Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Josh Aronson's doc ORCHESTRA OF EXILES blends music, WWII, heroics and Holocaust

Chalk up another -- and new to me -- hero in the fight against the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II, one whose weapon was music, as made by some of the world's greatest musicians: Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947). Huberman, evidently one of the world's great violin-ists, was a child pro-digy, who, as he grew, took Europe and then much of the western world by storm, selling out concerts wherever he played.

According to this documentary, ORCHESTRA OF EXILES, written and directed by Josh Aronson, an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker for his 2000 documentary Sound and Fury, Huberman was much more than a great violinist. He was a patriot of the yet-to-be-created state of Israel and an anti-Nazi who rescued up to a thousand Jews (who probably would not have survivied the coming Holocaust), as he planned and then created the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. (Mr. Aronson is shown above with a young actor from one of the many recreated segments of his movie.)

Unfortunately, it is these recreated dramatizations that turn Aronson's film, which is from time to time quite interesting, into a sorry mish-mash of style and content. Utterly unnecessary, these "scenes" (one of which is shown below), shot in hi-def and color that jolts the viewers out of of the black-and-white ambience of the 1930s time period (shown above), simply raise a red flag that screams "fake!" every time they appear -- which is way too often throughout.

Clearly these are actors who (especially the one chosen to represent Huberman), look little like their historical counterparts, and so simply call further attention to the bad mix. Dramatically, these small sections also suck. They feel like padding (they most likely are) to make the movie into something full-length, and when set against the history told us and the generally excellent archival photos shown us, they seem silly and intrusive. In the most ridiculous of these scenes, we're told the story of a young musician saved by the music academy's janitor from the clutches of a group of Nazi youth by being locked in a bathroom. To accompany this tale, we get visuals -- again in high-def color -- of a line of bathroom stalls and a door handle turning momentously. Yikes!

Yet the story of Huberman (above) is a worthy one, and the talking heads assembled -- ranging from Zubin Mehta to Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell -- are impressive. Bell's particular connection to Huberman is especially tantalizing (though not as interesting as the Wikipedia entry on this same subject).

One of the things the movie manages to remind us of is that the Jews of 1930s Germany and elsewhere in Europe should not be blamed for not knowing, or being able to figure out, their future. They assumed that, as bad as things might get, these Nazis were not a permanent fixture (they were right about that) and that somehow they would, as ever, survive these bad times, just as they had so many others. Most of them did not. But would we middle-aged and beyond citizens act much differently, if we found ourselves in similar circumstances today? I doubt it. Look now at how we behave as, little by little, our rights disappear under the current umbrella of the wealthy/corporate/government collusion.

TrustMovies is happy to have seen this documentary --  he learned something from it -- but he certainly wishes it were better con-ceived and executed. Orchestra of Exiles, from First Run Features and running 85 minutes, opens this Friday, October 26, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, with a limited nationwide run to follow.

Note: The release of ORCHESTRA OF EXILES comes as, in October 2012, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra travels to the United States to perform in New York, Palm Desert, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Presented by American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, benefits at Carnegie Hall in New York City (October 25) and at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (October 30) highlight the Israel Philharmonic's 28th tour of the United States. (Click here for more information.)

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