Scott Teems’ documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey tells the story of the longest-running one-man show in the history of theatre. Today’s release on iTunes marks the end of another longer journey—just to get the film made and released. The brainchild of Hal Holbrook’s late wife Dixie Carter, the documentary about the legendary actors’ more than 2,000 appearances as Mark Twain traveled the festival circuit back in 2014 but didn’t receive distribution until this year.
“Charting Hal’s journey over this last decade has been like sitting at the feet of the wisest sage,” Teems tells Paste. “His life is a testimony to the remarkable amount of work required to create art that lasts, but also a cautionary tale about the costs of that kind of commitment. He was never less than honest about both sides of that coin, and his vulnerability was as instructive as the words of Twain he speaks from the stage.”
Teems cast Holbrook in the lead role of 2009’s That Evening Sun after a lifetime of memorable roles on film and television, including five Emmy Awards. But it’s his one-man play Mark Twain Tonight, for which he won a Tony Award in 1966 and continued performing until 2017, that’s the main focus of the documentary.
Paste film critic Mark Rozeman saw Holbrook/Twain at the Los Angeles Film Festival five years ago and wrote, “The film offers an all-access-pass look not only into the history of the show but also into Holbrook’s process, which includes applying his own makeup every night and sorting through stacks of notes for fresh material to use. Augmenting the narrative are interviews with an assortment of Twain academics and several of Holbrook’s notable acting peers, including Cherry Jones, Sean Penn, Robert Patrick, Martin Sheen and Emile Hirsch. Whether the audience is intimately familiar with Holbrook’s show or finds themselves learning about it for the first time, the film offers an engaging portrayal of an artist’s devotion to his craft or, as Teems described it in his pre-screening comments, the story of ‘a man who had a calling.’”
Watch the trailer for Holbrook/Twain below.