It took me a while, but I finally got through Ken Burns’ documentary series Country Music, the latest film in his opus of films on American history, and one I had been anticipating for a while. And as I thought about it, it seemed to me that Ken Burns would make a pretty good ratings theme for Tottenham Hotspur players. Even after a dumb loss to Manchester United.
So here’s the thing: there really aren’t any bad Ken Burns documentaries. They’re all exceptionally well made and detailed looks at American history and culture. There are, however, some that have some minor issues, and a few that are maybe a bit, well, niche in their subject matter (though this is obviously subjective).
So yes, we’re rating Ken Burns documentaries at 2 and 1 stars here, but keep this context in mind. The bar, at least for the theme, has been substantially raised — at least for the films, there’s the very good and the maybe slightly not quite as very good. Wish I could say the same for the players.
Here are my player ratings for Tottenham’s 2-1 loss at Manchester United, to the theme of Ken Burns documentaries.
5 stars: The War (2007) / The Vietnam War (2017)
Ken Burns is at his best when he is able to do a deep dive into a vastly big topic and make it granular enough for everyone to understand it. He does this the most succinctly in his two documentaries about wartime — The War (WWII) and The Vietnam War. Both are outstanding looks at years-long conflicts, the factors that went into them, the key players throughout the conflicts, and the societal impacts behind everything. Much is obscured in times of war, and Burns shines a spotlight on both the good and the very ugly. Both of these docs are must-watch.
Nobody played this well.
4 stars: Prohibition (2011)
This is a very good example of Burns taking an interesting (if slightly less expansive) period of American history (the Roaring ‘20s and the abolition of alcohol) and putting together a concise in-depth look at the historical facts and context. It’s only three parts, which is enough time to go pretty deep into it, but not so long that it feels like it drags. Bootleggers, gangsters, flappers and corrupt politicians — it’s Boardwalk Empire, except all of this actually happened.
Dele (Community — 7.7): Tottenham’s offense was pretty anemic and Dele didn’t do a huge amount over that one thing. But oh, that one thing! His goal came out of nowhere and was sublime. It wasn’t quite at the Crystal Palace double-touch volley level, but it was close.
Toby Alderweireld (Community — 5.8 ): We’re all still frustrated by the result, but the defense was actually pretty good and Toby was a big reason why Spurs only conceded 0.7 xG against a solid United attack. He was calm and composed, and kept United from getting a number of shots off. Spurs had a lot of problems, but the defense (mostly) wasn’t one of them.
3.5 stars: Baseball (1994)
If Burns wasn’t a big name before this documentary, Baseball put him on the map with his deep dive into America’s national pastime. Sports fans revere it, and it’s very good at what it does... but at nine parts, not including the expanded “The Tenth Inning” doc from 2010 that continued the story another four hours, it’s just too damn long.
Jan Vertonghen (Community — 5.5): Under Mourinho at LB, Jan is tasked less with getting forward and more keeping United’s right sided attackers contained, and he did that, functionally serving as a third center back. And he was pretty good! Had a nice cross into the box for Dele’s goal, too.
Davinson Sanchez (Community — 4.9): Davi earned a fair amount of ire in this match, but he was basically hung out to dry on many occasions by Serge Aurier and Harry Winks. Maybe could’ve done better on Rashford’s first goal, but otherwise was pretty solid defensively; Spurs’ defense collectively held United’s xG in check and Davi was a part of that.
3 stars: Country Music (2019)
Perhaps more than any other documentary in his opus, Country Music is the one that is most germane to my interests as a bluegrass and folk music enthusiast. It is, again, well done but my quibble with it is that it ends (SPOILER) with the death of Johnny Cash and doesn’t even begin to touch on the modern versions of the genre, including alt-country and newgrass. Cash’s passing puts a nice bow on the series, but stopping at 2005 isn’t good enough, imo.
Paulo Gazzaniga (Community — 5.3): Gazinga had a mixed game — a couple of nice (if somewhat overvalued by fans at the time) save and one HUGE howler that might have cost Spurs a result. The two sort of cancel themselves out in my mind.
Son Heung-Min (Community — 5.8): Was Spurs’ primary outlet going forward, which isn’t saying much all things considered. Had a couple of opportunities but wasn’t clinical with the few chances he had and could’ve set up his teammates a bit better. Still, he was probably Spurs’ joint-best offensive player along with Dele.
Tanguy Ndombele (Community — 5.4): Made the midfield more progressive and a little dangerous, but by the time he came in the damage was mostly done already. Had a decent shot on target. Hard not to think the outcome might have been different if he had started or come in earlier.
2.5 stars: The Civil War
The Civil War is a very well-made documentary on an important period of American history that unfortunately relies way, WAY too much on historian Shelby Foote and his ahistorical and racist Lost Cause of the Confederacy theories, at the expense of other period historians. As one of the masthead said in the discussion of the topic, “2.5 stars (and bars).”
Lucas Moura (Community — 4.7): Pretty ineffectual match on the right side of midfield, which is a little surprising after his match against Bournemouth, but maybe not considering United probably have the 2nd best defense in the league. Not helped by the central midfield who barely got him the ball.
Christian Eriksen (Community — 5.0): Came in as a second half sub for Lucas, but really didn’t have much impact on the match either.
Jose Mourinho (Community — 4.5): I get that he needs to experiment a bit to find out what his new players can do, but he could’ve asked literally any Spurs fan which midfield pairing to avoid and they would’ve told him immediately “Winks-Sissoko.”
2 stars: Jazz (2001)
I know people who love this documentary. But the thing about documentaries on musical and cultural arts is that you have to try and make it relevant to the modern people watching. Jazz is an enormously influential art form, but in its pure state is also a dying one. Jazz may have all the facts right, but it doesn’t have the cultural impact to modern viewers that I wish it had. The music is timeless, though, and mostly still slaps, even as fewer and fewer modern musicians are playing it.
Harry Winks (Community — 3.9): Started the match by running the width of the field to put in in a late red-card worthy challenge on Daniel James, and somehow that wasn’t even the worst part of his game. Just an awful performance — out of position, jogging back on defense, poor passing. Never play him with Sissoko again.
Moussa Sissoko (Community — 4.0): UGH. Spent so much time trying to save Aurier’s ass on the right flank that he vacated midfield entirely, leaving space for Fred and McTominay to waltz through time and time again. Had a vintage “Sissoko moment” where he killed a promising counterattack by passing a ball straight to a United defender. Oh, also gave up a stupid penalty. It was real bad.
Serge Aurier (Community — 4.2): We got our “bad Serge” back in this match. Ineffectual going forward and porous defensively. Left the defense (and Sissoko) hanging out to dry on numerous occasions. I hate that he’s our only real option at right back at the moment. The only remotely good thing I can say is that his first half shot is what led to Dele’s goal.
Harry Kane (Community — 4.7): Was he even playing? It certainly wasn’t at striker.
1 star: Huey Long (1988)
I actually remember watching this documentary as a junior high student in social studies class. My recollections on it are a bit hazy but I recall thinking it was a well made film on a terrible human being. Do we really need a documentary on Huey Long? No Ken Burns documentaries are awful, but seriously, f—k Huey Long.
No Tottenham Hotspur players were as bad as Huey Long, thank goodness.
Tom Carroll Memorial Non-Rating
Giovani Lo Celso