Tower Debuts on PBS and Revisits Austin Massacre

Eighteen-year-old college freshman Claire Wilson was eight months pregnant when she became the first victim of a sniper on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin, on August 1, 1966. Her ordeal is documented in TOWER. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Eighteen-year-old college freshman Claire Wilson was eight months pregnant when she became the first victim of a sniper on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin, on August 1, 1966. Her ordeal is documented in TOWER. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

“If I could see the top of the tower, then the sniper could see me,” says Ray Martinez, former Austin, Texas, patrolman, as he recalls the chain of events that thrust him into the line of fire during America’s first mass school shooting.

On August 1, 1966, surrounded by an arsenal of guns and ammunition, a former Marine hunkered down on the observation deck of the iconic clock tower at the University of Texas, Austin. During his 96-minute siege of the campus in the heat of the midday sun, the sniper shot university students, staffers and passersby at random below, including a pregnant young student, her unborn child, and a paperboy making his daily deliveries. The sniper’s bullets ricocheted off campus statues and pillars, and his victims fell on the scorching campus mall pavement, where most remained until the siege ended. Sixteen people lost their lives that day, and more than 30 were wounded.

Claire Wilson and Tom Eckman were the first two victims of a sniper perched on the observation deck of the University of Texas clock tower in 1966. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Claire Wilson and Tom Eckman were the first two victims of a sniper perched on the observation deck of the University of Texas clock tower in 1966. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Fifty years later, filmmaker Keith Maitland revisits this shocking tragedy in his new feature-length documentary, Tower. Following its critically acclaimed film festival and theatrical run, Tower makes its broadcast debut on the PBS series, Independent Lens, tonight, Tuesday, February 14, 2017, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region.)

Director/producer/editor Keith Maitland brings a fresh eye and unique blend of storytelling to Tower, relying heavily on animation to replay the massacre’s harrowing time frame from the point of view of its victims. You will be hard put to find a more gripping, beautifully scored and emotionally involving documentary that utilizes animation to such an extensive degree.

A stranger named Rita dodged a barrage of bullets to lay beside wounded, pregnant Claire on the pavement during the entire ordeal. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

A stranger named Rita dodged a barrage of bullets to lay beside wounded, pregnant Claire on the pavement during the entire ordeal. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Maitland seamlessly blends black and white and color rotoscopic animation with grainy black and white period news footage and on-camera interviews with survivors and witnesses. The first person narratives are largely rendered with rotoscoped images and dramatically voiced by young actors.

Seven individuals (who began that day with a significant other, family member, friend or colleague by their side) are the film’s prime focus:  a pregnant student and the male student who ultimately pulled her out of harm’s way; a young paperboy shot off his bicycle while on delivery; two police officers who, with a civilian University staff member, heroically ended the siege; and a radio reporter who kept locals and the nation at large in-the-loop.

“Keith’s approach–weaving extraordinary animation with previously unseen archival footage–offers a new way for audiences to look at the immediate and long-term impact on survivors,” said Lois Vossen, Executive Producer, Independent Lens.

Local news director Neal Spelce reported on the shooting as the action unfolded. His radio reports gripped the nation. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Local news director Neal Spelce reported on the shooting as the action unfolded. His radio reports gripped the nation. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Fifty years have passed since that fateful day, a day that obliterated forever our innocent belief that American schools and college campuses were safe oases. This mass school shooting was not only the first of its kind on U.S. soil, but it remains one of the worst statistically, in number of victims and duration. At the time, reports of the tragedy flooded news outlets around the country and the sniper and his victims landed a Life Magazine cover story.  Esteemed CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite even expressed his personal reflections on-air.

The filmmaker shares a portion of Walter Cronkite’s moving and prophetic editorial in Tower, and also gives us actual face time with several surviving victims who reflect on how they have processed the suffering and losses they endured that day and how this film project has helped them find closure.

“Four years ago when Keith approached Independent Lens with this project, the topic of gun violence was preeminent,” added Vossen. “Unfortunately, that has become even more true in the years since we funded Tower.”

Paperboy Aleck Hernandez was shot off his bike while delivering newspapers on August 1, 1966. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

Paperboy Aleck Hernandez was shot off his bike while delivering newspapers on August 1, 1966. Photo courtesy TOWER Documentary LLC.

