It goes without saying that Ernest Hemingway is among the most polarizing figures in the history of American literature. The same applies to the books and short stories that he crafted during his life. Audiences either strongly like or dislike him and his works and strongly dislike them. There is no in-between. Period. Now thanks to PBS and PBS Distribution, Hemingway and his works are getting renewed attention in the simply titled documentary, Hemingway. Helmed by famed documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the documentary originally aired on PBS stations nationwide April 5-7. Its home DVD presentation followed on May 4. Whether one is a Hemingway devotee or literary lover in general, audiences on both sides of the Hemingway discussion will find this three-part documentary a powerful presentation. That is proven in part through its deep, rich examination of Hemingway and his works. This will be discussed shortly. While Burns and Novick are to be commended for the depth that they offer in showing Hemingway warts and all, the six-hour show’s pacing proves somewhat problematic. It does not make the show a failure, but does detract from the presentation to a point. This will be discussed a little later. The documentary’s average price point on its DVD and Blu-ray platform is its own positive, considering the depth of the show overall. This element will be discussed later, too. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the documentary. All things considered, Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick proves itself a presentation that audiences on both sides of the Hemingway discussion will agree deserves its own spot among this year’s top new documentaries and DVD/BD box sets for grown-ups.
PBS and PBS Distribution’s presentation of Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is a deep, powerful presentation. It is a work that continues to cement Burns’ and Novick’s place among America’s elite documentarians and historians. Those on both sides of the Hemingway discussion will agree after watching this six-hour (yes, it runs six hours total) examination of the myth and reality of Ernest Hemingway and his literary works. The documentary’s story is deserving of praise from both sides because of its depth. It shows Hemingway warts and all. From his five total marriages, to his alcoholism, to the highs and lows in his literary career, it is all here. Burns and Novick go all the way back to Hemingway’s childhood upbringing in a household controlled clearly by two very different parents. His father, while conservative, was far less extreme in his views than his mother. In looking at his relationship with his mother, one cannot help but imagine that relationship played at least partially into his unstable relationship with women in his adult life. At the same time, his relationship with a certain young nurse during World War I (which is also examined here) and how it ended, likely also played into that aspect of his life, too. He could not control how his mother treated him and his siblings, nor could he control that nurse’s love (or lack thereof) for him, so in compensation, he went from woman to woman as an act of control. On a related topic, one of the many academics interviewed for the documentary makes her own interesting point that Hemingway’s braggadocious behavior and claims likely stemmed from his own insecurities. Those insecurities likely were deep seated from his own life experiences. It would make them more compensation to try and hide things. This makes for even more interest.
Staying on the topic of the richness in this presentation, audiences will remain just as interested as they learn how Hemingway’s own life experiences played into his novels. This in itself will lead to plenty of their own discussions. That is because Hemingway is hardly the only author to go that route. Fellow author Thomas Wolfe did much the same, and came under fire for doing so, too.
On yet another note, the examination of Hemingway’s waning days is powerful in its own way. Audiences who might not have already known (such as this critic) will be surprised to learn that electroshock therapy was used in those final days, as a means to try to cure his depression. Interestingly enough, the use of that treatment likely led to Hemingway’s increasingly declining mental state and eventual suicide. Between this discussion, everything else noted here, and other topics, such as Hemingway’s own lack of connection with his sons and the impact thereof, and his own apparent sexual preferences, the overall presentation here offers a lot to keep audiences engaged and entertained. To that end, the in-depth presentation at the center of Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick gives audiences more than enough reason to watch, regardless of which side they take on their love or lack thereof for Hemingway.
While the story at the center of PBS’ new Ernest Hemingway documentary is in-depth (to say the least), it is not without at least one concern. That concern comes in the story’s pacing. The six-hour program does have a tendency to drag from beginning to end. Maybe that is due to the decidedly somber mood set throughout the story. Hemingway’s life was rather troubled instead of glorious, so the overall tone here is slow and somber. Maybe it was just a lack of focus on the part of Burns and Novick, but that generally would not be the case. Keeping that in mind, the story’s pacing does create some difficulty, even for the most devoted Hemingway fans. While this is clearly a concern, it is not enough to make the presentation a failure. Rather, it is just something that audiences must keep in mind and expect, going into the presentation.
The detraction caused through the pacing of Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is problematic, but again is not enough to make the program a failure. Keeping that in mind, there is at least one more positive to address, that being the average price point for the documentary. The average price point for the documentary in its DVD presentation is $31.42. The average price point for the documentary’s average price point on Blu-ray is slightly more expensive, at $39.28. Those prices were reached by averaging prices listed at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Books-A-Million, among the nation’s biggest major retailers. Looking at those prices, they are about at the same level as other multi-disc sets on each platform. As a matter of fact, there are some Blu-ray box sets out there with more discs (and the same number of discs) that top the $40 mark. Many box sets with the same or more number of discs on DVD are typically in the $35-$40 range. Additionally, Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble all list the DVD set at $27.99 and the Blu-ray set at $34.99. That is rare, that so many retailers list a DVD and/or BD at the same price. Books-A-Million and PBS each list the set at $39.99 and $49.99, well above the noted average price points. To that end, the majority of the retailers charging the same price makes for even more motivation for audiences to purchase the set on either platform. Going back to the depth of the story at the documentary’s center, that makes the two averages that much more appealing for audiences. Keeping all of this in mind, the average price point for this set pairs with that content to make for even more reason for Hemingway fans and bibliophiles alike to watch this latest offering from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. That is even with the problem of the program’s pacing in mind.
PBS and PBS Distribution’s presentation of Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is a strong new offering from all parties involved. Regardless of audiences’ fondness for Hemingway and his work, those on both sides will agree the documentary is an in-depth presentation that goes well beyond what anyone might learn from any literary history course. That alone is reason enough to watch this documentary at least once. While the presentation’s rich history gives audiences much to appreciate, the documentary’s pacing proves problematic. From start to end, the documentary moves relatively slowly. Regardless of what caused this to happen, the fact of the matter is that audiences on both sides of the Hemingway discussion will agree that this is problematic. It is not enough to make the documentary a failure. However, it does make engagement and entertainment more difficult (again regardless of audiences’ love for Hemingway and his works). The average price point for the program on DVD and Blu-ray pairs with its depth and richness of content to make for its own appeal. That is because both each platform’s price point is right on par (and in some cases even lower than) other box sets with the same number of discs. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the documentary in its new home release. All things considered, they make the documentary among the best of its category. Hemingway: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is available now.
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