Landmark documentary captures world of Carl Sandburg
Ms. Perry Miller Adato has done it again.Skip to next paragraph
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The producer/director of one of the best TV personality documentaries of the decade (''Picasso - A Painter's Diary'') has succeeded once more in presenting a vivid, unforgettable portrait of an artist in a thoroughly entertaining, informative, and innovative way.
As in the case of the Picasso documentary, ''Carl Sandburg - Echoes and Silences'' (PBS, Tuesday, 9-11 p.m., check local listings), this is much more than a film about a creative person. It is also about the times in which he lived and the impact of his talent and humanity upon the world around him. The production is part of the amazingly diversified ''American Playhouse'' series.
Carl Sandburg, one of America's most beloved populist poets, is known to every schoolchild for his much-anthologized poem, ''Fog,'' his landmark ''American Songbag,'' and for his biographies of Abraham Lincoln.
But there was much more than a little poem, a big biography, and a collection of authentic folksongs about the man. He echoed the struggle of the blue-collar worker, the farm hand, and all the ''little guys'' of the nation, struggling to find a solid, comfortable place in society. He thought socialism and he wrote socialism, cloaking it all in the mantle of patriotism and Americanism which his Midwestern roots and his immigrant parents had instilled in him.
''Echoes and Silences'' utilizes a form in which the director, writer Paul Shyre, and leading actor, John Cullum, search on camera for a ''handle'' for the documentary. What made this poet and historian the mythical character he is believed to be? Cullum admits he has only found the shell of the man and then proceeds to visit the places that played important parts in the development of Sandburg as a creative artist and as a man.
This unique blend of drama and documentary takes the viewer back to Galesburg , Ill., where he was born, and to his farm in rural North Carolina. Through conversations with friends, neighbors, family, with the aid of snapshots, home movies, old prints and photos, and historical movie footage of his vagabonding days, Ms. Adato has re-created the essence of the man and his relationship with the world around him, as well as the family that adored him.
Many viewers may not have realized that famed photographer Edward Steichen was Mr. Sandburg's brother-in-law, which partially explains why Sandburg wrote the forward to the book version of Steichen's famous ''Family Of Man'' exhibition.
Interwoven with the documentary aspect of the film is the one-man show about Sandburg which actor John Collum takes on tour. With superb style, avoiding simplistic mimicry, he presents viewers with authentic samples of Sandburg's poems, idiosyncracies, attitudes, and remarks.
''Carl Sandburg - Echoes And Silences'' is landmark biography as well as landmark documentary. It deserves to be seen by those who already know and love Carl Sandburg's work and by those who are curious about his amazing mystique.
It would be difficult to view this dramatic documentary without coming to love the man. A talk with daughter Helga
One of his daughters - Helga - was in New York recently to attend a premiere screening of the film at PBS headquarters. I spoke with her while she was here, riding the crest of the thrill of sharing her own admiration for her father with the world. A writer too, Helga Sandburg Crile has already written one biography of her father's earlier life and is now at work on another, which takes him to his last days at his farm.
She is just a bit testy about the unfair treatment she believes her father received at the hands of the poetry establishment.
''On my father's 100th birthday recently, one of the poetry societies gave a medal . . . to William Carlos Williams. On my Dad's birthday! They're still scared of him. They're still not sure he's a poet.