Posts Tagged ‘Sophie’s Choice’

Holocaust - James Woods & Meryl Streep


‘The Story of the Family Weiss’

Meryl Streep / Marius Goring / Joseph Bottoms / Michael Moriarty / Sam Wanamaker / David Warner / James Woods / Tovah Feldshuh / Fritz Weaver /  Written by Gerald Green  /  Music by Morton Gould  /  Dir. Marvin J. Chomsky

How exactly do you make the holocaust into popular entertainment? It’s ever been a hard enough task in the cinema, but American Television has always been hampered by it’s reliance on keeping sponsors happy, and balancing the stocks & shares. To a certain extent this is less of an issue today, with the presence of so many small filmmaking companies willing to invest and convince the larger networks to risk the avant guard.. at least for occasional jaunts into the experimental. Back in 1978 the announcement that a 9hr miniseries about the holocaust was to be played out weekly as a piece of evening entertainment was greeted by shocks and advance criticism. As it turned out the series was rather well made, with a respectable cast, and a not especially exploitative tone. There were the typical criticisms which abound with historical wartime dramas, with nit-picking about inaccuracies of uniform designs, the poetic license taken with time scale.. the shuffling of real life figures with the fictitious protagonists of the story.. but, the principal problem that ‘Holocaust’ ran into was with the subject matter itself, which even in a faultless production, would nevertheless be seen as trivializing the horrors of the Nazi Final Solution for increased viewing figures.

Holocaust poster

‘Holocaust’s director, Marvin J. Chomsky was quite used to controversy, having only the previous year released a similar style of mini-series ‘Roots’, about the horrors and indignities of the American Slave Trade. ‘Roots’ itself caused much discussion and discomfort among the press and it’s audience, but somehow having a largely black cast in lead roles was seen as a progressive and important advance in television, so any problems with the actual piece itself were deemed of less importance. ‘Holocaust’ coming almost immediately off of the back of ‘Roots’ perhaps seemed to the critics as if the production team had just looking around for another tragedy to exploit. Perhaps if Chomsky had made a series of dramas specifically about WWII, then he would have just been seen as having a particular interest or point to make.. but, switching from Slavery to the holocaust aroused suspicions. Any attempt to release accounts of such sensitive subjects are prone to attack on the grounds of exploitation. There was even some criticism around American publications of The Diary of Anne Frank, which were accused of profiteering, in their bid to increase the Gentile audience for the book by tagging on a preface with a wider appeal, to increase sales with all religious  persuasions. 

Meryl Streep

Hollywood itself has tried on numerous occasions to treat the subject respectfully, with ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘Shindler’s List’ being perhaps the most notable successes. That’s not to say that the results are always as safe and acceptable in the Hollywood. ‘The Day the Clown cried’, made by comedian / auteur Jerry Lewis in 1972 caused such abject horror and disbelief with it’s preview audience, that the film was immediately canned and has never seen the light of day since. Circus clowns and concentration camps clearly do not mix well. In an article from Spy magazine Harry Shearer, having seen a rough-cut of the film wrote: ‘With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. “Oh, my God!” – that’s all you can say.’

The Day the Clown Cried (1972) Jerry on-set

Meryl Streep shines as a key focal point in the whole drama, even if she is not present in every scene, it is to her that we radiate, since she has such a magnetic appeal on film. This is though, what we might call the proto-Meryl, since she only had two minor roles under her belt at the time, we experience the development of the now all too familiar impassioned expressions, and wan internal looks, which are soon to propel her to great heights post ‘Holocaust’, with such films as ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978), ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’ (1981) and of course  the remarkable ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (1982).  For James Woods too, ‘Holocaust’ was an early role, with comparatively minor film parts up until that time, it took a few years until his screen persona would truly emerge with notable films ‘Videodrome’ (1983), ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) .. ‘Cop’ (1988). It’s interesting to see the reversal in the Hollywood star system, where rather than stars turning to television after a successful film career has waned,  the new Hollywood breed were starting out in Tv, with hopes of a stepping stone to a career in the Movies.. George Clooney, Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis to name but a few.

Holocaust - Meryl Streep

To play off against the sympathetic performances of Streep & Woods, we have the ever exceptional David Warner, who relishes every nasty nuance of his role as an unflappable Nazi officer. These parts always seem to suit Warner down to the ground, and over the years have helped to establish a particularly British aspect to the traditional Hollywood badguy, that never seems to quite alter or lose popularity in the villain stakes. A far cry from his 60’s New Wave beginnings in films like ‘Morgan: A suitable Case for Treatment’.. mind you, even as Morgan, Warner had a certain maniacal glee about him, so perhaps the screen villainy was bound to emerge.  Michael Moriarty gives his best cold indifferent face to proceedings, and Ian Holm adds some acting class, as a creepy Heinrich Himmler.. but it’s not really the acting, nor the plot itself that excels, but rather the shocking truth of the subject matter. Yes, ‘Holocaust’ was released by a popular Tv network, and yes it sought some increased viewing figures  through it’s choice of taboo subjects.. but thank heavens it did, since without their pushing of the boundaries and attempts at thought provoking television, we would never have had such modern masterful series as ‘Twin Peaks’‘The Sopranos’, ‘Deadwood’, and ‘Boardwalk Empire’. Aside from the boost to the medium itself, surely any discussion of such a terrible and important time in human history is worthwhile, if it ultimately educates and goes the smallest step towards stopping any repetition of such despicable events.






