Aired Monday March 21st, 2011 at 8:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
"He was considered the funniest man on earth - a brilliant performer on the lecture circuit who could entertain almost any audience - and a spectacularly inept businessman whose countless schemes to get rich quick threatened again and again to bring him to ruin."
These words, spoken at the beginning of Mark Twain, Ken Burns' two-part, four-hour documentary, paint a portrait of the man born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but known to the world as Mark Twain. Keith David narrates this tale of "a printer's apprentice and a riverboat pilot, a prospector who never struck gold and a Confederate soldier who never fought a battle, "yet whose brilliant work remains a unique and influential part of the American literary landscape. Mark Twain airs Monday March 21 and Monday March 28 at 8:00 p.m. on KUED Channel 7.
It's a story of humble beginnings, a rise to fame and the burden and tragedy of personal hardships endured. Twain's story is really that of two men: Sam Clemens, a devoted family man who lost his brother, wife, son and two daughters to tragedies; the provider who had to tour the lecture circuit to make enough money to pull himself out of debt after bad investments left him virtually penniless. And Mark Twain, the astonishingly successful writer who became the enduring voice of a nation, stirring up controversies that exist to this day, and nearly single-handedly inventing American literature.
In the first episode, Burns takes viewers on a journey through Sam Clemens' early days along the Mississippi River, to the small river town of Hannibal, Missouri. There, Clemens gathered what were to become his inspirations for classic American characters like Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and Huckleberry Finn. Throughout the first two hours of Mark Twain, Clemens grows up, stumbling from adventure to adventure until he begins to evolve into Mark Twain, the humorist and writer who would revolutionize the way Americans viewed themselves and their language.
Episode one ends with the publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the novel that writer Russell Banks calls America's "Homeric epic." Mark Twain pulls apart the traumatic experience of a young boy torn between his racist upbringing and his love of the runaway slave he has befriended. Huckleberry Finn made America sit up and take notice of its racial tensions. It made people uncomfortable and angry, and it has been banned in hundreds of libraries across the country ever since. Yet, it remains the definitive parable of a nation struggling with its racial identity after the Civil War, and its lessons of cruelty and humanity are as relevant today as they were almost 125 years ago.
In episode two, Burns explores the other side of Sam Clemens, an American icon who, through tragedy and bad financial decisions, falls hard with failure. In contrast to the wildly successful Twain, Clemens is an inept businessman who squanders his fortunes on pipe dream patents and bad investments. Clemens turns to the lecture circuit and tours extensively, leaving behind his beloved Hartford home and, often, his family, to pay off his creditors.
With compelling interviews with Arthur Miller, William Styron, Hal Holbrook and others, and more than 600 photographs, Mark Twain uncovers the incredible story of America's great storyteller. Through all his years, and all his writing, Mark Twain brought readers a body of work that remains some of the most revered, controversial and provocative literature ever produced.
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