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Mark Twain - A Film Directed by Ken Burns

4.7 out of 5 stars 124 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

First, a documentary about the Civil War, where we learned there was nothing civil about it. Then came a deep look into two American art forms--baseball and jazz. Now Ken Burns is on to Samuel Clemens. And if there is one American writer who can do justice to the thorough examination of Mr. Burns's lens, it's Mark Twain. Nearly three years in the making, this effort illuminates the foremost public figure in 19th-century America with archival photographs, interviews with Twain scholars, and Twain's own words. An extraordinary life told in an extraordinary way. Color and b&w. Nearly 4 hours on 2 cassettes or 1 DVD.


Given the legendary life of its subject, it's not surprising that Mark Twain is perhaps the most entertaining documentary Ken Burns has made. The creator of The Civil War and Jazz achieves reverent harmony with the magnificent story of Missouri-born author Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), encompassing legend and fact with an exhilarating sense of adventure. Hailed by Hemingway as the originator of American literature, Twain (a nom de plume taken from a riverboat pilot's term for "safe waters") viewed himself as the American. Burns's film backs that claim as it follows Clemens's literary odyssey around the globe, from unrivaled acclaim as a writer to near destitution and the devastating deaths of his wife and three children. As usual, eloquent writers and scholars (including longtime Twain performer Hal Holbrook) provide a wondrous flow of anecdotes and observations, recounting Twain's remarkable humor while acknowledging a darker side that felt anger toward an indifferent god. Like all of Burns's films, Mark Twain is must-see viewing. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Keith David, Kevin Conway, Philip Bosco, Blythe Danner, Tim Clark
  • Directors: Ken Burns
  • Writers: Dayton Duncan, Geoffrey C. Ward
  • Producers: Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan, Pam Tubridy Baucom
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Pbs Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: January 8, 2002
  • Run Time: 212 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005RDB0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,268 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Mark Twain - A Film Directed by Ken Burns" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
This has to be one of the best documentaries on a literary figure that has ever been made. In the hands of Ken Burns, the richness and subtlety, the humour and tragedy, the successes and dismal failures and a true sustained analysis of the life of Samuel Clemens all combines to give us a personal and intellectual understanding of this towering literary icon of the 19th century. Twain was many things - a riverboat pilot, printer, journalist, miner, speculator, failed business man, and satirist, but most of all a novelist, a grand storyteller that spoke to royalty, presidents as well as the common people. Ernest Hemingway once said that American literature began with the publication of Huckleberry Finn. Twain chose to write this book in the language of the vernacular, while other writers maintained an allegiance to English prose, Huck Finn's voice rose above conformity, informing the American public that the black American was not just a commodity, an object of scorn and prejudice, but a human being. This book not only changed our views on literature but our humanity as well. This film does not skim over the surface of Twain's life and work, but digs deeper into his motivations and inspirations in the context of his environment.
~Mark Twain~ took almost three years to produce, which includes hundreds of photographs, actual film footage of the man at home, informed interviews with Twain scholars and writers that give us keen insights into his life and work. What this film shows is that not only is his literature extraordinary, but his life as well. And this life is told mainly through the words of the man himself. Twain lived a dual persona, the man and the celebrity.
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Format: DVD
Ken Burns has done it again! This time with a 220-minute masterpiece of a documentary about the life, times and work of America's best writer -- Mark Twain. Fantastic photographs, interviews, story-telling (and even some rare video footage of Twain himself) make this a marvel from beginning to end. Substantial time is devoted to Twain's wild youth, his wildly productive years and his (yes, wild) years before his death. Excellent interviews with Hal Holbrook and Athur Miller add to this important document (that, in this reviewers mind, was a long-time-coming).
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Format: DVD
First: This is a great DVD, and anyone who loves Twain, literature, or Americana must see it. Second: This is one person's version of what is most important about Twain's life. But how could it be otherwise? Vast areas of interest are either glossed, or omitted. Twain's big time interest in spirituality and the then emergent metaphysics was not covered. And yet, in his later real life, this was arguably Twain's consuming passion, resulting in virtually all of his writings from the late 1880s onwards. That's just an example. There are others, including Twain's own writings about his Civil War experiences as a Confederate gunboat pilot; his personal relationships and related "drama" with authors Hawthorn and Longfellow, and ex-general and ex-president U.S. Grant, to name but a few. And his intense friendship and mentoree-ship with William Dean Howells. Etc.... On the other hand, who can say what features would be salient if we could have been a friend or associate of Samuel Clemens? The real-life mix might have been quite different from what any of us would imagine, and different from the version director Ken Burns has wrought. After I watched this DVD, I wished fervently that this could have been a 15-hour documentary. There is simply so much to say. And some of the dramatic renditions of Twains writings-- presented as snippets here and there-- would have made important and powerful contributions had they been presented in their entirety. Burns did an admirable job given the limited time available. This production is not quite the sweeping and definitive statement his earlier "Civil War" series was; but the topic is no less important. To paraphrase Burns, and Twain, a study of Twain the man and author is to study America herself.Read more ›
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Format: DVD
To be sure, I am a student of literature and a fan of Mark Twain, but I had no idea, none whatsoever(!), of what a rich and inspiring life he lived. He was a comic genius as well as a man devastated by continual heartbreak.
I have always known PBS to do a wonderful job with their specials, and I have admired Ken Burns since the day I first discovered his work on the women's movement i.e. the Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton story (highly recommended as well!)...but in their retelling of Mark Twain's life, these two forces have outdone themselves.
From now on I will always think of Samuel Clemens as an intrinsic part of what we call Americana. Forget baseball and apple pie, Twain and his writings are (or should be) the true American pastime.
I have watched many biographies of American authors but none come close to this, NONE. My favorite author of all time is F. Scott Fitzgerald and not one of his many audio visual biographies can touch the completeness and depth that has been carefully devoted here to Twain. In the 3+ hours of this presentation I laughed outloud, and was moved to tears, outraged, entertained, and educated by this telling of Twain's life. There is no way it could be better or more complete and I defy any lover of Twain, or literature in general, to feel differently.
Go to your local library and borrow it first, once you see it, you will insist upon owning it...truly.
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