Monday, July 30, 2012

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day...8?

I think...it's easy to lose count by this time. Anyway, it was Saturday and the first day in Berkeley/Palo Alto/JCCSF. I was in Palo Alto at the Cinearts for two shows.

First up, the documentary SIX MILLION AND ONE, a holocaust documentary and a family documentary at the same time. It starts with the death of director David Fisher's father, and the discovery of the journal he kept while in Gusen labor camp. A place where the average survival time of a Jew was less than two weeks, he survived over 10 months. It was one of the last camps liberated (a good 4-5 months after Auschwitz,) and he was one of the last to be released. And, like most survivors, he didn't talk about it much, and his own children didn't know the full extent of the horror.

You know, over the years at Jewish Film Festivals and elsewhere I've seen many, many holocaust documentaries, but I'm still surprised by the capacity to shock and horrify me. What really struck me in hearing the descriptions of the torture and death at the camp was how perversely creative they were, as opposed to the stereotype you often get about the efficient, emotionless death machines. Fisher also meets the soldiers who liberated the camp, and hears their horror stories of finding so many people starving they were practically living skeletons (the saddest part is the soldiers gave them food, only to see them immediately die when their stomachs couldn't take it.) And perhaps the most moving part is when Fisher brings his brother and sister to the camp with him and they have a unique opportunity to tour the tunnels (it was an underground aircraft fuselage manufacturing plant) and discover a new appreciation for their father who couldn't say the right words in life but in his diaries revealed to them that even in their happiest moments a part of him was always there (in Gusen.)


Next up was another documentary, again with some Nazi-era sadness, but ultimately a story of a triumphant life of a true mensch. GLICKMAN is the story of Marty Glickman, a New York high school track star who went on to Syracuse and was one of only two Jews on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. In case you forgot, 1936 was the Berlin Olympics, overseen by Hitler. And most people remember Jesse Owens embarrassing Hitler by winning 4 gold medals. But what I didn't realize before was that Owens was originally entered in only 3 events. The day before the 4x100 meter relay--where the Americans were so heavily favored the only way they could lose was by dropping the baton--Glickman and Sam Stoller (the other Jew on the team) were dropped and replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. For the record, Owens protested the move, which Glickman always appreciated, but it was a time and environment when the coach said to do something a black athlete couldn't really defy him. There's a lot of speculation about what was really behind it. The story within the team was there was a rumor that Germany was holding back its best runners to compete in the relay and embarrass the Americans (the Germans finished 4th) so they had to put their best runners in. USOC head Avery Brundage claimed that Glickman and Stoller were only alternates from the start, and never expected to compete (Brundage was a supporter of Hitler's regime, and instrumental in preventing a boycott by convincing the USOC that Germany did, indeed, allow Jews to compete on their team. This, of course, was a lie.)

Anyway, the important thing in this movie is not actually the injustice done to him at the 1936 Olympics. In fact, it's a story of what happens when you pull the rug out from under an 18 year old kid's dreams (of course, with the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, 1936 turned out to be his only shot.) Many would become bitter and angry at it. Marty went on to have a fine career at Syracuse, was a local celebrity, and became a broadcaster. Nowadays, it seems pretty natural for athletic stars to go into sports broadcasting, but Marty was the first. Before him, sportscasters were broadcasters who happened to broadcast sports, but he was the first jock who understood the games and could call them as if he was playing along. Apparently if you grew up in New York at the right time, he was ubiquitous, but I honestly hadn't heard of him before this movie. He was the voice of the New York football Giants for years, before a contract dispute with the station forced him over to the Jets. He was the voice of the Knicks--really, the voice of the fledgling and struggling NBA for years. He invented much of the terminology--baseline, lane, key, "swish!"--and mentored a young Marv Albert. And that was a big part of his career, too--mentoring the young guys. And that's pretty remarkable in a competitive field with only so many plum jobs, usually an established guy doesn't want to give a hand to some young go-getter who might replace him. He was also great at encouraging kids in youth sports, broadcasting his high school game of the week. He finally got on national TV on HBO, which I never knew actually started out as a predominantly sports-themed station.

And all this time, he called the games but never said much about his playing days or what happened in 1936. It was only some 50 years later when he returned to Berlin and to the Olympic Stadium and he was overcome with all this anger that he had held inside (later, on a third trip to Berlin, he sat in Hitler's box and reveled in the fact that, "I was there and he wasn't." He also came to terms with the fact that compared to what happened to so many other Jews, what happened to him was nothing.)

And that was last Saturday at Jewfest North.

Total Running Time: 177 minutes
My Total Minutes: 294,476
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