Throughout Ken Burns' long career as a documentarian and a PBS pledge-drive favorite, he and his team of collaborators have generally worked in two modes. Sometimes they go big, taking on huge topics like jazz, baseball, country music, national parks, and wars. And sometimes they go small, crafting detailed portraits of major cultural figures like Ernest Hemingway, Jackie Robinson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Roosevelts. In either case, Burns' team uses their subjects as a way to explore the best and worst of American history: the larger-than-life celebrities, the racial and class strife, and the ways some brilliant men and women have used the ideals of liberty to inspire others. Advertisement In Ken Burns' four-part Muhammad Ali —co-directed with his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon—the documentarian and his crew have a subject almost too perfect. Born in Louisville, the heavyweight boxing champion once known as Cassius Clay had a rich life: winning an Olympic gold medal, challenging a bigoted establishment, offering aid and support to the needy around the world, and entertaining millions with both his athleticism and his outsized, publicity-generating personality. It's impossible to make a documentary about Ali without running smack into many of Burns'… Read full this story
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