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1 item from 2004

Prisoner of Paradise

9 July 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

NEW YORK -- A fascinating documentary that would seem a prime candidate for dramatic treatment, last year's Oscar-nominated "Prisoner of Paradise" tells the tragic story of Kurt Gerron, a rotund German-Jewish cabaret and film star who met his untimely end at the Auschwitz concentration camp. What distinguishes Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender's film from the many similarly themed efforts that have preceded it is that it tells a morality tale of a man whose hubris partially led to his downfall and whose willingness to work for his Nazi overseers resulted in one of the most notorious propaganda films of the era.

Gerron was a leading entertainment figure in Berlin during the 1920s and early '30s, his credits including introducing the song "Mack the Knife" in the first production of "Threepenny Opera" and a supporting role in Josef von Sternberg's classic film "The Blue Angel". When the Nazis came to power, Gerron was too immersed in his career to take much notice, and despite entreaties from such colleagues as von Sternberg and Peter Lorre to leave Germany, he remained, even turning down a plane ticket sent by Warner Bros. because his seat wasn't in first class.

Although he moved to such cities as Paris and Amsterdam to continue his career, he was eventually captured by the Germans and sent to the Thereseinstadt concentration camp outside of Prague. Located in a former garrison town, the camp was used by the Nazis as a propaganda tool designed to demonstrate that the Jews weren't really being treated badly. To that end, they recruited Gerron to make the film "The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews," a sanitized portrait that is now on constant display in the town's museum. Despite his cooperation, Gerron was shortly thereafter sent to Auschwitz, where he and his wife were immediately murdered.

Utilizing a mixture of fascinating archival footage -- Gerron's less-than-Aryan looks were used to typify the Jewish menace in the incendiary propaganda film "The Eternal Jew" -- and talking-head interviews with many of those who worked with Gerron or knew him in the camp, "Prisoner of Paradise", narrated compellingly by Ian Holm, tells this resonant tale in clear and dramatic fashion. While its subject remains a rather elusive figure, he is nonetheless a haunting one, and the images of him directing Thereseinstadt's children for his film, a look of dark desolation in his eyes, is not likely to leave you for a very long time.

Prisoner of Paradise

Menemsha Films


Directors: Malcolm Clarke, Stuart Sender

Screenwriter: Malcolm Clarke

Producers: Malcolm Clarke, Karl-Eberhard Schaefer

Executive producers: Jake Eberts, Stuart Sender

Director of photography: Michael Hammon

Editors: Glenn Berman, Susan Shanks

Composer: Luc St. Pierre

Narrator: Ian Holm

Running time -- 96 minutes

No MPAA rating »

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