Category Archives: Film

“BEYOND ZERO: 1914-1918″— Footage from The Great War

beyond zero

“BEYOND ZERO: 1914-1918″

Footage from The Great War

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Bill Morrison gives us a unique look at World War I by showing us film that has never been seen before by contemporary audiences and will never be seen again outside of this film. Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov created the haunting score, commissioned and performed by the Kronos Quartet. “Beyond Zero” pieces together a visual exploration of the war and is a fascinating look at something we might never have seen if Morrison had not made this film. Included on the DVD is an exclusive video of the Kronos Quartet performing the piece at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival. Some will find the movie strange especially as we see moving images from the trenches, battlefields and air battles of the War.

Morrison uses rare archival footage, which has often been decayed by the passing of time and he explores the power of film as a medium which is evocative of memory and gives rise to a sense of collective mythology.

“KNOW HOW”— Five Foster Kids

know how

“KNOW HOW”

Five Foster Kids

Amos Lassen

“Know How” is a film that was written and acted by five foster care youth in which they share with us their feelings about loss, heartbreak, and come of age in this tale about transience and perseverance. The film came into being after filmmaker Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza received a phone call from an old friend, Paul Griffin, founder of the Possibility Project in New York City. Griffin works to empower youth through his organization.

Every year, a group of young people who have been through foster care tell about their lives in musicals that they have created. However, this year was going to be different— they were going to make a movie. “Know How,” is that movie, a musical based on real events, written and acted by foster youth.

Each actor was asked to describe some of the important moments in their lives. The result is an authentic look at real events. There was no script and the kids simply acted from their hearts and we hear about their success and failures, heartbreaks and losses. When the five stories came together we see a chronicle about being a foster child.

These kids have had to deal with turbulent lives and even as they were filming the still had to dealt with things that most of us have never thought about.

We hear about abuse, and the places they’d have to go mentally and that was hard for them and is hard on us. We discover beauty and hope in their stories and we pray that they never again have to deal with some of the issues we learn about in the film. What the film really does is shed light on the foster care system in a way that’s never been done before. This is a film about social change and we realize it as we look at these kids who have basically been ignored by social structures.

“Addie struggles to graduate from high school while her best friend Marie loses her grandmother. Megan copes with being taken from her abusive family and faces the harsh reality of living in a residential treatment center. All the while, Eva works to be mother to her sister while their father falls deeper into a crack addiction. Finally, there’s Austin who’s living on the street with his brother; barely able to feed himself. All of them must decide to survive or else fall victim to a broken system.” Both the film and the actors inspire reflection, contemplation and at times, even personal action.

The DVD includes bonus extras of musical and deleted and extra scenes.

“VALLEY OF THE CYCLE SLUTS”— Nude and Naughty Justice

valley of the cycle sluts

“Valley Of The Cycle Sluts”

Nude and Naughty Justice

Amos Lassen

Wade Olson (Jason Williams) is a motorcycle-riding, tough guy cop who takes his renegade brand of justice too far and ends up being captured by the world’s meanest gang of biker chicks, ”The Sisters of Mercy”. To avenge his busting their boyfriends, they take him far into the desert, and serve up their own nude, naughty brand of justice, using their weapon of choice…sex!

I am not sure that the film answers the question of who is deadlier, male or female but the women sure try here. This is quite a bizarre film but fun to watch especially as Olsen tries to gather his wits in order to survive the situation he has been forced into. We get an idea of what happens when renegade justice takes over. This will never be considered as a classic movie but it is a “nice” way to pass an hour and a half.

 

“SMOKEY AND THE HOTWIRE GANG”— Hard Living Truckers

smokey and the hotwire gang

“Smokey and the Hotwire Gang”

Hard Living Truckers

Amos Lassen

Tony Cordoza’s “Smoky and the Hotwire Gang” is rip-off of “Smokey and the Bandit”, a supposedly farcical comedy about truckers and cruisers kicking up clouds of dirt on backwater roads as they evade the local Good Ole’ Boy Sheriff™, all the while giving each other Big Ten-Fours on their CB radios. It seems that this film wants to be an intertwining ensemble comedy, a story with multiple plotlines that intersect and impact each other in humorous ways. Unfortunately what we get instead is a plot that’s impossible to figure out solely from watching the movie.

