Here’s a real treat for the baseball fans out there, but the appeal of the film doesn’t end with them. Anyone interested in the experience of the American Jewish community, or in the social history of the States in the 30s and 40s, will find this documentary absorbing.
Hank Greenberg was the first Jewish baseball superstar. Though he was very much a Brooklyn native, the bulk of his career was with the Detroit Tigers. The film presents the story of his life through interv…ews with his relatives, friends (including Walter Matthau) and fans (including Alan Dershowitz). Director/Writer/Producer Aviva Kempner pays special attention to the social context of her story, and makes creative use of film clips (everything from Brooklyn Bridge to Pride of the Yankees puts in an appearance) to illustrate the point a voice-over is making. This technique is as effective as it is intriguing, since the new context given to these scenes often gives them a new meaning. Great fun.
The soundtrack is in 2.0 surround. This may not be exactly cutting-edge, but that is unimportant in the case of this film. The music comes through clearly from both the front and rear, but the score is very much background. The interviews are what are important, and having Walter Mattau’s comments swirling around in full surround would have been a pointless and distracting exercise. As it stands, all the interviews are clearly and cleanly audible.
The transfer is excellent, but it must be borne in mind that visuals are not this film’s reason for being. Thus, much of the source material comes from old newsreels, television shows, newspapers, and so on. So all the grain (and there is plenty) clearly comes from the source. The presentation is fullscreen, which is the film’s original format (it premiered on Cinemax).
A nostalgically animated menu (with Yiddish version “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” playing in the background) sets the tone for the film. The scene transitions from the main page to the secondary ones are simply but nicely animated, and navigation is easy. Both the main page and the scene selector page are themselves animated. (The scene selector, the only other page with music, has got the drum solo from “Sing Sing Sing” beating away.)
There are quite a few extra features. Aviva Kempner’s commentary is an interesting case of a documentary about a documentary. She talks about how where the source material came from, and, among other things, explains one of the neatest tricks of the film – the use of a voice-over from Greenberg himself, who has been dead since 1986 (he made these recordings while working on his autobiography). Kempner also makes clear how the film fits in with her interests in chronicling the Jewish experience.
This last point is also elaborated in the Director’s Notes, as well as in her Biography. These features are printed texts, three or four screens long. The other printed sections are a collection of reviews from four separate newspapers and a breakdown of Greenberg’s stats.
Finally, just in case you still didn’t have enough information, there’s a short collection of interviews that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film itself.
Baseball fans in general, and Greenberg fans in particular, are going to be in seventh heaven with this DVD. They’ll be able to disappear into this material for hours. But they won’t be the only ones. I found the story compelling, and not only had I never even heard of Greenberg before, I’m not a baseball fan. Very solid work.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Additional Interviews
- Hank Greenberg Biography
- Hank Greenberg Stats
- Director’s Biography
- Director’s Notes