Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2022 11:56 am 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 4541
Location: California/NYC


[Currently listed on IMDb as: Untitled Karski Film.]

David Strathairn's distinguished one-man performance provides context for Jan Karski's witness of the Holocaust

This film is the documentation of David Strathairn's distinguished one-man stage performance as Polish Holocaust witness Jan Karski. Some of the performance, perhaps of necessity, is somewhat fanciful. The voice and accent he adopts don't quite gibe with the footage of the man filmed by Claude Lanzmann, it has an extra vowel beat, like an Italian accent. But he works magic with his changes of clothing, his movements (he makes the performance very physical, turning the table into a desk, a wall, a house), and with the help of music, sound effects (a youth rally, bombs, a storm). It's a remarkable performance, but above all a feat of storytelling. His voice, plaintive yet resilient, is memorable, as it tells the story of a life and an experience beyond imagining.

Strathairn as Karski is a witness, a storyteller. Karsi never spoke of his wartime experiences for 35 years, till Lanzmann approached him in the late seventies. He indeed witnessed incredible things in the war, the devastation of Poland, Warsaw heaped with rubble and debris, with improvised graves in public parks. He saw it all. From a soldier in defeated Poland he became a diplomat, that is, for the resistance, reporting on the state of the country.

He is imprisoned, tortured, attempts suicide, hospitalized, and Germans help him escape, for which he says they are later executed. He reports to the Allies in France and in London. Then he is taken to see what is happening to the Jews, he comes with another person to the Warsaw Ghetto, and revisits it the next day. Children playing with rubbish, naked corpses in the street, figures standing, motionless, dying.

Then he visits a death camp and witnesses the systematic extermination. (This part of the monologue is directly drawn from the Landzmann film.) With this knowledge he is laboriously conveyed to London (walking over the Pyranees is involved), where he meets with Anthony Eden but not allowed to talk to Churchill: Churchill didn't learn of the atrocities against the Jews till after the war.

The Polish government in exile sent Karski to the US in 1943. He meets with Justice Felix Frankfurter, who tells him not that he is lying, but that he cannot believe him. He meets with President Roosevelt, who doesn't even ask any questions about the massacre of the Jews. He can't go back to Poland because he is "dishonored" and "I know too much." He concludes what happened is a second original sin, for which humanity will have to pay.

The monologue tells a little about the rest of Karski's life, including his teaching for 40 years, the late marriage to Pola, the Polish Jewish dancer Pola Nirenska whom he had seen in London years earlier. I like the ending, in the actor's own voice and accent: "These questions haunt me now, and I want it to be so." David Strathairn is an actor whose being exudes moral probity and seriousness. Remember This seems as much a declaration of responsibility as a theatrical performance on his part.

Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski, 90 mins., was penned by Derek Goldman and Clark Young. Directed by Goldman, a founder of the Lab of Georgetown University (where Karski taught), where this work was first performed Nov. 2019. Details of the film are lacking at present. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Sunday July 24, 2022
2:50 p.m.
Castro Theatre

In 2010 Claude Lanzmann, who had interviewed Karski in his film Shoah, released a short documentary, The Karski Report, which contained more about Karski's meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other US leaders in 1943. You can find Jan Karski on YouTube describing his visit to the Warsaw Ghetto, and describing in Lanzmann's film recounting Karski's effort to halt the extermination of the Jews in Europe.

See the May 19, 2022 Washington Post review by Peter Marks, which gives a full account of the genesis of this piece and Strathairn's role in it.


┬ęChris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 11 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group