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Well, in this program, the earth may not move but it's made to shiver. It's a pretty good job. The usual material is covered and nicely integrated into the professional life of Ernest Hemingway.
Born in 1899 in Illinois, he disliked his stern mother and emulated his father, an avid outdoorsman. He began as a reporter then joined the ambulance corps in the First World War, was wounded, fell in love with his nurse, was rejected by her, married a socialite named Hadley and moved to Paris, where they became part of what Gertrude Stein called "the Lost Generation." There were excursions to Spain, They lived a modest happy life.
Hemingway was integrated into the local artistic life, which beat the artistic life of any other city in the 1920s. His acquaintances and friends included James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound. Then a rich home wrecker -- let us call a spade a spade -- named Pauline Pfeiffer insinuated herself into their activities and stole poor dumb Ernest away from Hadley. Out of all four of his wives, Hemingway remained in affectionate contact with Hadley.
In 1923 he and Pauline moved to Key West, where Ernest became a skilled deep sea fisherman and rum smuggler, miles from the nearest art colony. Nineteen thirty-three brought his big game hunting safari in Africa, where he shot and killed thirty-three animals. Back in Key West he became friends with a serious journalist, Martha Gelhorn, and Martha moved in with Ernest and Pauline, who should have known better. Ernest and Martha covered the revolution in Spain. Pauline was out, Martha was in. By this time, Key West was becoming crowded and there was little privacy, so he and Martha moved to a pleasant house in Cuba. In the 1940s he discovered Sun Valley, Idaho, and vacationed there because it offered opportunities to hunt animals. Now a celebrity, he became friends with Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Ingrid Bergman, Spencer Tracy, and Marlene Dietrich. Actually by this time he was more than a celebrity. He was a myth, as a man as well as a writer, and he felt compelled to demonstrate how well the narrative fitted the frame.
World War II found Martha Gellhorn in Europe covering the war, while Ernest remained in Cuba, chiseling the government for gas rations for his boat. Eventually, jealous of Martha, he joined her in Europe. He threatened to kick her ass. He was a terrible braggart and a fine liar. In one of his reports he described the coxswain of the landing craft being lost and he, Ernest, having to tell him where to go. He claimed to be one of the first Allies to enter Paris but, once there, he commandeered the Ritz Bar and drank champagne with his friends. Martha's reporting was far superior to his, and they were divorced.
Nineteen forty-six: Enter Mary Welsh, the last wife, a petite woman who knew her role as "Mrs. Hemingway". Together they drank excessively and had violent arguments, during one of which Ernest took up his shotgun and destroyed the toilet of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. There followed some years of professional difficulty. He worked as hard as ever but was turning out manuscripts he felt weren't ready for publication. And, as happens to all aging people, his friends and relatives began to die out. He took a trip to the Italy of his youth and produced a novel, which he felt was his best work. It got bad reviews. Ernest launched a counter attack and wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" in eight weeks. It's an unusual novel, with hardly a simile in it. He won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
In 1960, the Cuban revolution forced him to leave the country and move to Ketchum, Idaho. Discovering some old notebooks from the 1920s, Ernest patched the material together and published his last work, a memoir called "A Movable Feast." That was about it. Mary was drinking heavily and Ernest's health was deteriorating. He developed a mental illness that, at the time was called paranoid state. There was no way his friends could talk him out of his delusions about being persecuted by the FBI. At the Mayo Clinic he was given a course of electroconvulsive therapy. It didn't help. He shot himself in Ketchum in 1961.
The film is made up of newsreel footage, some rarely seen still photos, and contributions from half a dozen friends and relatives. There is not too much fraudulent pop psychology. Excerpts from his letters and novels are read by Scott Glen, but otherwise the program doesn't dwell on Hemingway's "minimalist" style, which I suspect was heavily influenced by his early experience at newspapers and by his masculine disdain for filigree. It's difficult to know exactly how many of the details are true. The definitive biography is supposed to be Carlos Baker's book. Ernest referred to the author as Carlos Half-Baked. Of course, most of the obvious facts about his life are true, but the details are often described by eye witnesses who contradict each other.
At any rate, the writer is in the pantheon, though he doesn't seem to get the appreciation he deserves, perhaps because he doesn't use big words. His motto was supposed to be "Il faut d'aboard, durer" -- It's necessary, above all, to endure. But this damned IMDb won't accept the correct spelling.
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