A LITTLE LIGHT READING
Modern writers turn out biographies of Thomas Jefferson at a rapid clip, from huge studies such as the six-volume work of Dumas Malone to shorter works, such as Andrew Burstein's The Inner Jefferson: Portrait of a Grieving Optimist and Joseph J. Ellis's American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. They have a variety of angles but agree on one point: Thomas Jefferson did not have a relationship with Sally Hemings -- much less father her children.
For Fawn Brodie, a psychoanalytic historian, it was more than possible. Her 1974 book, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History opened the debate on a new scale. Annette Gordon-Reed, in Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, argued for it, too, and went on to criticize historians for systematically devaluing the testimony of blacks during investigations of the story. As Gordon-Reed notes, Brodie's work may have methodological flaws, but so does everyone else's.
Postscript: DNA testing has told the tale, and Hemings's children are probably Jefferson's. Perhaps that is why he freed them when he was notoriously reluctant to free other slaves. Even Ellis acknowledges this addition to the scholarship, albeit casually, in his more recent work.
The Musketeer looks promising -- a Hong Kong action movie with white guys -- and in its action scenes, it delivers. The story, also, is a fine one (they could hardly go wrong with Dumas's Les Trois Mousquetaires). Too bad director Peter Hyams forgot the writing in his rush to share his painterly eye.
What succeeds best in The Musketeer is the beauty of the settings and costumes, the evil of the villains, and the choreography of Xin-Xin Xiong (who also performs in stunt scenes). Hyams's famously "poor" lighting is also quite beautiful in this period piece. The Musketeer reaches for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and almost grasps it with elegant balletic stunts and mannered performances, but the dialog is precious, making deliveries faintly embarrassing. Perhaps it should have been made in French, with subtitles.
When a bland (if pretty) hero meets supersaturated villains, audiences are bound to get confused, perhaps even resentful. If only the writing had managed to rise to the level of parody or at least irony. Alas, we have no pop confection to finish out the summer, as Hyams and Xiong show us the worst of Hollywood: a beautiful skin with scarcely any flesh beneath.