Benjamin Franklin circa 1750s / NYPL

I watched part one of Ken Burns’s “Benjamin Franklin” last night and thought it was quite good. I don’t know if it is just my interpretation, but it seems that over the past several years there has been a greater seriousness and sense of urgency in Burns’s work. Absent now are the Lost Cause tinges one saw in “The Civil War” and such dramatic touches as the violins of “Ashokan Farewell.” I’m not sure if that is because Burns has matured as a filmmaker or due to our current historical moment, but either way I find it striking. I’m glad Burns made the film now, at a time when I know more about the period than I did even five years ago. I know he and his team are working on a larger project about the Revolutionary War slated for release in 2026 for the 250th anniversary.

Artistically the black-and-white engravings in the film are striking. Though I don’t know for sure, I assume the engravings were made specifically for the film. I loved that in addition to younger scholars he interviewed Gordon Wood and the late Bernard Bailyn. We have so much still to learn from the work these giants have done. I certainly do. The film does a good job of placing the colonies in an international context within the Atlantic World. Part one ends in 1774 and hints at the trouble to come between Benjamin and son William, the governor of the New Jersey colony and a Loyalist. We see hints that the American Revolutionary War was very much a civil war, and I think part two tonight will go into that.

Later this month some friends and I are going to Philadelphia on a day trip already planned several weeks ago. We booked our tickets for certain venues in advance figuring that the release of “Benjamin Franklin” would attract larger crowds, which would be good. I haven’t been to Philadelphia in a good 3-4 years–a summer or two before the pandemic–and am psyched to return.