In the end, Maitland’s film is not so much a story about a madman in a tower (the sniper’s name is never prominently mentioned), but rather the better angels in the mix that day whose selfless, courageous and forgiving gestures (as victims and life-savers) infuse this film with inspiration.  Tower stands as a timely reminder that guns in the hands of unstable individuals remain the number one killer of Americans on U.S. soil, and it sends a clear message that stricter gun control laws should be our priority.

I encourage you not to miss the PBS premiere of Tower on Independent Lens tonight, Tuesday, February 14, 2017, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and its availability, beginning February 15, 2017, via online streaming  @ http://www.pbs.org/independentlens –Judith Trojan

Posted in Film, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Lewis Inspires Us to Get in the Way

Civil Rights activist and Congressional leader John Lewis at his polling station in Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy Early Light Productions.

Civil Rights activist and Congressional leader John Lewis at his polling station in Atlanta, GA. Photo courtesy Early Light Productions.

“I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate President,” said Civil Rights icon and longtime U.S. Congressman John Lewis. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

After the U.S. Representative (D-GA, 1987-present) clarified his reasons (to “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd) for boycotting President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, Rep. Lewis immediately felt the heat of Trump’s Twitter fire. Trump aimed his snarky Tweets at the Congressman’s credibility and memory (yes, Lewis had also sidestepped the first inauguration of President-elect George W. Bush), character and jurisdiction. But Trump’s Tweets backfired. They revealed the President-elect’s shocking ignorance of Lewis’s respected tenure in Congress, his courageous role and stature in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, and the status of Lewis’s congressional district and constituency.

If you need convincing on that score, I suggest that you watch Kathleen Dowdey’s timely new documentary, John Lewis–Get in the Way, debuting tonight on PBS, Friday, February 10, 2017, 10:30 – 11:30 p.m. ET. (Check listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region.) There’s certainly no better time than Black History Month to acknowledge and celebrate the actual accomplishments and true character of Rep. John Lewis.

John Lewis has served as a U.S. Representative (D-GA) since 1987, but he made his mark in the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement as a young man alongside of his friend and mentor, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Producer/director Kathleen Dowdey revisits Lewis’s roots in rural Alabama. The son of poor sharecroppers, he journeyed north to study for the ministry at American Baptist College in Tennessee, a mission inspired by a Martin Luther King, Jr. radio broadcast that Lewis heard at 15 in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Metro policemen grabbed John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights demonstrators, at Morrison's Cafeteria in Nashville on April 29, 1964. Lewis was the first of many to be arrested by the police. Photo courtesy The Tennessean.

Metro policemen grabbed John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights demonstrators, at Morrison’s Cafeteria in Nashville on April 29, 1964. Lewis was the first of many to be arrested by the police. Photo courtesy The Tennessean.

John Lewis–Get in the Way reminds us of the challenges faced by King, Lewis and others committed to desegregation via nonviolent protest throughout the Jim Crow South at lunch counters, on buses, in bus terminals, hotels and schools, as well as during black voter registration drives.

An overview of Lewis’s commitment to nonviolence during this period, despite the risks of severe bodily harm, is proof positive that he not only “talked the talk” but “walked the walk” as well.  Lewis was arrested and jailed for the first time during the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, he was repeatedly assaulted by angry mobs. As the Chairman of SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), he was the youngest speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington. In March 1965, he led the Bloody Sunday March in Selma, Alabama, where state troopers attacked peaceful protesters with clubs, bullwhips and tear gas.

John Lewis–Get in the Way replays these encounters via graphic archival photos and news footage, as well as through thoughtful recollections from Rep. Lewis, family members, Congressional colleagues and notable Civil Rights’ activists, who underscore the political and racial dynamic that led to violent physical assaults, incarceration and even death for peaceful protesters. The positive roles played in John Lewis’s life by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. Attorney General and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, and President Lyndon B. Johnson (who signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965) are moving reminders of inspirational leadership in this country.

John Lewis at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo courtesy Early Light Productions.

John Lewis at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo courtesy Early Light Productions.

On February 21, 2017, John Lewis will turn 77 years old. He will have served in Congress for 30 years. He has been beaten, jailed and now Trump-Tweeted for standing up for human rights, voter rights, and our democracy as defined in the U.S. Constitution.  There are no “alternative facts” in John Lewis–Get in the Way.

