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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Duane Campbell <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 24 Jan 2002 23:17:31 -0500
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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On Thu, 24 Jan 2002 20:18:13 -0500 John Bird <[log in to unmask]>
> I for one would like to hear a few more (dozen) reactions to the
> Burns film


I have kept my mouth shut here because (1) I am an enthusiast, not a
scholar, and (2) after watching the Forum the next day I suspected that
my view might not be welcome.

Watching the first night, I was entertained, but I was also very
disturbed at the emphasis on race. Twain wrote about the human condition,
and I found Burn's doting on his racial attitudes showed a very personal
and canted view. I felt he was not out so much to show MT to the world as
to use MT as a platform for his own agenda.

After having watched the buzz on the Forum leading up to the broadcast, I
couldn't wait to log on the next morning to see the reaction. And that
reaction was ... nothing. Not a word. Not a single word.

Why would a group of devoted Twainiacs who had been salivating about the
prospects of the PBS documentary suddenly be rendered mute? I may well be
wrong, but I suspected it was because others may have felt as I did and
did not know quite how to approach it in this PC world. It was two days
before someone broke the ice and the discussion began.

MT created the modern American novel, an earthshaking literary event and
surely his greatest achievement. He characterized the gilt of the Gilded
Age with a keen sight that few other contemporary observers could muster
and that has guided historians ever since. He suffered in ways that bring
tears to the eyes of anyone who reads Susy's headstone. But to hear Burns
tell it, he spent most of his life doting on the post-Civil War condition
of blacks. Yes, he did that, but he did so much more.

There has been talk here about how nice it was that Burns spent so much
time on the formerly obscure story of Auntie Cord. Frankly, I don't think
this was near his best writing and, limited to four hours, hardly worth
mentioning. Why not spend that time popularizing The War Prayer? Or some
of the razor-sharp pieces from Letters from the Earth?

Did I like it? Sure. Because I like anything about Mark Twain. Would I
recommend it to others? Of course. But as a documentary giving a balanced
view of MT's life and work, I give it a C minus.

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