Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Remarkable Lewis & Clark

If you're ever looking for evidence that "Americans" aren't all loud, brash and egotistical**, you could find it in Florentine Films/Ken Burns' Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. I taped it from Australian TV several years ago (home use only, yes) and just watched some of it again. Every scene is gorgeous, but in a calm and quiet way. The music, a mix of "folk melodies and Native American tunes", is haunting and lovely. The voices of the narrator and actors are authentic, not dramatic.

And all this is just the context for the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which set out from St Louis USA in 1804, travelled up the Missouri River, crossed the Continental Divide and arrived - finally - at the Pacific. It was here on 24 November 1805 that the whole party voted about where to spend the winter. Every member had an equal vote, including York, a black slave, and Sacagawea, an American Indian woman. The film’s writer, Dayton Duncan, says of this occasion: “It was Lewis and Clark at their best. Which is America at its best.” And President Jefferson, back in the east, met a party of Chiefs who had assisted the expedition, telling them his hope was that “we may all live together, as one household”.

It’s a great story about real people, made by real people (really talented real people). And not a flashy, toothy pop-tart in sight. Whatever else America might get up to, “Americans” are as diverse as the rest of us.

**(Rolls eyes and acts dopey) Well, we don’t all think that... Well, okay, but we don’t all think that all the time...