Review: Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure (1999)

DVD cover of Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure

For a long time I’ve wanted to start adding information to the site related to Lost Generation documentaries, bio pics, and movies based on their works. I’m happy to say that day is finally here and we’ll start out with a slightly different take on a documentary courtesy of Monty Python alum, author, and constant traveler Michael Palin.

Back in 1988 Palin gave us what is perhaps his best travel documentary/adventure, Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin. If you haven’t seen it it’s fantastic, with him racing the clock to travel as closely as possible in Phileas Fogg’s footsteps. Since then Palin has made a number of fascinating shows, including 1999’s Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure.

A departure from his other travel documentaries, it is much more stylized, with Palin tracing Hemingway’s journeys from his birth in Oak Park, Illinois to his death in Ketchum, Idaho, hitting everywhere in-between. Broken up into four hour-long episodes, he also wrote a book about the trip.

Overall I think this is very much worth watching, even for the casual Hemingway enthusiast. Palin is always entertaining and engaging in his very delightful British way. If there is anything that hurts this program, it is, for me, the much more planned nature of it. One of the most interesting things about many of his other programs is the kind of “flying by the seat of your pants” feel to them, which this one doesn’t really have so much. So if you’re used to his other types of programs, you might find this point a little lacking, but if you’ve never watched any of them, I don’t imagine you would be disappointed in any way by this one.

Hemingway is a interesting cultural study for any number of reasons, however, one thing that seems to be unique to him is just how many people will stake a claim to him and his legacy as if they were the arbiter of all things Hemingway. That is something that clearly comes across in this program, pretty much in every place that he travels to.

For example, starting in his birthplace of Oak Park. I myself was born in Oak Park and have spent a good amount of time in and around the area. I’ve been to his birthplace and walked around his neighborhood. People there claim him as if he never had anything against the town and treat him as if he never spoke ill of it. One strange thing is that sections of the downtown area are denoted as the “Ernest Hemingway District,” with pictures and banners of him lining the streets. Never do they mention how desperately he wanted to leave the place, how stifled he felt by their old, staid ways. I certainly can’t speak for the man, but from what I know about him it does not seem like something that the he would enjoy.

Another instance of this is in Key West, where Palin takes part in a Hemingway look-alike contest. Good lord some of these people are obnoxious. I’m sure many of them genuinely enjoy Papa and his work, but I’m also pretty sure that Hemingway himself would want to punch a number of them in the face. The whole thing is just bizarre.

There are great stretches in this program in Africa, Spain, Michigan, Paris, Cuba and Montana. All of it is engaging and worth a watch.

Have any suggestions for documentaries about the Lost Generation that we should cover? Please leave a comment below or email us at Cheers!

2 thoughts on “Review: Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure (1999)

Leave a Reply to Colorful Sisters Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: