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2010 | 2004

2 items from 2004


Heir to an Execution

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

Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Few events in American history have the air of mystery, intrigue and tragedy that surrounds the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for supplying atomic secrets to the Russians. In "Heir to an Execution", Ivy Meeropol, granddaughter of the Rosenbergs, grapples with the personal ramifications of these very public events in full view of anyone interested in watching. And who could turn away from a story so compelling and full of Shakespearean drama? The production should generate more than enough interest to power a healthy theatrical run.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg become icons known as "the Atom Spies." Picasso painted them. But as Julius' old friend and co-defendant Morton Sobell says, "They were very ordinary people". It is Meeropol's search for the everyday aspect of the grandparents she never knew that propels the documentary.

We learn that Julius was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and Ethel doted on her two sons, Robert and Michael. Of course, like many intellectuals of the time, they were fervent communists, but what they did or did not do is not the question Meeropol is trying to answer. Another film will have to tackle that question. This is a family story.

Shortly after the execution, 10-year-old Robert, Ivy's father, and 6-year-old Michael were adopted by a good lefty couple, Anne and Abel Meeropol. None of the many siblings of Julius or Ethel would come forward to take in the kids. When Ivy tries to make contact with her long-lost cousins, only one would agree to be interviewed on camera, where he breaks down and apologizes for the family's neglect.

Robert serves as Ivy's conscience and sounding board and the source of much of the information. One of the curiosities of the film is that he is seemingly a happy and well-adjusted person. Together he and Ivy go to the apartment on New York's Lower East Side where the Rosenbergs lived before the FBI came to arrest Ethel and Julius in 1951. Robert is spooked to think that the agents rode in this very elevator to get his parents. Then, in the kitchen, Ivy strikes a pose made famous by Ethel, and to make the connection, the film cuts to the original photo. The filmmaker is sharing her intensely private moment with the audience.

Pieces of the puzzle are laid out by friends and colleagues, most notably 103-year-old Harry Steingart, who says that the Rosenbergs could have gotten off by naming names, including his own, but to their credit remained silent. Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy are among the scoundrels who make appearances via newsreels and suggest the pernicious tenor of the times.

Meeropol, a writer by trade, is not always the most assured interviewer or graceful filmmaker. Some scenes go on too long and miss the mark, others have less impact than they should. But her openness and willingness to go anywhere, and to take along a public that has long been intrigued by this story, is the film's real strength. And when, at the end, Meeropol finally visits her grandparents' grave and places a stone on the headstone to mark the site, as is the Jewish tradition, there is not likely to be a dry eye in the house.

HEIR TO AN EXECUTION

Blowback Prods.

Credits:

Director: Ivy Meeropol

Producers: Marc Levin, Daphne Pinkerson, Ivy Meeropol, Sheila Nevins

Directors of photography: Matthew Akers, Ivy Meeropol

Music: Human

Editors: Ken Eluto, Eric Seuel Davies

Running time -- 98 minutes

No MPAA rating »

Permalink | Report a problem


Heir to an Execution

23 January 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Few events in American history have the air of mystery, intrigue and tragedy that surrounds the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for supplying atomic secrets to the Russians. In "Heir to an Execution", Ivy Meeropol, granddaughter of the Rosenbergs, grapples with the personal ramifications of these very public events in full view of anyone interested in watching. And who could turn away from a story so compelling and full of Shakespearean drama? The production should generate more than enough interest to power a healthy theatrical run.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg become icons known as "the Atom Spies." Picasso painted them. But as Julius' old friend and co-defendant Morton Sobell says, "They were very ordinary people". It is Meeropol's search for the everyday aspect of the grandparents she never knew that propels the documentary.

We learn that Julius was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and Ethel doted on her two sons, Robert and Michael. Of course, like many intellectuals of the time, they were fervent communists, but what they did or did not do is not the question Meeropol is trying to answer. Another film will have to tackle that question. This is a family story.

Shortly after the execution, 10-year-old Robert, Ivy's father, and 6-year-old Michael were adopted by a good lefty couple, Anne and Abel Meeropol. None of the many siblings of Julius or Ethel would come forward to take in the kids. When Ivy tries to make contact with her long-lost cousins, only one would agree to be interviewed on camera, where he breaks down and apologizes for the family's neglect.

Robert serves as Ivy's conscience and sounding board and the source of much of the information. One of the curiosities of the film is that he is seemingly a happy and well-adjusted person. Together he and Ivy go to the apartment on New York's Lower East Side where the Rosenbergs lived before the FBI came to arrest Ethel and Julius in 1951. Robert is spooked to think that the agents rode in this very elevator to get his parents. Then, in the kitchen, Ivy strikes a pose made famous by Ethel, and to make the connection, the film cuts to the original photo. The filmmaker is sharing her intensely private moment with the audience.

Pieces of the puzzle are laid out by friends and colleagues, most notably 103-year-old Harry Steingart, who says that the Rosenbergs could have gotten off by naming names, including his own, but to their credit remained silent. Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy are among the scoundrels who make appearances via newsreels and suggest the pernicious tenor of the times.

Meeropol, a writer by trade, is not always the most assured interviewer or graceful filmmaker. Some scenes go on too long and miss the mark, others have less impact than they should. But her openness and willingness to go anywhere, and to take along a public that has long been intrigued by this story, is the film's real strength. And when, at the end, Meeropol finally visits her grandparents' grave and places a stone on the headstone to mark the site, as is the Jewish tradition, there is not likely to be a dry eye in the house.

HEIR TO AN EXECUTION

Blowback Prods.

Credits:

Director: Ivy Meeropol

Producers: Marc Levin, Daphne Pinkerson, Ivy Meeropol, Sheila Nevins

Directors of photography: Matthew Akers, Ivy Meeropol

Music: Human

Editors: Ken Eluto, Eric Seuel Davies

Running time -- 98 minutes

No MPAA rating »

Permalink | Report a problem


2010 | 2004

2 items from 2004


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