Although the film is a much too brief overview of a complex, divisive era in U.S. history and introduction to the heroes of the day, John Lewis–Get in the Way should inspire all of us, including current inhabitants of the White House, to take a refresher course in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to John Lewis, an essential launching pad for film programs in schools, libraries and colleges should definitely be Henry Hampton’s landmark documentary film series Eyes on the Prize–America’s Civil Rights years, 1954-1965.

John Lewis–Get in the Way debuts tonight on PBS, Friday, February 10, 2017, 10:30 – 11:30 p.m. ET. (Check listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region.) The film will be available for online streaming, beginning February 11, 2017, via the PBS apps for iOS and Android devices and station-branded digital platforms, including Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. The DVD from PBS Distribution can be purchased at http://ShopPBS.org –Judith Trojan

Posted in Film, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Witness Takes the Stand on PBS

Did 38 neighbors witness Kitty Genovese's attack and murder in 1964 and do nothing as reported? THE WITNESS attempts to set the record straight. Photo courtesy The Witnesses Film, LLC.

Did 38 neighbors witness Kitty Genovese’s attack and murder in 1964 and do nothing as reported? THE WITNESS attempts to set the record straight. Photo courtesy The Witnesses Film, LLC.

“I was 16 when my sister, Kitty, was murdered in New York City, ” says William Genovese in the gripping, feature-length documentary The Witness. “In an instant she was gone. No one understood me like Kitty.”

Following its well-received theatrical release in 2016, The Witness makes its broadcast debut on Independent Lens on PBS tonight, Monday, January 23, 2017, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region.

Twenty-eight-year old Kitty Genovese was brutally stabbed during a rape attempt across the street from her apartment building in Kew Gardens, Queens, in the early morning hours of March 13, 1964. Without the aid or intervention of neighbors, police or passersby, she managed to stumble to the vestibule of her apartment building where her attacker dealt his final blows.

The crime was shocking and captured the media’s attention, generating glaring headlines beyond NYC newsrooms. But Kitty’s own back story and the details of her brutal murder soon took a back seat to the crime’s  shocking moral implications. Did 38 Kew Gardens’ neighbors actually “witness” her attack and do nothing as initially reported in The New York Times?  The Times’ breaking crime coverage became the nut for other news outlets around the city and world, fueling political rhetoric, the story lines of socially relevant TV programming and the syllabuses for criminal justice confabs and college sociology courses for more than half a century.

The Genovese family, circa early 1950s, from left: Kitty, Bill, Frank, Rachel, Vincent, Susan and Vinnie. Photo courtesy of The Witnesses Film, LLC.

The Genovese family, circa early 1950s, from left: Kitty, Bill, Frank, Rachel, Vincent, Susan & Vinnie. Photo courtesy The Witnesses Film, LLC.

In death, Kitty Genovese would forever be remembered as the “poster child for urban apathy.”  But on the 40th anniversary of her murder in 2004, this landmark crime story took another turn. The New York Times published an article by journalist Jim Rasenberger examining the accuracy of his original coverage.  Meanwhile, filmmaker James Solomon’s research for a dramatic screenplay about the murder led to his meeting with Kitty’s brother William “Bill” Genovese, who had yet to resolve the pain of his sister’s death.

“I was originally attracted to the story as a morality play and wanted to explore what happened in those apartments,” recalls producer/director James Solomon. “I had no reason to doubt the popular narrative of the 38 witnesses who watched.”  Solomon finally determined that a documentary, not a fictionalized drama, “would bring us closer to the truth.”

Solomon’s film, The Witness, follows Bill Genovese on his 11-year odyssey to set the record straight by separating fact from fiction and upending the veracity of the word “witness” as it was applied to his sister’s case. Spurred by inconclusive and redacted police reports and helpful research originally collected for an “ABC 20/20” news story about the crime, Bill revisits the crime scene, re-stages Kitty’s screams for help, connects with surviving “witnesses,” reporters and criminal justice professionals and even attempts to arrange a meeting with his sister’s incarcerated murderer  (Winston Moseley died in prison in April 2016) and one of Moseley’s sons.

