Ken Burns Discusses the “Ken Burns Effect”

On the road to school this morning, I listened to Ken Burns on WYPR’s “Maryland Morning” show. Host Sheilah Kast asked him about the “Ken Burns effect,” which she claimed to have only recently discovered while researching the segment. You can listen to his response here. In addition to putting the technique in perspective, it also answers a question I’ve had for a long time: How did Apple get away with naming a screen saver setting after a living filmmaker?

I’ve never been a big fan of the overall tone or scholarship in Burns’s work (though listening to him talk about it this morning made me want to give some of his films another look), but I can remember watching something as a teenager, on a tiny TV in my mom’s basement, enthralled by those panning, zooming stills, frozen instants brought to life by camera movement, narration, and sound. Many nights since then, lying in bed while my computer runs an overnight render, I’ve thought about making a movie with my screensaver.

When I first encountered Chris Marker’s La Jetée, it didn’t strike me as odd, it just made perfect sense; in fact, I wondered why there weren’t more movies like it. I think, in retrospect, that Ken Burns had gotten me ready.

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