Ken Burns

Aren't the Supremes ready for their close-up?

Aren't the Supremes ready for their close-up?

Unless you waited in line for five days to get one of the coveted audience seats at the Supreme Court, you probably experienced this week's oral arguments on same-sex marriage as something of a Ken Burns film.

Websites and TV broadcasters played audio of the proceedings as cameras panned over drawings made by courtroom artists. The only thing missing was some kind of soundtrack, maybe a dulcimer plucking folkishly, for it to be worthy of a PBS pledge drive.

But if this treatment is evocative — or necessary, when a documentarian like Burns is working with a long-ago historical event such as, say, the Civil War or the early days of baseball — it seems downright archaic for...