Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Biographical Movie: Mark Twain by Ken Burns (2001)

Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemons, was a very interesting and complex character.  This PBS presentation tries to lay this man out for us.  He had worked in newspapers, but really had not done anything with his life until after age 30.  In fact at age 30 he was so despondent he contemplated suicide.  Twain was subject to fits of depression and anger through out his life.  However, he did have a good wife who stood by him, and he had an environment to write.  His literary jumping off point was the article about the frog jumping contest of Calaveras County, Angels Camp.  Twain drew his characters from people he had met along the river.  And his two most famous books come from that environment, "Tom Sawyer," who is based on characters from Hannibal, Missouri where he grew up, and Huckleberry Finn.  Huckleberry Finn is a remarkable book because it looks slavery and racism in the eye, and he is able to make his own comments about the subject.  The most important is when Huckleberry realizes Jim, his escaped slave traveling companion, is a human, with feelings and family just like every other human.  Admitting that Black people are human was a big thing for that day, because you can't treat another human like an animal and not offend God.
However interspersed with Twain's literary success, was also success on the lecture circuit.  Twain could always make people laugh, and he could fill an auditorium of people to listen to him.
The other side of this story is Twain's poor financial dealings.  He often invested in shady inventions or other business projects and would loss money.  At one point he had to declare bankruptcy, and went on an international lecture circuit to make money to pay back his creditors.  He made the money, but while he was gone, his youngest daughter passed away.  When Twain returned, they couldn't bear to live anymore in the family home.  He first lived in New York, but then in a different home in Hanford, Connecticut where he and his wife lived.  His wife, and another daughter preceded him in death.  They also had a son who died as an infant.  Mark Twain truly came in with haley's Comet, and went out with it as well.

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