A Vietnam veteran and double amputee, Bill is a gentle if obsessed protagonist. His relentless mission ultimately affords him and his siblings a measure of comfort and closure when several of Kitty’s former friends and neighbors debunk the original police report and news coverage. He also creates a vivid portrait of his sister, as a loving sibling, free-spirited friend and gutsy maverick, who turns out to have been a surprising trailblazer for her time.

THE WITNESS explores Kitty Genovese's life story, as well as the collateral damage of her brutal murder. Photo courtesy of June Murley and The Witnesses Film, LLC.

THE WITNESS explores Kitty Genovese’s life story, as well as the collateral damage of her brutal murder. Photo courtesy June Murley and The Witnesses Film, LLC.

Like any well-orchestrated crime drama, The Witness grabs you by the throat and never lets you go.  It should serve as a marvelous discussion catalyst in counseling settings with individuals who have lost family and friends to senseless crimes. It will also be a fitting choice for schools, libraries and universities in criminal justice, ethics and journalism classes dealing with the consequences and collateral damage of inaccurate and sensational media coverage.

“At a time when there is a renewed focus on responsibility of the press and public institutions to ask tough questions to distinguish myth from truth, The Witness … reminds us how ambiguous events get reshaped into narratives to fit our collective and individual needs in the absence of the whole truth,” says Lois Vossen, Independent Lens executive producer.

I encourage you not to miss the U.S. broadcast premiere of The Witness on Independent Lens on PBS tonight, Monday, January 23, 2017, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and its availability on Video On Demand and, beginning January 24, 2017, via online streaming  @ http://www.pbs.org/independentlens –Judith Trojan

Posted in Film, Journalism, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

HBO Debuts Bright Lights…Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Everlasting love. Mother and daughter bond at the dawn of their life together. From BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS. Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy HBO.

Everlasting love. Mother and daughter bond at the dawn of their life together. From BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS. Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy HBO.

“She’s me, and I’m her,” says actress/writer Carrie Fisher in the delicious new feature-length documentary Bright Lights. Fisher’s remark caps one of her grueling gigs at a Star Wars fan convention and refers to her breakout film role as Princess Leia. But she might as well be talking about her mom, Hollywood superstar Debbie Reynolds.     

A master of hilarious one-liners  and off-the-charts repartee, Carrie Fisher died suddenly at age 60 on December 27, 2016, followed by her mom’s passing a day later. If you were shocked by the timing of this heartbreaking loss, do yourself a favor and watch Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be grateful you tuned in to share the grand finale of the Carrie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds experience.

Bright Lights made a splash earlier last year in happier times at the 2016 Cannes, Telluride and New York Film Festivals. It debuts on HBO tonight, Saturday, January 7, 2017, 8:00 – 9:35 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)

Filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, an accomplished actor in his own right, no doubt originally conceived Bright Lights as a wildly entertaining cinema véritè portrait of Hollywood royalty as Debbie, Carrie, her brother Todd Fisher, his wife actress Catherine Hickland, and their devoted staff recall the family’s lifetime in the limelight and the challenges that threatened to derail them.   In light of the recent unexpected back-to-back deaths of Reynolds and Fisher, Bright Lights takes on new and poignant resonance.

Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Todd Fisher in one of many lovely family photos featured in BRIGHT LIGHTS. Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy of HBO.

Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Todd Fisher in one of many lovely family photos featured in BRIGHT LIGHTS. Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy HBO.

Jam-packed with wonderful clips from Debbie and Carrie’s films and TV appearances, myriad home movies and lovely family photos, the film paints a portrait of a complicated, intense and loving mother-daughter bond that transcends show business and the demands of their accomplishments as artists.

With reflections from Carrie’s brother, Todd Fisher, and their significant others, the family’s tumultuous past quickly falls into place. Mother-daughter-son survived setbacks that would have crushed many mortals (substance abuse, mental illness, feckless fathers, dissolute husbands, bankruptcy); but they seemed to have patched themselves together with stronger glue in the end.

Carrie’s early fall from grace began around age 13 when her erratic behavior (undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder) and her lapse into drug abuse took root. She replayed the fallout to comic effect in her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge (Simon & Schuster, 1987), and her adapted screenplay for the 1990 film directed by Mike Nichols. Those episodes were painful to Debbie who tearfully puts them into perspective… and clearly in the past tense.

Superstar Debbie Reynolds loved the spotlight but never let her children go (with Todd and Carrie Fisher). Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy of HBO.

