Ken Burns, the premiere documentarian of Americana, tackles the life of Mark Twain, the first writer with a uniquely American voice. In this installment in Burns' "American Lives" series, the two 2-hour episodes explore a side of Twain that is unfamiliar to many. Widely regarded as the funniest person of the 19th century, Twain suffered through severe personal tragedies and lack of business sense that brought him to the brink of financial ruin on several occasions. Includes interviews with writers William Styron and Arthur Miller and actor Hal Holbrook (who has portrayed Twain in a one-man play each year for over 50 years). Written by
The life of Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, is a totally fascinating and moving story. He hated and spoke out against slavery and was a supporter of full adult suffrage. He was the first American to write in the vernacular and to write a sympathetic and well-developed portrait of a black person: Jim in Huckleberry Finn. He sponsored a struggling black man through law school, who later became the mentor of Thurgood Marshall, who was the first black American Supreme Court justice. Clemens struggled with depression; he was a man of constant sorrow; humour was what kept him from killing himself. He was born into modest circumstances, became wealthy and even became obsessive about it, to the point that it interfered with his writing. His dabbling in investments was a complete disaster; it ruined him financially. He moved in the circle of the elite but was a powerful and outspoken opponent of all that was wrong with society. Since he included himself in that group of wrongdoers, he was accepted by them as a sort of group conscience.
As usual, Ken Burns has made another great documentary. The pace is moderate, the narration is excellent and often very moving, the talking heads are brief and concise and the mood is sincere. After two viewings, it is still on my list of films to see.
The story is amazing! Samuel Clemens was the epitome of "The American Dream": rising from poverty and a wild lifestyle to great wealth and respect; forging a marriage, based on strong and abiding love; loving his family above all else; gambling on investments and the subsequent financial ruin; recovering by hard work (although legally bankrupt, he still paid off all of his debts); bouncing back after each one of more tragedies than any man could expect and, most of all, honesty, integrity, charity and the deepest understanding of what is means to be human. In all this, he was unique in the world. He was a great and inspiring man.
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