Directed By: Stephen Low
Starring: Anne Bancroft, Dennis O'Connor, Kim Parr
Tag line: "In his own era. In his own places. In his own words"
Trivia: This movie was shot in 40 days, over a 3-month period
"First you get the facts. Then you can distort them any way you please"
- Mart Twain
While most IMAX movies try to impress us with their visuals (Chronos, Cosmic Voyage) or take us on grand adventures (Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, Journey Into Amazing Caves), 1998’s Mark Twain’s America instead combines elements of a biopic with American history, introducing us to a writer / humorist and the era in which he lived.
Starting with his days as a boy in Hannibal, Missouri, when he marveled at the riverboats that made their way down the Mississippi, Mark Twain’s America chronicles some of the major events in Twain’s life, such as his (brief) stint in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; his journey westward, where, after failing to make his fortune as a silver miner, he became a reporter in Virginia City, Nevada, and his inspirations for penning some of his beloved classics like The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County). In addition, Mark Twain’s America delves into the writer’s personal life: his marriage to Olivia Langdon and his eventual move to Hartford, Connecticut, where he built a spacious house for his young family (which included three daughters: Susy, Clara, and Jean).
Narrated by Anne Bancroft and with Denis O’Connor doing his best Twain impression, Mark Twain’s America also features samples of its subject’s patented witticisms (“Some observers hold that there’s no difference between man and the Jackass. But this surely wrongs the Jackass”), and reveals how several modern-day historians are keeping this time period alive, including one man who built his own riverboat (which he sails on the Mississippi) and a troop of Civil War reenactors. Utilizing a fair number of period photographs as well as modern footage of those places he once called home (like the house in Connecticut), Mark Twain’s America effectively merges the past and the present to make history come alive.
That said, the film is far from a comprehensive account of Twain’s life, glossing over key events (his journeys abroad and, more surprisingly, the writing of some of his most popular stories, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and avoiding others altogether (the sudden death of his 19-month-old son Langdon and the thousands of dollars he lost investing in such scientific “breakthroughs” as the Paige typesetting machine). Though a breezy and often entertaining big-screen motion picture (which was originally presented in 3-D), Mark Twain’s America could prove disappointing to those researching a school paper on the celebrated author.