originally presented as square are now gone so it fits the shape of the HD rectangle. This is a minor quibble since the cleaned-up footage looks so good.

The exception, however, comes when the old footage comes from television broadcasts or videotape, which starts to creep in at around the 1960s. Since this footage can’t really be remastered as much as upscaled, it shows off a lot of digital artifacts, and a lot of it looks better on the old standard-def DVDs.

Unlike the Civil War Blu-ray there’s no featurette about the remastering process, but one has to assume it was handled in a similar way to that groundbreaking documentary. PBS earlier presented the remastered version online. Interestingly, the typical PBS pre-show acknowledgements of sponsors still uses the voiceover as if this were being viewed on a PBS station and not on disc.

The only extras in the Blu-ray set are those that carried over from the original home video release of The 10th Inning, which had already been released as a standalone Blu-ray when it first came out. Those extras include interviews with Burns and his collaborator, Lynn Novick, about revisiting Baseball, as well as extra footage shot during production of The 10th Inning but not used in the show.

The original miniseries had some DVD making-of featurettes back when it was released by Warner in 2000, but those never made it to the PBS DVD re-releases in 2010 and they aren’t here either.

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It should be noted that the version of The 10th Inning in the new boxed set aren’t the same discs as the update’s original Blu-ray release. While all the content is the same, the discs have been re-engineered with a new menu, which matches the menu from the Blu-rays of the original series episodes, further giving the whole show more of a unified feel.

While it does a nice job of recapping baseball from the 1990s and early 2000s, The 10th Inning just feels a bit different in tone from the original miniseries because it’s so contemporary. And it’s not just the fact that John Chancellor, the original narrator, died in 1996. They could have replaced him with Civil War narrator David McCullough, who sounds close enough and shares a similar cadence. Instead they went with Keith David, whose own distinct voice makes him a great choice, but it lacks the certain folksiness that Chancellor had that brought so much charm to those first nine innings.

Instead, It feels more like an examination of the foibles of the modern game than exploring it as a reflection of America’s self-image. Most of its focus seems aimed at the resurgence of the Yankees and Red Sox, plus issues related to the strike of 1994, and a lot of time devoted to steroid scandals, framed by the career of Barry Bonds.

In many cases the recaps seem less about reflecting on the cultural significance of the moments and more about providing epilogues for the personal fandoms of many of the filmmakers and interview subjects (most of which, unsurprisingly, are big Yankees and Red Sox fans).

As such, The 10th inning, even 10 years on, doesn’t feel much different than any number of typical ESPN documentaries covering the same topics.

It’s long at four hours to cover the 1990s and 2000s, but leaves a lot of stuff out. And the choice to frame baseball’s recent history through certain narrative threads also causes some odd structural issues that didn’t affect the original series because it’s easier to gloss over certain things that happened when many of the viewers weren’t alive. But most viewers of The 10th Inning have their own memories and opinions about the events depicted, and will have widely varied expectations about what should be covered.

As an example, Angels fans curious about how the show covers the 2002 World Series, the first and only title in the franchise’s history, will likely be disappointed that the 2002 World Series is presented almost exclusively from the point of view of how Bonds was denied a championship; it can barely be bothered to mention any of the Angels players or coaches.

In another segment, despite extensive coverage of the 2001 World Series following 9/11, no mention is made of George W. Bush throwing a perfect strike for the ceremonial first pitch before game three, and how much that contributing to boning up the national psyche following the attacks. The omission, while conspicuous, is perhaps not much of a surprise given Burns’ political proclivities.

But these are ultimately minor quibbles, and obviously, with all that’s happened in the past decade in baseball, from sign-stealing scandals to the COVID season, an 11th inning update from Burns would definitely be welcome.

 

‘Baseball: A Ken Burns Film,’ New ‘Masterpiece: Us’ Among Titles Coming to Disc in June From PBS

Baseball: A Ken Burns Film, Masterpiece: Us and an Agatha Christie triple feature are among the titles coming to disc in June from PBS Distribution.