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The film opens with two hairy 1970’s dudes driving around in their Porsche convertible and delivering bald-faced exposition about how CBs help you avoid speeding tickets. Nonetheless, a sheriff (“Smokey”) is soon on their tail. The Porsche speeds off and the sheriff exclaims he hasn’t seen anything take off so fast “since that kid put acid on a cat’s ass!” Now I am a bit befuddles by that statement and I cannot quite understand why a kid would put acid on a cat’s ass and why was the sheriff there to see it?

We then quickly break away to meet several other characters and this is while the car chase is going on. We meet a hitchhiker who gets picked up by a custom van driven by a flamboyant car salesman with the CB handle of Billy the Kid. We also meet two poor white trash guys from the Ozarks who ride around in a beat-up convertible. As they yammer on their CB, we see they’ve replaced the passenger seat in the car with a toilet and one of them sits on the toilet as the car cruises along. Going back to the original two hairy guys, we see that they have been forced off of the road by two hoodlums for no apparent reason. The hoods then go to a disco to kill time I guess but then they leave the club, “Filthy McNasty’s”. They head for fancy party where they meet Eleanor Brookhurst, a brunette woman in a low cut cocktail dress who sashays around. Her nickname, we learn is “Hotwire” but no one ever dares to call her that to her face. We learn that she runs various illegal operations in the city, among them prostitution, peddling dope, and fencing stolen cars. Hotwire arranges for her goons to rob an armored car. While she’s on the phone, Hotwire’s current boyfriend enters, and it’s the director, Tony Cordoza himself.

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The next scene is in an RV that turns out to be a mobile whorehouse and we watch the guys paying for their pleasures at which time one remarks, “you walk away feeling like you was still strangers!”

Once they’re gone, the ladies of the road decide to find more customers. And of course, they do this by getting on the CB radio [!!] and unabashedly announcing their services to all listeners. When a cop car passes them, they even wave and declare, “And that goes for all you Smokies out there, too!”

At a roadside diner, things all come together— the truckers with guns meet up with the greasy mob types, and the poor white trash guys from the Ozarks.

The script was written by T. Gary Cardoza and the reason I have given such a long summary (and what I have written is only a part of it) because I want us to have a look at where this film is headed. (Do we yet know?). To be able to juggle so many different subplots requires a strong director and unfortunately Cordoza is not such a director. As bad as the direction is, the acting is even worse and that is what I love about movies like this. They are so bad that they keep us watching—-over and over again. I love lousy movies but this is a mess.

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There are about five different groups of people all in different story lines. All they share in common is that everyone has a car and drives…a lot. People are in one location, then another without any explanation of how they got there. You’ll forget some of the people even exist until they show up again later in the movie. In some scenes no one’s lips are moving and yet someone somewhere is talking and we have no idea who it is.

This is a “perfectly brainless, senseless, shiftless, witless, virtually plot less and basically pointless” movie.

“BERLIN CALLING”— Her Father’s Roots

berlin calling real poster

“Berlin Calling”

Her Father’s Roots

Amos Lassen

Kastle Waserman is a “punk chick” living in California and she decides that she wants to know more about her family and its past. She begins by tracing her father’s roots to Berlin before the Second World War. From there her journey takes her to Houston, Paris, Berlin, Prague and Theresientadt. As she discovers more about the family she learns that she and the rest of her entire family were affected by Hitler’s Final Solution. What was her biggest discovery was that her family is much larger than she or anyone else imagined.