Superstar Debbie Reynolds loved the spotlight but never let her children go (with Todd and Carrie Fisher). Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy HBO.

As they met the needs of their sassy, aging mom who was not content to retire from show business and wait to die, Carrie and Todd faced new hurdles that many daughters and sons can easily relate to. Carrie’s efforts to get Debbie prepped and on-stage for her periodic gigs in Las Vegas and the burbs and, most especially, for the love-fest awaiting her acceptance of the 2016 Screen Actors’ Guild Life Achievement Award are especially touching.

A hill separated Carrie and Debbie’s houses on the Reynolds’ family “compound”; but the invisible ties that bound them more closely as mother and daughter clearly meant that Debbie could not live without Carrie by her side, and vice versa.  Bright Lights sits comfortably alongside of Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper (see my April 9, 2016 review ), as one of the best documentaries in recent memory to depict the mother-child bond respectfully, warts and all, no matter how lofty the subjects and how hard the fall.

Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie Reynolds, share the stage. As seen in BRIGHT LIGHTS. Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy HBO.

Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie Reynolds, share the stage. As seen in BRIGHT LIGHTS. Photo: Fisher Family Archives. Courtesy HBO.

On its most elemental level, Bright Lights works as an entertaining profile of Hollywood royalty and as an unusually upbeat addition to programs featuring films about mothers and daughters (Grey Gardens, Terms of EndearmentMildred Pierce, GypsyImitation of Life, Stella Dallas, etc.). But it is also an evergreen choice for adult family programs in libraries and counseling centers dealing with aging parents, the challenges faced by family care-givers and grief.

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds debuts on HBO tonight, Saturday, January 7, 2017, 8:00 – 9:35 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)–Judith Trojan

Posted in Film, Music, Theater, Theatre | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

By Sidney Lumet Launches New Season of American Masters

In BY SIDNEY LUMET, the director ponders the moral message that permeated his body of work. Photo courtesy Augusta Films.

In BY SIDNEY LUMET, the director ponders the moral message that permeated his body of work. Photo courtesy Augusta Films.

“I’m not directing the moral message, I’m directing that piece and those people, says esteemed film and TV director Sidney Lumet in American Masters: By Sidney Lumet. “If I do it well, the moral message will come through.”

Lumet died in 2011; but, in 2008, he sat for five days of interviews with producer Thane Rosenbaum and the late filmmaker Daniel Anker for American Masters. Those interviews frame filmmaker Nancy Buirski’s latest film, American Masters: By Sidney Lumet. Following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and brief theatrical release in Fall 2016, the film makes its national broadcast debut on PBS tonight, Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m., ET, launching Season 31 of American Masters. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and its availability on digital video On Demand and DVD/Blu-ray from FilmRise.

Sidney Lumet directing Charlotte Rampling and Paul Newman in THE VERDICT in 1982. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

Sidney Lumet directing Charlotte Rampling and Paul Newman in THE VERDICT in 1982. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

If you’re a fan of 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The PawnbrokerRunning on Empty, The Verdict and Murder on the Orient Express, to name just a few of the 44 feature films that Sidney Lumet adapted and directed over a period of 50 years, I urge you not to miss American Masters: By Sidney Lumet

Primarily known for his serious body of work as a film director (his feature films received an incredible 46 Academy Award® nominations and six wins, including an Honorary Oscar in 2007), Sidney Lumet shares some fascinating anecdotes about his surprising success as a working child actor in New York’s Yiddish Theater, as well as on Broadway and in film, the latter in small roles.  

He credits Henry Fonda and luck with his trouble-free segue from TV to film directing, but it’s clear that Lumet’s longevity in show business is due to the lessons learned from his dad. Noted Yiddish stage actor Baruch Lumet instilled in his young son a reverence for his theater milieu, classic drama and the virtues of hard work and a regular paycheck.

During the opening and closing minutes of By Sidney Lumet, the director ruminates on the life and career-altering ramifications of a shocking incident he witnessed and chose to ignore in Calcutta as a young man.  He also revisits the father-son dynamic that enabled his family of poor working actors to survive on Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the Great Depression, as well as his personal challenges during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

Did the moral lessons garnered from those experiences consciously or unconsciously color the projects he ultimately chose to direct?  He seemed conflicted by this question in 2008 when he sat for the interviews for American Masters, and yet the answer is clearly “yes.”

