MARK TWAIN IN THE MOVIES by John Seelye

MARK TWAIN IN THE MOVIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

We probably don't need another ""attempt to demonstrate the ambivalence of that image""--Mark Twain as super-famous foxy grandpa, Mark Twain as lonely dirty old man, Mark Twain as ""national literary icon,"" as flimflam man, as ""Ephemeral Man,"" as ""Trashman."" We definitely don't need a cute Mark Twain book, boutiquely horizontal, with little hands pointing to the photos--and chapter titles like ""Moby Twain"" (you know, ali those white suits). Needed or not, novelist Seelye has assembled sixteen floating chapters of ""meditation,"" drawing heavily upon the last ten years of Samuel Clemens' long life as tortuously probed in Hamlin Hill's God's Fool (1973). And Seelye's unsurprising preoccupations are with Mark's scrubbed-up ""iconographic popularity"" (an ""eidolon,"" we're told repeatedly), with his fondness for the little girls known as his ""Angel Fish"" (""Humbert Humbert dÉjà vu""), with his suits, cigars, houses, biographers, daughters, vanity, arrogance, humor, and, always, that ""inherent dichotomy."" All this is grist for Seelye's phrasemaking mill, which sometimes operates neatly and aptly (despite anachronisms like ""shtick"" and ""macho"") but more often strains and struts: ""Part Presbyterianism, part Pyrrhonism, Mark Twain's terminal pessimism was but a hardening of intellectual arteries. . . ."" Only the festival of photos, mostly Kodaks taken by household members, transcends this approach, rising below and beyond Seelye's attempt to caption and essay them into profundity: "". . . magnifying accident until it becomes icon"" . . . ""black-and-white rectangles illumined with the illusion of real life."" One look at the knowing growl of Mr. Clemens, and Seelye's pop pomposity happily fades from view.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1977
Publisher: Viking