Sunday, June 19, 2011


A FILM UNFINISHED is a documentary about a propaganda film created by the Nazis but until recently had not been seen.

The footage from the Nazi film was all shot inside the Warsaw ghetto. Some of it showed the reality of the poverty and starvation that was going on, while other footage is completely staged to reinforce the stereotype of wealthy Jews. The film was never completed and was in storage for decades, and even when it was uncovered, no one really knew what it was, until some researchers started putting the pieces together.

The biggest piece of information was a journal from a Jewish leader at the time who corroborated that much of the footage was staged. There is also an interview with one of the cameramen, as well as new footage of ghetto survivors watching the film. Amazingly, they recognize some of the people in the film.

This is a very difficult film to watch. Although I knew life in the ghetto was bad, I had no idea how bad the starvation was. But on a deeper level, this film points out how easy it is to manipulate an image to tell the story you want to tell. The Nazi propaganda machine is infamous, but I have to worry just how much of what we see today is equally propagandist. I suggest it is much, much worse than most people realize. It's depressing to see what happened to these people.

The film is available on Netflix.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

It might be a strange choice, but one of the gifts my wife bought me for our anniversary was a copy of THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK, a hard-to-find Preston Sturges film which I had wanted to see ever since I heard the name of the lead character was Kockenlocker.

This is not the funniest of Sturges' films, but in many ways, it is the most interesting. Writing a movie about a woman getting knocked up by a serviceman about to leave could very well have been career suicide during the Hays' Code era. And it almost was for Sturges, the film was not released for two years, and after its successful release was pulled. To this day, it is still hard to find on DVD. The fluency with which Sturges writes around the code for the majority of the movie only adds to his brilliance as a writer.

Sturges is an exceptionally strong writer for female characters. The two most interesting characters in the film are played by young women. Betty Hutton was only 22 when shot the film, but gives a great performance. But my favorite scene in the film belongs to Eddie Bracken, who has a great monolog telling Hutton's character why he has loved her his whole life. As in Sturges' other films, the dramatic scenes are as powerful as the comic ones.

Highly recommended for fans of Sturges.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Becoming Chaz

This is a tough review to write because the documentary BECOMING CHAZ has many layers. Ostensibly it is about transgenderism, but in reality there are many different subjects rolled into one. The subject, Chaz Bono, is the child of a very famous celebrity (Cher). Cher is surprisingly uncomfortable with the life that Chaz has chosen. In fact, to get her "top" surgery (having her breasts removed), Chaz has to borrow money from a friend. It's pretty shocking that Cher would not pay for it. In the interview with Cher that is in the film, she is very uncomfortable talking about Chaz. If Cher had been more open, you could probably have made the whole film about their relationship. As it is, there is so little that it is frustrating that we do not learn more.

Chaz is also a producer on the documentary, which means that it is likely one-sided, although to be honest, he left in a lot of material that is critical of him. But it may have been his choice to leave mother issues out of the movie as much as possible.

Then there is the issue of his partner, Jennifer. She is a lesbian who became involved with Chaz when she was still a woman, and is trying to stay with him through the transition. She's a graduate student and an alcoholic who falls off the wagon during the course of filming. Again, this could be the subject of a whole movie. This is probably the part of the movie that is most explored, but still I don't feel like I got to know her or their relationship very well.

Chaz touches briefly on her own substance abuse problems but never ties it in to her gender issues or to Jennifer's substance abuse. Another missed opportunity.

What the movie does best is explain Chaz's early life and the decision to change gender. It shows us a lot of what she goes through during the change. This is really interesting and informative to someone who is outside that community, although after this movie was released, Chaz appeared on David Letterman, and gave a more succinct version of the explanations.

For all its flaws, I do think this film is important and fascinating to watch. It is frustrating that there are so many dead ends in the subplots. Chaz never explains how he supports himself and his girlfriend. They seem to live a very nice life, yet he needs to borrow money for surgery. Simple details like this make it tough to want to care about these characters. (And his girlfriend is not very sympathetic to begin with.) It seems as though the film tries to bite off much more than it can chew. But do watch it.