Sidney Lumet (front) and Al Pacino (far right) filming DOG DAY AFTERNOON in 1975. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

Sidney Lumet (front) and Al Pacino (far right) filming DOG DAY AFTERNOON in 1975. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

“When one speaks of morality in movies, certainly one thinks of Lumet,” recalls Peabody and Emmy Award-winning producer/director Nancy Buirski. “So many of his films deal with corruption and fairness, individuals going up against an unjust system. Inherent in this sense of morality is the way we dissemble, the way we lie to each other and to ourselves.” 

Ms. Buirski generously peppers her respectful homage to Sidney Lumet with clips from key feature films, as well as his work on film as a child actor and as a prolific director of early live TV dramas for such shows as “You Are There” and “The Alcoa Hour.” 

The clips not only remind us of some of the most outstanding film and TV dramas of the last half of the 20th century but some of the greatest film and stage actors to grace the screen as well. Hepburn, Brando, Fonda, Steiger, Newman, Pacino, Richardson, Magnani, Bacall, Hiller, Redgrave, Robards …the list of brilliant actors featured in large and small roles in Lumet’s projects is endless. Lumet seemed to draw these giants to his side like a magnet.

Sidney Lumet (left) and Marlon Brando kick back on the set of THE FUGITIVE KIND circa 1959. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

Sidney Lumet (left) and Marlon Brando kick back on the set of THE FUGITIVE KIND circa 1959. Photo courtesy ©Everett Collection.

American Masters: By Sidney Lumet refreshingly steers clear of bombastic anecdotes from Hollywood cronies and details of Lumet’s personal life, loves and losses as an adult. Ms. Buirski allows Lumet and the film and vintage TV clips and photos to speak for themselves. His themes consistently explore the moral dilemmas facing responsible individuals in their communities, families and workplace and are still relevant and timely. One wonders how Lumet would have addressed the current American political climate and mindset were he alive today.

If you are drawn to serious filmmakers and their work, American Masters: By Sidney Lumet will enrich your appreciation of Lumet’s compelling films and encourage you to reexamine the moral questions they raise. The documentary–followed by Nancy Buirski’s brief, appended interview with actor Treat Williams, the star of Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City–makes its national broadcast debut on PBS tonight, Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m., ET.  Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and its availability on digital video On Demand and DVD/Blu-ray from FilmRise. –Judith Trojan

Posted in Film, Theater, Theatre, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lucy Mangles Her Movie Debut in I Love Lucy Christmas Special

Lucy Ricardo faces a heady costume malfunction in the newly colorized episode, LUCY GETS IN PICTURES. Photo ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lucy Ricardo faces a heady costume malfunction in the newly colorized “I Love Lucy” episode, LUCY GETS IN PICTURES. Photo ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ho Ho Ho and Hollywood make for a merry holiday cocktail on CBS tonight, thanks to the genius of Lucille Ball and her alter ego, Lucy Ricardo. While I’d be hard-pressed to single out one favorite I Love Lucy episode of all time, Lucy Goes to Hollywood is by far my favorite Lucy “arc.” Happily, a classic episode from the Lucy Goes to Hollywood arc is on tap tonight, Friday, December 2, 2016 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT), when CBS airs their annual I Love Lucy Christmas Special.

As in previous years, the I Love Lucy Christmas Special piggybacks as holiday fare two entertaining, colorized episodes from the beloved 1950s I Love Lucy CBS-TV series. This year, a newly colorized episode, Lucy Gets in Pictures, debuts in tandem with the previously colorized and aired I Love Lucy Christmas Episode.

First broadcast on CBS on February 21, 1955, Lucy Gets in Pictures shows us just how far star-struck Lucy will go to get her foot in the door and on camera in Hollywood, USA. While Ricky’s career is on fire (he’s been called out to Hollywood to star in his first feature film), Lucy wants to make good on a fib posted to her NYC friends back home that she, too, will be “in pictures.”

Lucy is green with envy when pals Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) are scouted in their hotel lobby for a two-week gig in a film and favorite bellhop Bobby nabs a choice bit part as well. Luckless Lucy can’t seem to catch the eye of a scout and turns even greener scarfing down ice cream sundaes at Schwab’s soda fountain counter, the site of Lana Turner’s “discovery.”

