Monday, September 14, 2009

Shoo-In for Best Doc nomination: DANGEROUS MAN/DANIEL ELLSBERG

TrustMovies' only complaint about this fine new documentary is its title. What -- they couldn't have made it any longer? Prac-
tically paragraph-length already, THE MOST DAN-
GEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS at least makes sure you'll know exactly what this engrossing and oddly timely movie is all about.

It was Henry Kissinger, shown at extreme right -- no political pun intended -- with then-Presi-
dent Richard Nixon, who crowned Mr. Ellsberg with that name. If we knew then (the early 70s) what we later learned about Henry, many of us would have dismissed the name-calling out of hand -- along with so much else he said.

Yet in reality -- to politicians the likes of Richard Nixon and his gang, Ellsberg surely did prove the most dangerous of men, and it is to the credit of writers/directors/producers Judith Ehrlich (above, left) and Rick Goldsmith (above, right) that they've been able to bring such immediacy, eloquence -- even suspense and surprise -- to this story of how and why a gung-ho, pro-Vietnam-War American (below) with a high-level job at the Rand Corporation would finally become one of, perhaps the most important whistle-blower in our nation's history.

I remember hearing Mr Ellsberg, a hero to many of us who had long protested the Vietnam War, speak publicly in Southern California about what he had done and why at the time that his deed was still current, and so I fully expected to be a bit bored and at the very least to experience a definite sense of deja vu as I watched a re-hash of these familiar goings-on. Not a chance. So carefully and cleverly have Ehrlich and Goldsmith compiled, culled and then composed their reams of photos, history and details (and then interspresed all this with some fascinating -- sometimes richly emotional -- talking-head interviews) that their 90-minute film virtually races along. The filmmakers combine the personal and political seamlessly, and they know how to create suspense legitimately by simply sticking to the story as it re-unfolds under their capable auspices.

It was not, as we discover anew, simply the publication of the Pentagon Papers (which gave the lie to one administration after another regarding our Vietnam sojourn) but the possibility that Mr. Ellsberg could be imprisoned long-term as a traitor for his deed -- and what this would do to all future whistle-blowers -- that proves so important here. That, and how what happened at that time reflects on what has happened over the past decade, with the USA embroiled in a even more stupid and unnecessary war, that will probably cost us much more, in every way, than did our putrid misadventure in Vietnam. (Important, too, is the fact that the break-in of Ellsbergs' psychiatrist's office helped lead to Watergate and Nixon's resignation.)

How these current times are seen through the prism of 30-40 years ago is part of Dangerous Man/Pentagon Papers' immense appeal. So is its look at what happens when you involve your children in your conspiracy, when your wife and you see things in such a diametrically oppositional way, and how your co-workers will view you, once you've taken that major action. The movie is such a wealth of thoughtful fact and feeling gathered together that I can't imagine most seniors (those who believe in working toward an open society and a transparent government, that is) not flocking to it. What is has to say to our younger generation, however, is even more important.

On a more personal note, the biggest surprise for me came when Egil "Bud" Krogh, part of the Nixon White House cover-up staff, goes on record in the film with very high praise for Mr. Ellsberg. I knew Krogh glancingly, from Principia College, the very small (500 students, back then) institute of higher learning reserved for those of the Christian Science religion, from which both Krogh and I grad-
uated within a year of each other. A decade later, we had Misters Halderman, Ehrlichman and Krogh (perhaps others, too) connected to the Nixon White House -- all members of this particular faith and all serving near the highest corridors of power.

At the time of Watergate, this Christian Science connection came clearly to the fore, and it in no way surprised those of us disen-
chanted with the religion because, as some of us learned from our Principia experience, the pressure to conform to the group-think of this school and its religion (more often than not right-wing, Repub-
lican and moneyed) was immense. And, yes, yours truly was right there, conforming with the best of them! (A roommate of mine, a non-conformist at that time, headed the Young Democrats group on campus, of which he was, I believe, the only member -- or at least the only member I knew of.) Though separation of church and state was still a "given" at that time, I have always felt that a bit of the barrier to this separation had been chipped away by the Christian Science connection. And so this may explain why I felt such a surge of delight at hearing, toward the end of this excellent documentary, the present-day Mr. Krogh praise Ellsberg and his actions.

The Ellsberg Movie (I seem to be shortening that title with each reference), having just seen its world premier at the Toronto Film Festival, makes its New York City debut at Film Forum for a two-week run beginning this Wednesday, September 16, and will open one week later, September 23, in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica 4-plex. You can keep up with its future screenings here.

Photo Credits, listed from top to bottom:

President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger c.1970,Courtesy of Air Force Magazine.

Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, co-directors and co-producers of the film; photo by Lynn Adler/Kovno Communication

Daniel Ellsberg, in uniform in Vietnam, c.1968,
courtesy of Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg (at microphone), his collaborator in the release of the Pentagon Papers Tony Russo (with striped tie) and Patricia Ellsberg, courtesy of AP / Wide World Photos.

Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg, courtesy of Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg, photo by Joseph Daniel/Kovno Communications.

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