Around the turn of the last century, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was considered to be one of the funniest men in the world, and one of the greatest American writers and storytellers of his day. He achieved the status of a very rich man - only to lose it investing foolishly in some of the new inventions of the burgeoning industrial age.
His first great novel, Tom Sawyer, was an autobiographical tale of his life growing up on the banks of the Mississippi. The sequel and his most endearing work, Huckleberry Finn, written many years later, used the innocence of a ragged Southern boy traveling down the river with his friend, Nigger Joe, as a subtle indictment of slavery; Twain's motivation stemming from his disgust (as a Southerner) for the failure of emancipation several decades after the conclusion of the Civil War. In his later life, while still retaining his humor, Mark Twain became an outspoken opponent of racism, anti-Semitism, and American Imperialism (under Teddy Roosevelt) and an early advocate of women's suffrage.
Mark Twain was the first to use the way ordinary Americans spoke - to create great literature. His earliest career was as a riverboat pilot. His penname, Mark Twain, in fact, means "twelve feet," and when called out while steaming, signals the transition from dangerously shallow waters into those that are safe.
The movie is filled with great triumphs - and great sorrow. Watching the film caused me to careen uncontrollably between laughing and crying as though I were a drunkard. Anyone who loves writing (or reading) or spinning a few yarns of their own will come away knowing that Mark Twain - and Ken Burns, who lovingly restores him for us - are both geniuses!