 

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I can almost hear some of you saying, “Not another Holocaust movie!” As important an event in history as it was, there are those that feel we are experiencing overkill with the amount of material available. Too much can lessen the effect and I have heard people say that they just do not want to see or hear anything about it for a while. What could possibly be new and why does the Holocaust remain in front of her eyes all of the time? I could always counter by saying that this film is different—and it is but that makes no difference to those who have had enough.

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Kastle was raised in suburban Houston and as a child she knew that there was something very dark about her family. Ben, her father never talked about his past. He felt that perhaps it is best subjugate those feelings by developing a business, helping raise his children and trying to be a regular family. I have never understood how one can be regular after experiencing something as terrible as the Holocaust. Kastle was a bit different than the rest of her family in that she went through a time as a rebellious punk and music was her god. Then she moved to Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming a journalist.

As a child growing up in suburban Houston, Kastle always knew a big, dark cloud hung over her family. But her father, Ben, never talked about his past. He was busy building a business, raising his children and trying to be like every other normal family. When she did this, she, for whatever reason made her father become fearful about being separated from her and knowing that persecution would remain with him as she moved on. But life went on. In fact, it was not until Kastle entered her thirties that she began to investigate her own father. She wanted to understand about the emotions that he was carrying with him all of the time. She wanted to know about his time in Berlin and she wanted to know about the Holocaust.
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The result is this film. “Berlin Calling” follows Kastle on her journey of discovery and it took her to five cities— Berlin, Prague, Paris, Los Angeles and Houston. We watch as she reads the paper that the Nazis kept on her family. We hear, along with her, her father’s firsthand account of being a child under Hitler’s oppression of the Jews and his time in a concentration camp. When I was growing up the Holocaust was not spoken openly about and most of what I learned came from a college world history classes but it was diluted. Kastle discovers that one of her family members had disappeared during the early days of the war and persecution. While this is a contemporary film, there are lessons to be learned. We see historical photos, film footage but it is the narration that has such an emotional affect on the viewers.

This is Kastle’s story and she shares it with us. She sees the story through her open eyes and as a second generation Holocaust survivor. What we really see and feel as a result is a true account in the most devastating time in the history of the world and the emotional impact that it delivers.

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Director Nigel Dick show us what he says took seven years to deliver. This is truly his baby—not only did he direct but he wrote, shot, narrated and edited the film. In the beginning there were no plans for a film—it kind of grew out of a project with Kastle Waserman who had never been to Berlin and had only a vague idea of her father’s early history in Germany. When Dick traveled with her to Berlin in 2007, they had no idea their visit would eventually evolve into a full-blown documentary film. Over the film period, six different kinds of cameras were used.

Up until now, the reviews of  ”Berlin Calling” have come from the various film festivals where it has played and they have been universally good. It is a study in the resilience and acceptability of the human soul.

“A BORROWED IDENTITY” (“DANCING ARABS”)— Culture, Identity and Language

a borrowed identityA Borrowed Identity (“Dancing Arabs”)

Culture, Identity and Language

Amos Lassen

When a Palestinian teen gains admission to a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem, the incident causes conflict about issues related to culture, identity and language. This is Eran Riklis new film which ironically was cancelled for its screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival because of escalating tensions between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The film is based on the book by Sayed Kashua, and tells the story of a man trapped between two cultures. Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) grew up with his father heavily involved in freedom fighting for Palestine. Often detained as a terrorist, Eyad’s father had a zealous belief in Palestine and rejoiced, for example, when the first Gulf War commenced. (He changed his tune quickly when he saw how out-matched Iraq was, which served as another defeat for his core values.)

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When Eyad gets secondary school, he has the opportunity to attend a prestigious Jewish boarding school. All he really wants is an education but when he gets to school, he faces racial tensions just as he does at home. His father jokingly (but not entirely) suggests he could build the first atomic weapon for Palestine, while his classmates ridicule him for his background. Things become more tense when he starts a relationship with Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), a Jewish girl at his school.

