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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (PBS American Masters) - documentary DVD / American Masters DVD / PBS television series DVD review
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT: THE WOMAN BEHIND LITTLE WOMEN (PBS AMERICAN MASTERS) Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 5 stars
Featuring: Elizabeth Marvel
Director: Nancy Porter   Distributor: PBS
DVD release: 28 December 2009   Runtime: 84 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English - Stereo), Closed captioned

Still photo - LOUISA MAY ALCOTT: THE WOMAN BEHIND LITTLE WOMEN (PBS AMERICAN MASTERS)This biographical film of Louisa May Alcott, inspired by Harriet Reisen's identically titled book and pieced together by the author from journals, letters, and other forms of documentation from the family, herself, and very close friends, allows the reality of her early years-and fundamental nature-to finally tell the truth of her life. In addition, scenes filmed at both Fruitland's Orchard and Emerson's House were in their original settings, lending verity to the astonishing revelations of her formative years and the possible root causes behind her choices later in life.

Alcott's Little Women grew to become one of the most influential novels worldwide and was the basis of her fame in the literary world. In her early years, Louisa was an author unrestricted by style. Her dossier of lesser-published works was long, filled with variety, and went far in easing the financial woes of her family. After the success of Little Women, the misconception about Alcott was that her passion was for the children due to her fame and success as an author of children's fiction; little truth can be found in this assessment of the woman behind the words.

Louisa's family life was similar to her creation in Little Women. The main characters were reminiscent of her family and someone of significance she briefly knew. As her family's struggles were such a weight upon her shoulders, Louisa managed to mold them into the story without the heavy burdens reality placed upon the Alcott home. Jo March, the heroine and most similar character to Louisa in the novel, was a tomboy and aspired to a life that she would create - not a husband's oppressive rule over her every action. Comparatively, too, Louisa lived her life to the end.

With freedoms most married women did not possess in that day and age, Louisa was able to nurse in the war, write what she wanted, and do pretty much what she pleased within the confines of the social strictures of the times. To get her works published, Alcott often wrote under pseudonyms - male being the preference - and found success, just like her heroine Jo.

Louisa struggled with her health, both mental and physical, throughout her life. Potential afflictions have been identified as key factors in her lapses of productivity and early physical deterioration. To say her death was unexpected is an understatement. While she contributed so much to the literary world in her lifetime-making her greatest success in a single novel-her death left an infinite silence on the complete record of her life's work.

Director Nancy Porter utilizes actors to fill the roles of key figures in Louisa's life. Much as present-day living museums dress their docents in clothing that would have been worn in the time and place being depicted, Porter's actors fulfill similar roles throughout the film. Because a great deal of the script is crafted from quotes found in the writings of Alcott and others, this approach to the biography transmits a phenomenal level of realism and empathy to viewers. The unexpected saga of the Alcott family and Louisa's personal struggles become unavoidably absorbing with the cinematography and script so beautifully intertwined.
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reviewed by Sonia R. Polinsky
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