Kissinger on trial

FILM

Documentary is unsparing

FilmColumn

February 13, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Just as home audio and video runs in the blood of the tragic family in Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans, documentaries run in the Jareckis'. In 2002, Andrew's brother Eugene directed The Trials of Henry Kissinger, the focus of tomorrow's "FilmTalk" at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St.

Unlike Capturing the Friedmans, which exploded guilty verdicts into shards of ambiguity, this documentary aggressively indicts Henry Kissinger, the national security adviser and secretary of state who gave America a new image of the "action intellectual" while his attackers say he was committing war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Chile.

Based on Christopher Hitchens' acute book-length polemic, similarly titled The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Jarecki's movie treats some of Kissinger's defenders (including Alexander Haig and Brent Scowcroft) as hostile witnesses. But the movie never slights Kissinger's complexity, brilliance and unexpected charisma.

How did a portly Harvard intellectual with a thick German accent become an improbable sex symbol, squiring around the likes of Jill St. John? He took advantage of the post-Camelot Zeitgeist during the late 1960s and 1970s, when the press had routinely begun to glamorize politicians Hollywood-style.

Kissinger flirted with reporters shrewdly and outrageously. He humorously intimated that he was a "secret swinger" and proclaimed that "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

Jarecki skillfully links his juggling of a party-animal media image and dead-serious political purpose with his other amazing balancing act - professing idealistic goals of statesmanship, like achieving Nixon's goal of "peace with honor" in Vietnam, while practicing political brinkmanship behind the scenes to further American prestige and his own personal clout.

Jarecki's Kissinger is a navigator nonpareil in the meeting places of our politics and culture.

The program starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Wheeler Auditorium, on the Pratt's third floor.

Movie valentine

This weekend the Charles' Saturday revival series presents a Valentine's Day treat: Ernst Lubitsch's flawless romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner (1940). In part, it's a poignant, funny love quadrangle acted out with just two lovers.

James Stewart plays the top employee at a Budapest leather-goods shop, and Margaret Sullivan a salesgirl hired over his objections. Of course, neither realizes they've been conducting an anonymous love affair with each other by mail.

In their love letters, Stewart and Sullivan are passionately, whimsically high-minded. "Oh, my Dear Friend," Sullivan writes, "my heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there."

But in their workaday life they banter evasively to deny the flirtatious tugs they feel toward each other. They must learn to believe in their own best self-images, to transfer their chivalric dreams to their everyday lives. Samson Raphaelson's marvel of a script unfolds in six sequences that rise and fall with the surprising weight of mini-lifetimes; under Lubitsch's tart-tender direction, the emotionally transparent Stewart and the electric, conflicted Sullivan create an immortal comic courtship.

The Shop Around the Corner plays tomorrow at noon and Thursday at 9 p.m. For more information, call 410-727-FILM or go to www.thecharles.com.

A local premiere

The Maryland Film Festival and the Walters Art Museum continue their Black History Month Film Series with tonight's Baltimore premiere of Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker's Only the Strong Survive (2002), a documentary about R&B stars of the 1960s and '70s who've kept exciting audiences a quarter-century after their supposed prime. The movie includes circa-2000 performances from Wilson Pickett ("In the Midnight Hour"), Mary Wilson ("Love Child"), Carla Thomas ("Gee Whiz") and Jerry Butler ("Only the Strong Survive"). Hegedus and Pennebaker will be on hand tonight to introduce the film and take questions afterward at the Walters, 600 N. Charles St.

The program begins at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $10 ($8 for museum members, students and seniors). To reserve tickets, call 410-547-9000, Ext. 237.

A Polish gem

As part of its three-month Eastern Europe film series, the University of Baltimore this Thurday at 8 p.m. presents Ashes and Diamonds (1958), Andrzej Wajda's political threnody for Poland. Set on May 8, 1945 (the first day of the postwar era), it meshes slashing social melodrama with absurdist shocks, symbolic curlicues and small-town black comedy. It's a vortex of a movie - exciting even (perhaps especially) when passion, irony and melancholy all swirl together.

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