Eyad is pulled in both directions – to be Arab for his family history and to be Jewish to fit in better. Soon, he discovers a way that he can bridge the gap between both worlds, but as he gets deeper into it, he finds that he might have to give up his original identity.

What we see here and, for me, is the main thrust of the film is how the overall Israel/Palestine conflict creates victims in everyday life. Eyad is not in the thick of a military battle, but he is in the middle of a cultural one. Propaganda and racist signs are literally seen throughout the film in the background, warning of dangers in mixing Arab and Jewish heritage. It’s backwards thinking being presented passively as a sign of those times, and it reinforces the unpleasantness of these sentiments yet there is no preaching about them.

The issues tackled here go far beyond military action. We see the struggles of human beings, not armies and not nations— Just people who are the real tragedy of what is going on.

Riklis has directed the film with a very empathetic hand. It allows us to see the silliness of such bitter cultural hatred, but it also shows us that these feelings did not evolve in a vacuum. However, the film also shows that the victims of the conflict are not only those killed on the battlefield but includes those who are killed by circumstance of who they are. There is humor in the film but I found it to be something of a tragedy. There is no resolution here because of the imperfections of the world in which we live.

Israeli director Eran Riklis does quite an effective job of illustrating both the mutual prejudices and the decidedly one-sided power dynamics that talented West Bank Arab youth Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) must overcome to achieve his potential. Because he is the only Arab at his school, he takes some time to fit in but eventually ends up with a Jewish girlfriend, Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), and best friend, Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), who has a progressive form of muscular dystrophy. Despite his apparently successful integration, Eyad’s Arab identity comes back to haunt him repeatedly until one day he uses Yonatan’s passport to get a job as a waiter. Yonatan’s mother Edna (Yaël Abecassis) eventually learns of this, but her reaction is not what you might expect.

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This is a very well made film, something we can always expect from Riklis and it provides a great deal to think about. I love the adolescent mind of Eyad who thinks that the best example of integration is to get an Israeli-Jewish girlfriend and he succeeds in this with fellow student Naomi (Danielle Kitzis).

In class, Eyad is surrounded by people who are used to being taught the Israeli point of view for things ranging from history to literature. Not unexpectedly, Eyad’s relatively petty school problems occasionally take a back seat to political events, with the Arab-Israeli conflict heating up several times, including during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first Gulf War. Despite a terrorism joke or two, the film itself is almost even-handed to a fault, with the smart and affable Eyad managing to become friends with Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), a student with muscular dystrophy he meets through a community-service program.

As we watch we find that there are countless emotions and events constantly fighting for our attention and there is also the sense that the characters around Eyad remain underdeveloped—especially the wpmen,  The actors are all perfectly cast and the production values are high. It seems to me that the film is to make Jews and not just Israelis feel comfortable with Arabs. That is, until the finale, when bigoted alarmists may take home a more troubling message. This is another well-intentioned plea for coexistence, though apart from one scene that lays bare, with welcome righteousness, “the disturbing orientalism infiltrating even Israeli intellectual circles, the whole thing is rather too scrubbed and clean.”

Eyad doesn’t fit into his new surroundings at first. He is shy and awkward in Hebrew and does not have the cultural knowledge of his Israeli classmates. Over the course of a few years, Eyad settles into the social element of school life, but most classmates remain wary, and his love affair with Naomi has to be kept a secret. Riklis does a good job of ensuring that many shots almost casually include details such as anti-Arab stickers on telephone booths and the like, and though Eyad’s Hebrew is now native enough to “pass,” a casual sentence in Arabic can get him interrogated by soldiers, especially once the first intifada begins and prejudice against Israel’s Arab population becomes even more obvious and blatant.

“We are taken from a time when separate but quasi-equal seemed like a possibility through the intifada and the Gulf War, when many Arabs expressed knee-jerk support for Iraq largely out of Muslim solidarity and pride. Such events and others that followed made the dream of coexistence all but an impossibility, reflected in Eyad’s understanding that, to fit into Israeli society, he needs to disguise his Arab identity.”

