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Thomas Jefferson: A View from the Mountain (1995)


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26 May 1995 (USA)  »

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Nice pictures, but shallow analysis & plenty of gloss
29 May 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A picture is worth...-goes the old saying, and the footage assembled in this documentary is nice and does much to illuminate Jefferson, his times, his contemporaries, his places, etc.

However, this being a documentary, it suffers from two common flaws:

-First, it is shallow, for how can you cram a life, let alone Jefferson's into two hours?

-Second, it is assembled by people who admire the subject, and who are want to gloss over the uglier side, ie,bias.

On the first point - and admittedly it is a bit unfair to expect depth from a documentary - I will confine myself to saying that, while this documentary spends perhaps thirty seconds on Jefferson's role as Secretary of State in Washington's cabinet, it devotes perhaps five to ten minutes on his alleged relationship with Sally Hemmings. Which is more important, the man's sex life (and granted it does reveal something of his character), or the ferocious battles waged in the first cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton, which led to the rise of parties and the transference of the national capital from New York to the banks of the Potomoc (not even mentioned)?

On the second point, and elaborating on the first, no mention was made of Jefferson's rivalry with Hamilton, and their respective visions for the US: "agrarian republic" vs industrial-urban republic. Nor does this documentary mention Jefferson's often sentimental radicalism: his giddiness at the French revolution and eagerness to pull the US into that conflict. How this miscalculation eventually discredited him in Washington's cabinet. And how he resigned after being repeatedly outfoxed by Hamilton.

What pretense to painting a balanced portrait can a biographical piece possibly have without letting the subject's enemies speak for themselves?

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