Based a true story. That’s been the tagline of much of the culture I’ve either seen or read lately.
Walking with the Enemy claims to be less based and more “inspired” by the life of Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum, a young Hungarian in Budapest who dons a dead German SS officer’s uniform and proceeds to save Jews from deportation during World War II. Entertaining with romance and a happy ending, the film is a bit too schmaltzy with incredulous, contrived situations.
In The Railway Man, Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax, a British Army officer tortured by a Japanese interogrator while imprisoned during World War II. Long before the emotional and psychological effect of war became acknwoledted as post-traumatic stress syndrome, soldiers were sent home and left to fend for themselves. Lomax, traumatized by his captor, promises a fellow soldier to seek revenge after learning the Japanese officer is alive, having turned the labor camp into a tourist attraction. I won’t spoil what happens when Lomax confronts his nemesis. This film is based on Lomax’s autobiography.
Both films are graphic enough at times to have me shielding my eyes a few times. Yet, it’s history being revealed. And as more survivors from that time period die, it’s important to remember and learn.
I’m on a Colum McCann reading kick and finished Dancer, his novel based on the life of Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Told from various characters perspectives, the story brings to life the Soviet-era politics and living conditions that led the famous dancer to defect, leaving his family and country. Fascinating.
On stage in New York City, I’ve seen plays that portray the early 1960’s and what occurred in the nation. All the Way by Robert Schenkkan re-enacts the tense time following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that put then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson into the Oval Office and threw a huge amount of problems into his lap, particularly Civil Rights and Vietnam. The play reveals the backroom politics and power play that led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Twenty actors assume various roles, including appearances by J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Governor George Wallace. Superb.
Satchmo at the Waldorf by Terry Teachout takes place one evening near the end of Louis Armstrong’s life, after a performance at the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel. One actor plays several roles, quickly morphing in accent and demeanor, playing Armstrong, his Jewish agent, others in the jazz world and more. Single actor plays can be difficult, and 90 minutes seemed too long for this role where the character’s only movements were back and forth across the stage. Still, the history shared is a reminder of the prejudice against black performers—unable to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants as other performers in their own bands and criticism from their own culture that they were becoming “white.” A few fun facts—his rendition of “Hello Dolly,” surpassed The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love,” to become the number one single sold on May 9, 1964. A poignant portrait of an artist who contributed so much to American music.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has dedicated its entire season to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In a concert that included Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, Brahms’ First Symphony and “From the Mountaintop”- a commissioned clarinet concerto by Richard Danielpour, the theme of triumph over adversity prevailed.
And speaking of based on a true story, my play, “The Shabbos List” has been accepted into a theater festival and will run for three performances in July in a small theater in the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC. Soon I’ll be in the midst of production! While the idea certainly grew from my own life, I embellished and imagined to write the play.
So what have you seen or read that’s “based on a true story?”