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Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 16 Jan 2002 16:25:43 -0600
text/plain (125 lines)
I wanted to like it, but couldn't --very much. I was happy to see him avoid
the further Disnefication of Twain's image. That's a big Plus. I was also
happy to see them give attention to A TRUE STORY, a piece often ignored, and
yet very important. That said, my quibbles:

Photos of Twain often did not match the date of the accompanying narrative.
Sometimes this matters; sometime not. I could tell the difference, but what
about non-Twainians ("the great unTwained" sounds too Joycean).

Overuse of "stock" or "mood" photos that may or may not have anything to do
with the narration, but it's never made clear. Were the images of the
hospital, the actual hospital where Henry died? Were they even Memphis? Or
Massachusetts? Did Twain ever actually set foot on any of the steamboats
pictured? If so, which ones? Examples abound.

Underuse or poor use of manuscripts and artifacts and relics that would have
helped make the narration come alive. Panning across a still photo of the
street scene of some unidentified 19th century city is no substitute.

In the discussion of American Claimant, they talked about Twain writing
left-handed but never mentioned that he tried to dictate the novel on
cylinders. And I've heard that left-handed claim before; where is the
documentation for this? Just curious...

Way too much Russell Banks. Way too little Ham Hill and a host of others.

Dick Gregory perpetuating the "Nigger Jim" notion. This is not a minor
quibble. Using the word as an adjective is quite different from making it
part of someone's name.

Important people in Twain's life, good and bad, were ignored and hardly
mentioned: Twichell, Paine, Ashcroft, Lyon (briefly), Phunny Phellows, etc.

That annoying banjo music --and my father plays banjo-- so I like most banjo
music, but it was like an ominous fugue in the background threatening to
break out into a Disney skit at any moment. The definition of a gentleman is
"one who knows how to play the accordian and chooses not to do so." This
should apply to banjo music in documentaries.

Given all the banjo and ragtime piano, I was surprised they never played
Twain's favorite piano piece, and I don't mean slave spirituals. I mean a
certain classical piece that I play myself. If anyone can guess what that
piece is you will get a prize.*

Little or nothing on the evolution of Twain's image and public persona after
his death.

All of this makes me want to revise my levels of trust for Ken Burn's
previous documentaries: civil war, baseball, jazz, et al.

Gee-whiz, I don't mean to sound so negative about it, but all in all, it was
a disappointment, and easily forgotten.

*the grand self-satisfaction of knowing.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730
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----- Original Message -----
From: "Jacquie Britton" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2002 2:30 PM

> I just finished watching the Ken Burns "Mark Twain" on PBS tonight.  I
> watched it with a group of people some of them students, and others were
> not.  All of us knew who he was but unfortunately, I was the only one who
> somewhat obsessed with his life and writings.  I am a history major at
> and a senior in class status as well as age.
> Some of my friends commented they learned things about his life they
> known before and all enjoyed it.  I on the other hand was slightly
> disappointed that instead of being a program in depth, it was a fluff
> that hit on the high points and glanced briefly at those.  His childhood
> which was important in his writings was given less then fifteen minutes.
> They mentioned important things about his parents, but yet so little.  His
> life in the Mother Lode was gleaned over almost as if it wasn't important
> except for the "Jumping Frog of Calavaras County."  They did not mention
> fact that he lived a while with Bret Hart and both almost starved to death
> while they panned for gold AND writing.  The rest of his life was also
> fluffed over.
> I think of the rest of the programs Ken Burns produced, "The Jazz Age,"
> series on baseball, the west, all of these were given more indepth
> and I for one, expected so much more.  What are other thoughts on this
> program, I am curious...
> Claywoman
> Author of:
> Clouds Are the Creator's Fingerprints
> (Claywoman)
> Herman the Hermit Crab & Friends
> (Jacqueline Anastasia)
> Web Site:
> _________________________________________________________________
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