“YOUTH”— Economic Instability

youth

“Youth”

Economic Instability

Amos Lassen

Shaul (Eitan Cunio) is an Israeli high school student whose family is having a hard time financially. His father, Moti (Moshe Ivgy), has been forced to take a lowly job at a movie theatre and his mother, Paula (Shirli Deshe), is stuffing envelopes and earning very little. They know that eviction is just around the corner, and it is a humiliating and frightening situation to be in.

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Yaki (David Cunio), Shaul’s older brother is doing his stint in the army. The two brothers have come up with a plan to save their home. They kidnap Dafna (Gita Amely), the daughter of wealthy parents, and take her to a bomb shelter under their building. Then they send a ransom demand and treat her shamefully — taking out their anger and aggression on her. This is director Tom Shoval’s first feature film and we see the angst and rage of the brothers because of being poor and then seeing Dafna whose family is very rich. They are also worried about their own futures since work is in short supply. This is not an easy film to watch because Shoval uses emotions and this is makes it more than just a story about a kidnapping.

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The Cunio brothers give exceptional and riveting performances and the story is a difficult one. The family has to deal with great tension. The scene in which the brothers take Dafna into their building’s bomb shelter, bind her head with fabric and then nonchalantly go upstairs for a family dinner is particularly difficult to watch.

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Shoval uniquely handles sibling rivalry silently yet it is evident in looks and body language. They are helpful to their mother and we see a kind of schizophrenia that is allegorical and about Israel’s society. The brothers represent a resentful population denied previous generations’ expectations of a better future. This does not justify their vile actions— their behavior is the result of a hopeless situation. They are products of an environment where handing an assault weapon to an 18-year-old is normal, but this isn’t used to excuse their deeds.

“SRUGIM” (“ סרוגים”)— Life and Love

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“Srugim” (“ סרוגים”)

Life and Love

Amos Lassen

“Srugim” is an Israeli television that is about a group of religious Zionist young adults living in Jerusalem. The title refers to the knit skullcaps worn by men and we understand that those who wear it are not religious but also Zionists. Our characters try to find the middle ground between modernity and traditional values. The section of Jerusalem known as Katamon is where many young, single religious people live. I remember it so well—-when I was studying in Jerusalem a group of us would walk around the city on the Sabbath and we would always get to Katamon which was something like a meat market filled with girls walking around. The idea was to be seen if you were single and I am pretty sure that there were marriages that came out of those Saturday afternoon strolls.

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The cast for the show is quite large but the plot actually focuses on the lives of five characters— Yifat (Yael Sharoni, Reut (Sharon Fauster), Hodayah (Tali Sharon), Amir (Amos Tamam) and Nati (Ohad Knoller) who confront other philosophical and religious challenges as well.

Reut on a number of occasions attempts to challenge the preexisting boundaries of women’s ritual participation. In the very beginning we see her reciting Kiddush, the blessing over the wine for her friends who share the Shabbat meal together. Women reciting Kiddush is a practice becoming more accepted and mainstream in the Modern orthodox community. In the show it is questioned, but nobody stops Reut from doing it and we here that the series has an understanding of a woman’s inherent equal obligation for Kiddush. Later on in the season, she continues to challenge these boundaries, Reut approaches a student at a Yeshiva who gives Bar Mitzvah lessons asking about learning how to read haftarah, which she wishes to do for her father’s yahrzeit. Yochai at first refuses, agreeing to make a tape for her, but gradually agrees to teach her and she later reads it in front of a women’s prayer group, including her closest friends.

Hodaya attempts to figure out the essence of who she is as she wrestles with her identity as a religious woman. When we first meet her, the struggle is already evident, as she has been studying bible academically at Hebrew University, an act of rebellion against her father who is the head of a religious school. She meets Avri, a professor of archeology, and they begin a relationship, in which she fails to tell him that she is religious. Eventually, issues arise as Avri attempts to serve Hodaya pasta with meat and cheese, and she decides to violate Shabbat on another occasion rather than reveal her background. Her struggle with her own religious identity and her relationship with secularism and the secular world gives us a look into how real Israelis deal with the confluence of this two different worlds, and where they fit in.

