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Sun, 22 Jan 2012 22:39:34 +0000
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
"Ballard, Terry" <[log in to unmask]>
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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I looked into this and found information that might illuminate your excellent posting. Go to and you will find considerable information about the Lyons Cottage and the location of Stormfield. Also, this web page shows pictures of the documentary filmmakers setting up shop in her studio, so that takes away any mystery about the location of the interviews. I see that the DVD is available in my public library, so I'll watch it soon. Also, I'll plan on visiting the cottage on my next trip north.

From: Mark Twain Forum [[log in to unmask]] on behalf of [log in to unmask] [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Friday, January 20, 2012 4:24 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Karen Lystra's _Dangerous Intimacy_ on DVD

Hello, all! On a recent visit to our local library, I happened to spot a DVD version of Karen Lystra's _Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years_, a book reviewed for the Forum in 2004 by Barbara Schmi
dt. I borrowed the disk, brought it home, watched it twice, and would like to make a few, informal comments. This is not intended to be a formal review, because: 1) an individual still recovering from a head-cold should not attempt to write anything of real substance, and 2) there are other Forum members vastly more qualified to write with greater depth upon this subject. With those caveats out of the way, let us proceed.

For this DVD adaptation (History Film, Inc., 2011), "the narrative is drawn from [Lystra's book] and is also based on Twain's uncensored autobiography which is being published now, one hundred years after his death, in three volumes by the University of California Press."

The main feature is just under an hour long and consists of sound bites and insights from four contributing scholars: Robert Slotta, Kerry Driscoll, Ellen Dwyer, and of course author Karen Lystra. These interviews are interspersed with photo montages as well as actor portrayals of Mark Twain, his daughters, Isabel Lyon, and Katy Leary in what one might call "living tableaux," in which a voice-over provides the narration for the dramatized scene. Mark Twain is portrayed by an actor with the remarkable and deliciously ironic name of Leer Leary.

Mark Twain's life is quickly summarized by the aforementioned means; but to truncate that literary life into a scant 60 minutes, the producers have had to conflate the chronology. For instance, Mark Twain's Bermuda trips of 1908 and 1909 are presented in such a way that they seem to have been one and the same. Time constraints do little to excuse instances where a photo of a known date is shown during a talk about an unrelated time-period. For example: the familiar view of Mark Twain standing alone on Laurence Hutton's porch, in Onteora, is positioned between 1840s-50s Hannibal and the 1867 _Quaker City_ voyage, and appears on the screen during a description of his experiences at the _Territorial Enterprise_; an image from 1906, at Upton House, Dublin, NH, is used twice to accompany events of April-October 1909 Stormfield; and a photo of wrapped packages arrayed on the first-floor guest-bed at the Hartford House is shown to illustrate Jean Clemens's
 holiday preparations immediately preceding that fateful Christmas Eve morning of 1909 at Redding. The photo appears to be a black-and-white rendering of the Mahogany Room's Virtual Tour image currently viewable on the Hartford House's website.

The disk is not without material to commend it. One of the two Bonus Features, a 12-minute, modern interview with Joyce Aaron, is stated to have been filmed in the gardens of the "Lobster Pot," the home on the Stormfield grounds that Mark Twain had given to Isabel Lyon and is today an artist's studio. (The other Bonus Feature, about four minutes' worth of silent slide-show images, was a bit of a disappointment since many of them had appeared in the documentary.) Joyce Aaron was acquainted with Isabel Lyon, in Greenwich Village, shortly before Lyon's death in 1958. The interviewee does not provide any significant revelations, but I was intrigued to know she was speaking from that setting. Another bittersweet, video moment, for me, came toward the end of the main feature: film excerpts from the 1950s, from the Bahia Motor Hotel, in San Diego, of Clara Clemens with her second husband, Jacques Samossoud. Another startling moment, for this viewer, was to see,
 particularly in the "Christmas 1909" chapter of the documentary but hinted elsewhere, what one infers was footage captured specifically for this documentary, in and around the modern Stormfield. Whether any filming for the DVD was done there is not overtly stated. For those of us (apart from Kevin Mac Donnell) unlikely ever to have the opportunity to see it for ourselves--today a private home, rebuilt after a devastating 1923 fire--these glimpses provide a poignant thrill.

However, the absolute highlight of this DVD, each time I have watched it--am now up to four viewings, for reasons soon to be apparent--was some unintended comic-relief: the sudden and undoubtedly accidental appearance of a "photo" from Mark Twain's 70th Birthday celebration at Delmonico's, depicting Mark Twain seated in the company of none other than (*drumroll*): Kevin Bochynski, Bill Erwin, Robert Hirst, and Kent and Kathy Rasmussen! The purported 70th Birthday photo, though obviously altered, is presented with all possible seriousness. The continued production and availability of these disks, with the error intact, will ensure the sale of many more of these DVDs than would otherwise be the case. I am thinking of buying a dozen of 'em. You should, too.

Best regards,

M. L. Christmas