Prisoner of Paradise

on December 11, 2002 by Kim Williamson
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Its depth of historical imagery and gamut of first-person witnesses are both signs of being crafted by experienced documentarians, "Prisoner of Paradise" tells the story of Jewish entertainer Kurt Gerron, remembered as much for his helming of a Nazi propaganda film as for his turns onscreen in "The Blue Angel" and onstage in "Threepenny Opera." Despite the potentially sensationalistic topic, filmmakers Malcolm Clarke (Oscar winner for the documentary "Soldiers in Hiding") and Stuart Sender (who has a number of credits with CBS News and PBS) provide Gerron's full life story, keeping for the film's end coverage of Gerron's forced cinematic effort "The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews," in which he falsely recorded happy images of existence at Hitler's Theresienstadt concentration camp, where Gerron himself was interned and from where he was sent to his death in Auschwitz.

Although the filmmakers have a (certainly understandable) point of view in "Prisoner of Paradise," some of the potential for an emotional response from the audience is lessened by the relatively formal telling of the tale. There is no lightning-and-thunder moment as in 1996's "Anne Frank Remembered," where a few seconds of discovered footage of the doomed Amsterdam girl is so tragic it's virtually unbearable. Where "Prisoner of Paradise" excels is in its interviewees (such as Gerron niece Lore Moos; Gerron-directed theatre actor Silvia Grohs Martin; and Coco Schumann, who drummed in the Theresienstadt jazz band) and the range of its historical images and information. Another fine element is the intelligent narration by Ian Holm ("The Madness of King George"), which is superbly delivered. Narrated by Ian Holm. Directed by Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender. Written by Malcolm Clarke. Produced by Malcolm Clarke and Karl-Eberhard Schaefer. A Menemsha release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 96 min

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