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Yifat and Nati also have their own story lines as does Amir and they weave in and out of each other throughout the series. The haunting theme song sets the mood for every episode. In English it is called “Where Shall I Turn?” and it is filled with double meanings and hidden subliminal messages. The cast is young and excellent all around. This is a credit to director Laizy Shapira. The attention to detail is wonderful and if you have ever spent a Shabbat in Jerusalem, you will feel right at home seeing all the familiar places.

There are no stereotypes and the characters exemplify the range of personalities and experiences one would encounter among real life religious young people. Of the three female leads, Reut is an Orthodox feminist; Hodaya begins to distance herself from her religious practice because she has meet Avri who is secular. Yifat adheres to tradition almost to the letter. If you have ever wondered how the Orthodox date, you will see that here. We really become aware of the complicated boundaries between men and women in a social milieu in which “dating” is a throwback to its definition in the earlier part of the 20th century especially in regard to the observance of shmirat negia’a (the prohibition against men and women touching one another unless they are married…to each other). “Srugim” is quite simply the story of the interwoven lives of a small group of friends and roommates.

 

“EMANCIPATION” (“eMANNzipation”)— Love and Resilience

emancipation

 “EMANCIPATION” (“eMANNzipation”)

Love and Resilience

Amos Lassen

We do not often think of men being abused by domestic violence but that is what this film is about. It focuses on a group of men who inhabit a shelter for abused men and does so with honesty and sensitivity. The men who share a common bond of domestic abuse include Dominic (Urs Stapfli), a mathematician; Horst (Hans-Ulrich Laux), an unemployed truck driver; Gregor (Roland Avenard), a novelist; and Lukas (Peer Alexander Hauck), a piano teacher.  The women they love (and may also fear) include Angela (Frances Heller), a 23-year-old pregnant housewife; and Belinda (Anna Gorgen), a lawyer. Director Philipp Muller-Dorn takes a daring and provocative look inside the world that very few men, out of embarrassment or retaliation, speak of: domestic abuse by their partner. Exploring this is long overdue and the film allows us to see an issue that many of us have never thought about. What we really see here is how men who have been abused by their wives or lovers deal with the obstacles that seem to prevent them from emancipation.

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When we first meet Dominic, he’s living with married friends, having been beaten up (he’s got a patch over one eye) and kicked out of the house and if this is not enough, he has just lost his job. He eventually winds up in a shelter for abused men. By interacting with the other residents, reluctantly participating in group therapy sessions, and by signing up for a karate class where he meets a sympathetic lady lawyer, Dominic slowly reveals his past history—through flashbacks– with his wife.

While on vacation in a rural area, Dominic met and fell for Hannah, a hearty, lusty country girl who introduces him to sex. They marry and return to Berlin where they soon have a baby boy. Over a short period of time, Hannah becomes somewhat deranged and accuses him of infidelity (and this is quite laughable when you see who Dominic is). She begins to attack him physically and verbally. His innate shyness, fear of confrontation and willingness to please seem to enrage his wife, who eventually vanishes, leaving their young son behind as a ward of the state. At the shelter he sees that he is not alone in this and it is there that he meets Belinda, a lawyer and the two fall in love as she helps him to reclaim both his child and his manhood.

In the process of gaining back his life, we hear Dominic says things that we have often heard abused women say and while it makes us a bit angry that he does not stand up for himself. For Dominic to do so is not part of his personality. Over the last few years, we have had many movies about domestic violence but we have not seen one in which the wife is the abuser.

Philipp Muller-Dorn has taken a realistic approach to the subject. No one character is just a monster or a weakling. The performances are wonderful. The star is Dominic, a flawed character who is also endearing and here is a film that really opens our eyes.

