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Heir to an Execution (2004)

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Fifty years after the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, their granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol, reflects on their lives, principles, and ultimate sacrifice.

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A filmmaker explores the lives and deaths of her grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953.

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Cast

Credited cast:
Ivy Meeropol ...
Herself
Michael Meeropol ...
Himself
Robert Meeropol ...
Himself
Ethel Rosenberg ...
Herself (archive footage)
Julius Rosenberg ...
Himself (archive footage)
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Fifty years after the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, their granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol, reflects on their lives, principles, and ultimate sacrifice.

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January 2004 (USA)  »

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Michael Meeropol should have made this film, not Ivy
6 March 2006 | by (San Francisco, California, U.S.) – See all my reviews

I have always been fascinated by the Rosenbergs and was eager to see this film, but came away disappointed. It's a good thing I knew all about the Rosenbergs beforehand, because otherwise I would have been very confused. The film didn't give any back story on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Who were they? What did they (allegedly) do? How were they discovered? Why were they chosen to symbolize the witchhunt era? Why were they executed, when hundreds of other convicted spies were not? What evidence suggests they were guilty, and what evidence suggests they were not? A documentary should elucidate the viewer and make them feel more knowledgeable on a subject than before. Ivy did practically no historical research when making this film, which betrays the entire purpose of a documentary. She interviewed family members and tracked down old people who knew her grandparents, but otherwise provided no context. Someone who is not American, or unfamiliar with the McCarthyism era, would be baffled by this film, because it assumes that everyone already knows the story.

It is clear that Ivy put her whole heart into this project, and the result is a very sincere attempt to humanize the grandparents she never met. However, I wanted to understand what truly happened, and my questions were not answered.

The best thing about this film was Michael Meeropol, Ivy's father. He is a passionate, articulate activist who knows more about the subject than his daughter. The scenes in which he speaks were the smartest in the film. I began to wish that he had directed this documentary, and not his daughter. Ivy, despite her good intentions, is ditzy and a weak interviewer. She has the very annoying habit of trailing off questions halfway, and leaving her subjects to figure out what she is asking. Her interviews were unstructured and the narration was rickety.

Furthermore, the biases and shoddy journalism are apparent. Ivy and her brother are naively insistent that their grandparents were "innocent" (a word that gets thrown around repeatedly) despite admitting that they never examined the evidence or studied the story beyond hearing it from their father. The Rosenberg records were unsealed by the government in 1995, and yet Ivy didn't bother looking at them until she made this film.

Everyone has the right to know where they come from. While the Meeropol family's efforts to define their legacy are admirable, the result was a very amateurish film. It is too bad that another family member with better documentarian abilities didn't take the helm.


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