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Sacco and Vanzetti (2006)

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The story of two Italian immigrant radicals who were executed in 1927 offers insights into present-day issues of civil liberties and the rights of immigrants.

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Prof. Tommy Turner (archive footage)
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David Kaiser ...
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Nunzio Pernicone ...
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Sacco (voice)
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Mary Anne Trasciatti ...
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The story of two Italian immigrant radicals who were executed in 1927 offers insights into present-day issues of civil liberties and the rights of immigrants.

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6 April 2006 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$2,778 (USA) (26 January 2007)

Gross:

$31,894 (USA) (18 May 2007)
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American Icons, Explained
4 April 2007 | by (Los Angeles) – See all my reviews

Having studied art history, Ben Shahn's iconic portrait of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti was what first sparked my interest in Peter Miller's documentary on the notorious case that perverted American justice to enact xenophobic retribution on two anarchist Italian immigrants in a jingoistic, postwar culture of fear (sound familiar? Director Miller certainly seems to think so.) The short, "American Experience"-style presentation (talking heads, dramatic underscore, car trips to sites whose history has long been paved over) does not deflect from the riveting nature of the story as it happened, nor does it protect the audience from squirming at the implications of the awkward reality of American justice in general and the death penalty in particular. (As one of the commentators in the film states, the American legal system may be better designed than any other in the world, but as it is practiced, it is hardly immune to human error.) And, as demonstrated by hundreds of thousands of protesters around the world during the 1920s, the Sacco and Vanzetti case (if it can even be called that, so flimsy was the evidence and how biased the judge and jury) was among the great injustices inflicted by an American courts. By framing the story as he does, first by depicting Sacco and Vanzetti as hard-working idealists (gun-toting anarchists to be sure, but NICE gun-toting anarchists) and sketching out the wary American mood at the time (it wasn't all Jazz Age bootleg hooch and the Charleston, apparently), Miller keeps the audience interested in the outcome of the the ensuing "trial" (the details of which, with the mysteriously-scratched bullet and perjuring witnesses, are the most riveting part of the film, but unfortunately only a tangent from the main message). Disappointingly little attention is paid to the global outcry (tantalizing film clips of protests around the world are shown), and the conventional "where are they now?" epilogue is not included as a part of the movie. And we never do find out more about those Ben Shahn portraits. The inclusion of excerpts from Sacco and Vanzetti's eloquent correspondence, as read in thick accents by Tony Shalhoub and John Turturro, is a nice touch. Overall, the documentary is insightful--and inciteful, and should be mandatory viewing for all high-school U.S. history classes, or for anyone who has an interest in where America has been and where we are going. I'm not convinced, however, that its format makes for riveting cinema-- it would be a much better fit for television.


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