“SMILING THROUGH THE APOCALYPSE: ESQUIRE IN THE 60S”— Producing “Esquire”, A Cultural Icon

smiling through the apocalypse“SMILING THROUGH THE APOCALYPSE: ESQUIRE IN THE 60S”

Producing “Esquire”, A Cultural Icon

Amos Lassen

Tom Hayes’ “Smiling Through the Apocalypse” is the chronicle of Harold Hayes whose editorial instincts produced one of the greatest magazines ever. Harold Hayes was “the swinging editor and cultural provocateur of the iconic Esquire Magazine of the Sixties”. Tom Hayes is the son of Harold Hayes and it is his narration that takes on a journey of unprecedented access to some of the most exciting and compelling talents that graces the pages of “Esquire”— Nora Ephron, George Lois, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Gay Talese and Gore Vidal to name just six. The film is a story of risk, triumph, and challenge told by the people that helped make the magazine great, and a son who only come to understand his father’s editorial greatness 23 years after his passing.

The film actually explores the revolution in journalism that came about due to societal turbulence of the 1960s. We see a portrait of editorial genius in the person of Harold Hayes who brought together iconic writers, photographers and artists to make the magazine the vanguard of the cultural revolution.

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Hayes dared to encourage unprecedented journalistic freedom and he managed to land some of the most talented people of his time and we hear from many of them here giving their recollections of the time and the magazine. Hayes also managed to give

bylines to established literary giants like Dorothy Parker and W.H. Auden. Of course, this took place at a time when “monthly magazines were gleaming, state-of-the-art, ad-stuffed engines of both fact and sensibility, and guides to a confident, contemptuous, and romantic new postwar cosmopolitanism.” –

There is this wonderful story—-In 1962, Harold Hayes, then managing editor at Esquire, went to the cubical of junior editor John Berendt and asked him, “Who is the most important literary figure in New York?”, Hayes asked. “W.H. Auden”, Berendt answered meekly. “Take him to lunch and get him to do a piece for us.” He did, and in December Esquire published ‘Do You Know Too Much?’, an article by Auden on the limits of education. This is typical of the magazine’s approach at that time.

Hayes had a vision and the power to make it come true. His son has come to the conclusion that as a magazine editor, his father was one of the greats.

The film’s big draws are those interviewed in the film and the film is also tantalizing as a personal inquiry by Hayes’ son who both wrote and directed the film. Tom Hayes also provides the narration in which he talks about his own relationship with his father who died in 1989 at the age of 62.  While they had a close relationship, Tom, who was born in 1957, didn’t have much understanding of his father’s cultural impact during the decade from 1963-1973 when the senior Hayes ran Esquire. So the film is really a kind of research project for the Hayes, the younger, who set out to learn more about a man he didn’t entirely know.

Hugh Hefner tells us that when Esquire stopped including photos of semi-undressed women in the 1950s, he saw an opening for a magazine of his own. Publisher Arnold Gingrich and Hayes decided to bring a medley of classy writers to the magazine and provide an exciting new design. The magazine achieved many cultural firsts including Diane Arbus had her first photographs published in Esquire and the magazine’s Dubious Achievement Awards, which Benton and writing partner David Newman helped to introduce. The magazine also published major political and cultural reports by Norman Mailer, Talese, and John Sack, who wrote probing coverage of the Vietnam War.

The film does miss an opportunity to broaden its appeal by paying too little attention to Hayes’ personal life, which was apparently more complicated than the film suggests. In a discussion after the Palm Springs screening, Tom Hayes referred to his parents’ messy divorce, but this is not mentioned in the film. Harold’s personal history is not entirely irrelevant to the subjects covered in the film. One intriguing segment deals with a hatchet job that Hayes commissioned on rising feminist writer Gloria Steinem, but the film never delves into the sexist prejudices that so many editors harbored during that Mad Men era.

Despite these, the film captures the 60s with grace and skill.