I'm watching a lot of documentaries now, trying to understand them. Many are cast as educational essays. I suppose they need to be judged both on their merits as a film and separately on how well they enlighten.
As a film, this fits what I suppose could be called the Ken Burns model. It is a melange of readings from his works, filmed visits to places he went, interviews with people who knew him plus some experts, and as many archival clips and photos as will fit. Where someone is not speaking, we have the same few (4 or 5?) classical pieces. These are so repetitive, I decided to go back and see it again to see if there was some meaningful pattern. If there is, it is not discernible. This is such an egregious problem, I wonder how it slipped through.
The melange is competent enough as film, while sticking overly close to a tired formula.
But does this help us understand Hemingway?
I count this a disaster on that score. Yes, it tells us some historical points and places the books at places. But it never scratches the two things that are interesting about the man.
His writing was terse, some would say clean, in a radical way. It was radical when he did it, and still is mastered by few. It is all about economy, providing some of the motions and leaving you to fill in the kinematics according to your own body. It is not writing that can perform the heavy haul in long form — for that you need someone tinkering with your impulses, not exploiting them.
If you want to reveal the man as an artist, shouldn't you show this somehow. Shouldn't you show this cinematically? Would you go in the opposite direction and film languid, pastoral shots to fill in the tiniest bits? Would you take an innovator of language and show him to us using the most non-innovative structure possible?
And if you want us to know the man himself, why would you lie to us in order to make him seem noble? He was a thug, a brute. He was hypercompetitive and would be ruined for months by the slightest loss. He wrote well not because it was in his soul, but because he knew he could win by doing so. The books and stories he left us were not gifts for our souls but weapons to fight his fears. Do all biographies on TeeVee have to sugarcoat artists to make them seem charming?
And what is this metaphor? We are supposed to follow all the many rivers this filmmaker digs for us, that leads to the final good work, about the man and the sea. DeWitte, if you are going to try this, stay on it and make it work.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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