Hemingway by Ken Burns & Lyn Novick [8/10]

I read Ernest Hemingway too young, in my teens, and I retain a sense of awe and a recognition of stylistic heaven, but little else. I missed some of his seminal works. So “Hemingway,” the six-hour documentary biographical series from Ken Burns and Lyn Novick, proved to be fascinating from the first frame. Using an amazing archive of photographs, video footage, and background material, and accompanied with a stylish soundtrack, the series relates the Nobel-Prize-winning author’s life painstakingly, the measured commentary from Peter Coyote striking a commanding pose. Jeff Daniels narrates Hemingway’s own voice, from his various books, and his delivery is hypnotic. A range of talking heads, from biographers to novelists, provide varying commentary on the life laid before us; striking contributions chime in from Edna O’Brien, Michael Kitakis, and Tobias Wolff. Hemingway’s tale of ascent and descent needs no embellishment and none is given, just a reverential yet sober recounting. I find movie biopics to be sapped of life, yet this documentary hums with tension and import and drama. Hemingway is a balanced, moving, and revelatory examination of an amazing creator’s all-too-human life.

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