This documentary short film from the Great American Authors series depicts events in the life of Samuel L. Clemens, the famed American author best known as Mark Twain. The film also ... See full summary »
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
He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the sixth of seven children, two months premature and so thin and sickly, his mother remembered that "I could see no promise in him." But Halley's Comet blazed in the sky on the night of his birth, and his mother clung to the hope that it would be a bright omen for her baby's future.
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To call him a great American is to limit him. He is a citizen of the world, read in every country, more American than anyone else, yet more critical of his country than most. I will never forget how mother read Tom Sawyer to me in German, in a park in Montevideo, Uruguay, when I was only nine, and how I couldn't stop laughing at the funny way the characters talked. I was convulsed with laughter, one of the first big laughing fits of my life. Alas, as I grew up, I lost interest in fiction. But Twain is more than a writer. He is a character with flaws and all. His taste for luxury is disappointing. To coin an aphorism: How sad that people born in log cabins, don't want to live in them! It is heartbreaking to see Twain sink into debt and his family separated by penury. And one also wonders how much Huckleberry Finn owes to Uncle Tom's Cabin. Why not a big documentary about Harriet Beecher Stowe? Was she less of a writer?
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