Saturday, August 11, 2018

An all-time great? Very probably. Leo Hurwitz's amazing, ever-current doc, STRANGE VICTORY

It says things that were simply never spoken of on film at the time. Couple this with visuals of gorgeous, harrowing power and you have a documentary -- a hybrid way ahead of its time -- that appears as current today as it must have seemed shocking, unforgettable and (unfortunately for the filmmaker and his subsequent career) unforgivable when it first was shown back in 1948.  STRANGE VICTORY is a hybrid documentary film I had not even heard of until I received a press release from its Blu-ray distributor, Milestone Films. Now, having experienced the movie (and a number of fine Bonus Features on the disc), I can attest -- along with a bunch of other critics -- that this is one film I shall never forget.

Though initially receiving a good-to-magnificent reception from early screenings, once the "establishment" had weighed in on the film, its writer/director Leo Hurwitz (shown at right) found himself pretty much blacklisted from being able to work in either television (in its early stages) or film.

This was because he told the truth about prejudice and racism in America back at the near-mid-20th-Century, and the powers-that-be did not want to hear this. Nor did they want the American people to hear it. They still don't. And this fact makes the movie, if this is even possible, more timely than ever.

It is just post-World War II America, and the Allies have won. So why, Hurwitz asks, does the voice and message of Adolf Hitler still pursue us? He answers this in a number of different ways and using differing means: gloriously filmed black-and-white images -- some archival (below), others shot for this movie (his cinematographers were Peter Glushanok and George Jacobson) -- that resonate with both meaning and art, and a beautifully written narration narration by Hurwitz himself that quietly, steadily, sorrowfully implicates us all in the continual holding down and back of the "others."

These would be, of course, blacks, Jews, Asians, even Catholics. Anyone who was not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The narration sways and rolls, coming back again to prejudice in the film's most haunting sequence, taking place in a hospital room full of newborns, as our narrator explains to them what they can expect from life -- and why. This is such strong, powerful stuff that the fact that it was gifted to us 70 years ago and then not given the chance to be seen seems close to criminal. As you view the film, your realization of how little has changed in so many ways should be at least salutary, if not, finally, a call to action.

How and why Hitler was able to rise to power is also part of the narrative here. The message -- of demagogues, racism and the death of democracy -- is a vital one. But for the simply amazing visuals alone -- beautiful/ugly and resonating like crazy -- the film is a must-see. Talk about "telling it like it is." This is the documentary that first nailed it.

Strange Victory lasts only 64 minutes (on the IMDB, the doc's length is said to be 71 minutes, so I am assuming seven minutes were lost to this 2K new restoration/transfer from the original 1948 nitrate interpositive), which may also partially account as an excuse for why a theatrical run proved more difficult. But it is here now -- and really must be seen

From Milestone Films and The Milestone Cinematheque, the documentary hits the street on DVD and Blu-ray this coming Tuesday, August 14 -- for purchase and (I would hope) rental.

The disc's bonus features include the 2K restoration of Strange Victory from the original 35mm nitrate fine grain master; Leo Hurwitz’s surprising 1964 epilogue to the film, celebrating Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement; Leo Hurwitz speaking about Strange Victory, courtesy of Ingela Romare, from her 1992 film, On Time, Art, Love, and Trees: A Meeting with Leo T. Hurwitz; Barney Rosset (who produced the documentary) speaking about Strange Victory, courtesy of CUNY TV City Cinematheque and interviewer Jerry Carlson; plus six films from Hurwitz’s years as a member of the Worker’s Film and Photo League and Nykino, Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC: National Hunger March 1931, Bonus March 1932, Hunger March 1932, America Today, World in Review, and Pie in the Sky (a funny, cogent, "silent" film co-starring Elia Kazan, and made prior to his sell-out).

No comments: