Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Steven Spielberg’

The Post *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st January, 2018

The PostThe Pentagon Papers (at least some of them) were published by the New York Times and Washington Post in the summer of 1971, just before I set off — for the second time — for Vietnam, to cover President Nguyen Van Thieu’s re-election (he was the only candidate; he won). Though the explosion caused by the publication of details of how successive US Presidents had lied to the American people about the “success” of the War was not quite as huge in Britain as it was over the other side of the Atlantic, it meant that Saigon was a pretty febrile place by the time I got there. Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, opens with scenes of US soldiers in Vietnam — very much as I remembered them — but most of the movie’s action takes place in Washington, in the Washington Post’s editorial office and at the printing presses, as well as the mansion of proprietor Katherine Graham and grand residences of her friends, including the former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (for whom actor Bruce Greenwood is made up to be a disconcertingly spitting image). As the title of the film suggests, it is essentially about the newspaper and the way that Kay Graham learned fast how to behave as its owner and to guarantee its bright future in the face of legal challenges launched by the Nixon administration. Authenticity is added by the detailed recreation of the atmosphere of early 1970s newsrooms and the workings of linotype printing, as well as some key realtime tape recordings of Richard Nixon talking to Henry Kissinger and others over the phone from the Oval Office. Meryl Streep is such a consummate actor that one expects her to be brilliant, and she does not disappoint. But the real star, without a doubt, is Tom Hanks, who just is the Post’s editor Ben Bradlee — utterly convincing both in his professional and domestic personae. Not all Spielberg’s films are unalloyed triumphs, but this one undoubtedly is. I can almost hear it hooverng up the Oscars already…

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Son of Saul

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th September, 2016

son_of_saul_posterThe stark reality of the gas chambers and furnaces of Auschwitz are hard for the human mind to imagine, even when one visits the eerily empty huts that have been preserved on site. And although concentration camps have figured in many Hollywood movies — Spielberg’s Schindler’s List perhaps being the best-known example — none conveyed the true atmosphere in the way László Nemes’s Son of Saul achieves. It is a grey and brown world cut off from normal life, the air filled with smoke and the barked orders of the German SS overlords and their Polish and Jewish kapo underlings, the noise of banging doors and the shrill cries of victims arriving on transports and being shepherded to their death. The film — the director’s first — focuses on one man, Saul (brilliantly played by the Hungarian writer and poet Géza Rohrig), who is one of a team that empty the Jews’ clothes of valuables, drag the lifeless bodies to the furnaces, shovel coal and throw human ashes into a river, beyond which the “real” world exists, if only they could escape. Conversation is in brief, snatched moments, as they fulfill their gruesome tasks like automatons, all at great speed, chivied on by blows and threats. The camera rarely leaves Saul’s face, the action around him often reduced to a blur. He is emotionless, as if his mind has retreated into the innermost part of his being, until he sees a boy who briefly survives the gas chamber before being killed and whose body Saul latches on to as if it were his own son, desperately trying to locate a rabbi among the transports to give the boy a proper burial.

son-of-saulSon of Saul deservedly won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year. I saw it at a screening at the EBRD in London last night, after which Géza Rohrig (unrecognisable behind a bushy black beard) was interviewed by Henry Fitzherbert, film critic of the Sunday Express. The actor was so affected by the experience of working on the film that he got circumcised and traveled to Israel to study Judaism. He made the telling point that other films about the Holocaust tended to focus on the one in three Jews who survived rather than the two who perished, whereas Son of Saul concentrates totally on the victims. They all die, and there is a grim inevitability about that which gives the film so much of its power, making it literally unforgettable.

 

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