Ricky’s attempt to line up a part for his depressed wife sets in motion one of Lucy’s most famous classic comedy bits as a doomed showgirl upended not by an assassin’s bullet as scripted, but by her unwieldy costume… its endless gauzy train and impossibly heavy head-gear. Lucy’s riotous trek down a steep staircase in this costume is indeed a “trip” worth multiple viewings. It’s unforgettable physical schtick, performed by a comedy genius whose way with snappy tête-à-tête is also masterfully showcased here as Lucy matches wits with her frustrated director.

Colorization works especially well to bring Lucy and Ricky’s Hollywood milieu to life in Lucy Gets in Pictures. The Ricardos’ hotel room is bathed in sunny L.A. light and the frothy costumes are more than props destined to trip and snare poor Lucy… they’re gorgeous, sparkling pink confections.  

There's a faux Santa around every corner in the classic, now colorized 1956 I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS EPISODE. Photo: ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There’s a faux Santa around every corner in the classic, now colorized 1956 I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS EPISODE. Photo ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Originally thought to be “lost,” the December 1956 Christmas Episode is a nostalgic Christmas eve visit to the Ricardos’ Manhattan apartment where Lucy and Ricky trim their tree and prep gifts to surprise Little Ricky, their Santa-obsessed five-year-old.

Without missing a beat, Ricky and Lucy concoct a hilarious timeline for Santa to deflect their son’s questions and insistence on remaining awake to greet him fireside.

Fred and Ethel Mertz join the fun as Lucy and Ricky wistfully recall Lucy’s unexpected pregnancy announcement at Ricky’s nightclub and Ricky, Fred and Ethel’s subsequent foiled effort, months later, to get Lucy to the delivery room on time. Welcome colorized flashbacks are intercut from these classic episodes.  The latter, still hilarious after all these years, continues to serve as the classic benchmark for all subsequent TV sit-com “birthing” episodes that followed.

Finally, in a musical interlude, Lucy’s attempt to sing “Jingle Bells” reminds Ricky and the Mertzes of the time tone-deaf Lucy crashed their barbershop quartet with disastrous results.  A flashback of their sabotaged performance is included.

Say what you will about colorization (and you can read my thoughts on this in a previous I Love Lucy Christmas Special post), I definitely support the process and team who produce the “Lucy” colorization project. They continue to impart a fresh, timeless look to the I Love Lucy episodes by deftly maintaining muted, natural tones and without overplaying their hand and resorting to garishness.  You can read my additional reviews of past I Love Lucy Christmas Specials at  http://www.judithtrojan.com/2014/12/07  and  http://www.judithtrojan.com/2015/12/23

Who's that lurking over Lucy Ricardo's shoulder? Watch the I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL on CBS and find out! Photo courtesy CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Who’s that lurking over Lucy Ricardo’s shoulder? Watch the I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL on CBS and find out! Photo courtesy CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

This year’s annual I Love Lucy Christmas Special debuts on CBS tonight, Friday, December 2, 2016, 8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT. (Check On Demand and DVD for further availability.)  I can’t think of a better antidote to the mean-spirited months we’ve recently weathered as an electorate. An hour spent with Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel recalls a time when “class act” and “comedy genius” actually meant something worth cherishing.  I hope that this season’s I Love Lucy Christmas Special will help you welcome the holidays with renewed hope and joy.–Judith Trojan

Posted in TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marathon Powerfully Revisits the Patriots Day Bombing on HBO

Two-year-old Wesley Brillant of Natick, Mass.

Two-year-old Wesley Brillant of Natick, Mass., kneels in front of a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Jim Bourg. Courtesy HBO.

What does the word “hero” mean to you? If you feel that the only “heroes” still standing in America today are the cartoon characters featured in action films, you’re not alone. Abraham Lincoln concluded his First Inaugural Address in March 1861 with the following prescient words of encouragement to a divided Nation:

“We are not enemies, but friends. … Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Photo: ©Tom Green/ ZUMAPRESS.com. Courtesy HBO.

Photo: ©Tom Green/ ZUMAPRESS.com. Courtesy HBO.

Lincoln’s perceptive assessment of the American spirit is as timely today as it was in 1861. For more concrete evidence that we, as Americans, all have the potential to be driven by “the better angels of our nature,” I urge you not to miss Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing.