The acclaimed documentary Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, fully restored in high-definition, is coming on DVD and Blu-ray on 11 discs June 8. It traces the history of the American pastime.

The new Masterpiece: Us, about a couple embarking on a long-planned grand tour of Europe, despite the wife proclaiming she wants to leave the marriage, comes out on DVD on two discs June 29.

The Agatha Christie mystery triple feature is coming June 1 on DVD on two discs, including Agatha and the Truth of Murder, Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar and Agatha and the Midnight Murders.

The Australian thriller TV miniseries Halifax: Retribution is due in a two-disc DVD set June 22.

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Two “American Experience” documentaries are coming in June. The Blinding of Isaac Woodard, due on DVD June 1, explores the effects of an incident in 1946 in which Isaac Woodard, a Black army sergeant on his way home to South Carolina after serving in WWII, was pulled from a bus for arguing with the driver, beaten, and left unconscious and permanently blind by a police chief who was later acquitted by an all-white jury. Also due is American Oz, coming June 8, exploring the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator a classic American narrative.

Two nature films are available in June. Life at the Waterhole, exploring the drama as African wildlife flock to a manmade waterhole rigged with cameras, will be available on DVD June 8. Nature: The Leopard Legacy, following the story of a leopard mother as she raises her cubs, is coming on DVD June 22.

Finally, the science film Human: The World Within, exploring the incredible universe inside each and every one of us, is coming on DVD on two discs June 22.

Remastered ‘Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns’ Coming to PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel March 18

The Emmy Award-winning documentary series Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns is coming to the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel March 18.

The series, coming to the service in time for Major League Baseball’s opening day, is remastered in HD and has also been rejuvenated, as each photograph and clip were meticulously inspected and repaired.

The Emmy Award Winner for Outstanding Informational Series tells the story of how, over the years, baseball has not just been a game, but America’s pastime, continuously echoing social issues and creating unforgettable moments in history. The series sheds light on the icons who of the game and the moments that have forever changed the way fans look at it.

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The subscription rate for PBS Documentaries is $3.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription.

Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ Coming to Disc and Digital Sept. 17

Country Music, a documentary series by director and producer Ken Burns, will bow on DVD, Blu-ray and digital Sept. 17 from PBS Distribution coinciding with its national broadcast on PBS.

In the series, Burns chronicles the history of the uniquely American art form, country music. Starting from its early days in the 1920s and following it through the mid-1990s, Burns takes viewers on a journey chronicling “America’s music” in 16 hours on eight discs.

The series focuses on the personal stories of the characters who created and shaped the genre — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more — as well as the times and places in which they lived. Much like the music itself, the film tells stories of hardships and joys shared by everyday people. Country Music uncovers the roots of the music, including ballads, minstrel music, hymns and the blues and its early years in the 1920s when it was first recorded and called “hillbilly music.” It then shows how the music sprouted many new branches during the 20th century: Western swing and singing cowboys, bluegrass and honky tonk, rockabilly and the “outlaws,” the smooth Nashville Sound and harder-edged Bakersfield Sound, and many others — showing that country music never was just one style but a broad American mixture that became a major cultural force.

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The DVD and Blu-ray include more than three hours of extra bonus footage that will not be airing, including a behind-the-scenes, making-of featurette and additional material gleaned from hours of interviews.

Ken Burns Documentary ‘The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science’ Coming on Digital and Disc Sept. 25 from PBS

The Ken Burns documentary The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science is being released on digital, DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 25 from PBS Distribution.

Executive-produced by Burns, and directed by Burns, Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers, the documentary features interviews with patients, including John McCain and the Dalai Lama, to tell the story of William Worrall Mayo, an English immigrant who began practicing medicine with his sons Will and Charlie in Rochester, Minn.

Mayo laid the foundation for a medical center that now treats over a million patients every year from 50 states and 150 countries. Blending historical narrative with contemporary patient stories, the program also looks at what the Mayo Clinic’s history can teach us about facing the challenges of patient care today.