Poster Art


 ‘HOLOCAUST’ will be released along with ‘WALLENBERG: A Hero’s Story’

in a  special double set by Revelation Films to coincide with

International Holocaust Remembrance Day  on 27th of January 2013




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Mandy Patinkin / Adam Arkin / Hector Elizondo / Roxanne Hart / Peter MacNicol / Thomas Gibson / Diane Venora / Stephen Elliot / Robyn Lively / Kim Greist / Bert Rosario / McNally Sagan / Jamie Rose / Carlease Burke / Producers   John Heath & James C. Hart / Music Score by  Jeff Rona /  Cinematography by  Tim Suhrstedt / Written & Created by  David E. Kelley 


Returning to Chicago Hope is a surprisingly rewarding experience, considering the plethora of  hospital dramas that regularly open up practice on our screens. All the familiar ingredients for an American medical soap-opera are there from the outset :  Hot-headed young doctor who flies too close to the sun; an ageing surgeon fearing being put out to pasture; morality arguments over charging for hospital care;  divorce played out in the workplace; a continual succession of patients running as sub-plots that neatly begin and end with each episode.. it all feels comfortably familiar, and yet we very quickly notice the style and maturity of the writing, and the subtle intelligence of the cast performances. Chicago Hope was unlucky in it’s timing, appearing on our screens just one night before fellow hospital rival ‘E.R.’ lurched into immediate 1st place in the viewing figures, with it’s break-neck speed and edgy camerawork, covering a war-zone of MASH style carnage. Viewed back to back the two shows were such polar opposites of pace that they scarcely felt the same genre at all.  E.R. captured an audience immersed in MTV rapid editing, and punchy news style reportage, but Chicago Hope took it’s time to draw breath, relying more on individual class performances, mood and the luxury of character development.

Creator and writer David E. Kelley certainly knows his stuff when it comes to weaving TV Hospital and Legal drama series into gold, with such iconic offerings as ‘LA.Law‘, ‘Ally McBeal‘, ‘Doogie Howser M.D.‘, and more recently ‘Boston Legal‘.  The mid-nineties Chicago Hope series is set in an Illinois charity hospital, and manages to combine both medical and legal matters, by installing  an in-house cut-throat lawyer played with aplomb by the excellent Peter MacNicol ( ‘Sophie’s Choice‘ and later to appear as the remarkable ‘Biscuit’, in Kelley’s Ally McBeal). So we have a difficult partnership of opposing natures, that of the caring (though affluent) professionals struggling to maintain idealism within the  cold, money-orientated system, whilst an instrument of that very system (MacNicol) fights fire with fire, ultimately making the doctors reliant upon the very backhanded tactics that represent everything they despise about the System. This unholy alliance characterizes much of Kelley’s work, with the legal dramas internalizing the battle between the desire to help, and the seductions of monetary reward, of what is best for the client, and what feeds the Firm that allows the Pro-bono work to exist in the first place.

Our struggling protagonist at the heart of Chicago Hope is Mandy Patinkin as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, the hospital’s hotshot surgeon struggling with personal and emotional problems that put him into dangerous friction with both the Hospital board and close friends alike. At turns both charming and obnoxious, taking dangerous risks that generally pay off, but concern his colleagues and threaten to end in tragedy. If this character sounds all too familiar, then you’ve probably realized that ‘House’ borrowed more than a stethoscope from it’s predecessor.

Adam Arkin, Hector Elizondo and  Roxanne Hart (who you may recall from ‘Highlander‘) give good solid performances, and MacNicol shines brightly from the sidelines, but Patinkin steals the show. Up until the appearance of Chicago Hope, TV was still the testing ground for careers that would bridge into cinema, with Denzel Washington stepping out of his Doctor’s white coat in ‘St.Elsewhere’ and George Clooney jumping ship from ‘E.R.’ for a bigger slice of the pie.  By contrast Mandy Patinkin marked a change in tradition, with what would soon be an influx of big screen names moving ‘to’ television. The effect is very clear by the end of the second episode (no spoilers here!), when we finish on a moment of such emotional clout, that we quite forget we’re watching a weekly TV show. Along the way the use of an occasional expletive caused the censors to raise an eyebrow, but again helped make Chicago Hope an edgier and more surprising experience. 

When Chicago Hope first reached Britain’s shores in the mid 1990’s, it was viewed with a certain cultural distance, since at that time the Health Care Systems of the States and of Britain were quite different in nature. With the recent radical shifts in political ideology in regards to it’s National Health Service, England is rapidly approaching a time when hospitals will closer mirror the America model. Upon it’s release in the UK for 2012, Chicago Hope shows a prescient glimpse of a health system that all too soon will be part and parcel of British life. So then,with it’s release onto DVD  not only is this series a product of it’s time, it is also a show to be re-watched with a keener sense of  identification for British audiences.


Season One of  CHICAGO HOPE is now available from

Revelation Films / kochmediain a nice 6 disc box set

-22 episodes – 1014 minutes-








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