After winning accolades on the film festival circuit, this powerful, feature-length documentary makes its cable debut on HBO, Monday, November 21, 2016, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.)  HBO will also mark the fourth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing in an encore presentation on Saturday, April 15, 2017, and with DVD availability on Patriots Day, Monday, April 17, 2017.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing recounts in gripping, edge-of-your-seat fashion the horrific events that unfolded during the 117th running of the Boston Marathon on Founders Day, April 15, 2013. Primary focus is placed on several severely injured survivors–a mother and daughter, two brothers, and a newlywed couple–who began that day as healthy, eager bystanders and ended it on the blood-soaked sidewalk, their bodies shattered by shrapnel from homemade terrorists’ bombs. That these passionate Americans lived to tell their stories is miraculous in itself, but how they managed to survive and rebuild their lives will touch your heart and inspire grateful reflection as you celebrate Thanksgiving later this week with family and friends.

Love truly conquers all. The extraordinary resilience of newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky is chronicled in MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING. Photo: Allana Taranto. Courtesy of HBO.

Love truly conquers all. The extraordinary resilience of newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky is chronicled in MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING. Photo: Allana Taranto. Courtesy HBO.

Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg frame the personal stories of these resilient survivors and their families with a stirring tapestry of news and found footage, home movies, photos and audio that documents the carnage and the “better angels” who played a pivotal healing role that day and in the days and years that followed. We see firsthand what it’s like to grieve for lost limbs and healthy lives; and we witness the fortitude it takes to survive the collateral damage from shrapnel wounds–constant pain, disfigurement, repeated unsuccessful surgeries and unrelenting post traumatic stress. We revisit the manhunt impressively orchestrated by the FBI and local authorities that led to the suspects’ dramatic apprehension. And we experience the conflicted emotional toll exacted on the victims and the journalists forced to cover the surviving terrorist’s trial.

The film is dedicated to the four deceased victims–Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier–of this homegrown terrorist attack. Their families, along with the survivors and their families, once strangers, are now bound together forever by their shared life and death struggles, as well as with the journalists and photographers who documented their progress in The Boston Globe, and the selfless civilians and military and medical personnel whose life-saving heroics on that fateful day in April 2013 are simply without peer.

JP Norden, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, visits his doctors and amputees who served in the U.S. military at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He and his brother, Paul, were both badly injured but survived the Boston Marathon bombing. Photo: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe. Photo courtesy HBO.

JP Norden, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, visits his doctors and amputees who served in the U.S. military at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He and his brother, Paul, were badly injured, but both survived. Photo: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe. Photo courtesy HBO.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing will not only move you to tears but will restore your pride in America and the heroes who continue to live among us. The film explores what it truly means to embrace life, grieve loss, to heal and most especially, what it means to be courageous and to love someone unconditionally, whether it be a spouse or partner, mother, son, daughter, brother, caregiver, or even a pet.

Writer/directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, in association with The Boston Globe, remind us that America is and always has been “great,” simply because heroic, resilient Americans to the left and right of us are still out there insuring the democratic fabric of our nation and making a positive difference in the lives of others.  The subjects of this extraordinary film are all heroes in my book.

18-year-old Sydney Corcoran, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, preps for her Lowell (Mass.) Senior Prom. Her mom, Celeste, who lost both her legs in the bombing, changes the bandages on her daughter's injured foot. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe. Courtesy HBO.

18-year-old Sydney Corcoran, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, preps for her Lowell (Mass.) Senior Prom. Her mom, Celeste, who lost both her legs in the bombing, changes the bandages on her daughter’s injured foot. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe. Courtesy HBO.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing makes its cable debut on HBO, Monday, November 21, 2016, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.) HBO will also mark the fourth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing in an encore presentation on Saturday, April 15, 2017, and with DVD availability on Patriots Day, Monday, April 17, 2017.

I predict this film, which I initially saw at the Hamptons (NY) International Film Festival this past fall, will sweep the documentary Emmy Awards® in 2017. Since this writing, it has won a Christopher Award and been nominated for a 2016 Peabody Award. Don’t miss it!–Judith Trojan

Posted in Cable, Film, Journalism, Newspapers, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment