Truman Capote once described Ernest Hemingway as a “closet everything.” In the first 15 minutes of Hemingway, his first wife, Hadley Richardson, provides a more nuanced take on the dynamic Capote identified: “There were so many sides to him,” she’s quoted as saying, “that he defied geometry.”
Since Hemingway’s death nearly six decades ago, his absence from the world stage has lasted almost as long as the controversial life that he lived. The forthcoming six-hour, three-part reappraisal from the Emmy Award-winning duo Ken Burns and Lynn Novick—who’ve produced acclaimed documentaries together about the Vietnam War, baseball, jazz, and Prohibition— persuasively challenges the stereotypes of toxic masculinity that have evolved around this most divisive of literary figures. It begins airing April 5 on PBS.
“Too often films are an execution of an already-arrived-at end,” Burns says. “That’s not the way we work. We understand that the first thing we do is check our baggage at the door and just go in and be reeducated.”
To separate man from myth, Novick and Burns took advantage of unprecedented access to Hemingway’s original manuscripts, correspondence, and scrapbooks. They also had a well of archival footage shot throughout his adult life from around the world and at the Finca La Vigía, his 20-year home in Cuba.
Most surprisingly, the documentary shows a man who— far from being a relic of the past—is instead an avatar for the 21st century, with the narrative coalescing around themes near and dear to the millennial heart: gender inequity, mental health, and the thirst for fame.
“People who had not read a word he’d written thought they knew him,” Peter Coyote, the film’s narrator, says early on from the script. “Wounded veteran and battlefield correspondent. Big-game hunter and deep-sea fisherman. Bullfight aficionado. Brawler and lover and man about town. But behind the public figure was a troubled and conflicted man who belonged to a troubled and conflicted family. The world saw him as a man’s man, but all his life he would privately be intrigued by the blurred lines between male and female, men and women.”
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