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New York's Power Siblings

Holiday Greetings: Ric and Ken Burns in an early collaboration  

Ken & Ric Burns

Ric, 47, on Ken, 49: Ken likes to say that I'm more intellectual than he is, which is a subtle put-down on his part. I have a natural inclination for things that are darker. Our family background was garden-variety "very miserable." Our mother got cancer when we were little boys. Our father, who died last year, was subtly, but grievously, mentally ill his entire life. I think Ken has a more "We shall overcome" attitude. I have a more "Gee, it was fucked" attitude. Just when I'm sure that he's irretrievably a horrifying son of a bitch, he'll do some act of amazing generosity. He said to me a year ago, "Why don't we just not bug each other anymore? There's room enough in the world -- there's room enough in this family -- for two documentary filmmakers." I didn't know that was something my older brother was capable of saying. And like a little puppy dog, I was like "Ooooh," about to burst into tears.

Ken on Ric: Of all the imitators of my style, no one has done it better than Ric. Our films do look a lot alike. But he really has done something with it in his own way. That's a terrific thing. We've gone in cycles and rhythms, from times where we were so intensely close that we've needed to talk to each other three times a day to times in which competition and suspicion replaced that need. People observing it from the outside have seen it from its tabloid, sensational aspect: BROTHER VERSUS BROTHER. We just look at it and shrug, because it seems so superficially considered. The love of my two kids is the greatest thing I know. But the love of my brother is next.

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