An enjoyable history lesson
drama lover | Alexandria, VA USA | 09/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although a drama lover, I do enjoy a good documentary--and this is a good one. Most of us, I suspect, have heard the names Sacco and Vanzetti, but I bet that most don't recall the details of the case. This film is a concise, 82-minute documentary that covers the background of the two men, the crime that took place, the evidence (or lack thereof) which convicted them, and the public outcry over the trial and execution. It's nicely done, using both still photos and some clips from an earlier (and currently unavailable) film, as well as interviews with people close to the case. It's well-paced; it tells the story, but doesn't drag. Many of the stills are quite lovely and I really enjoyed the soundtrack. A fine example of documentary filmmaking--and a history lesson with relevance today."
A must-see for American history buffs
H. Millay | New York, NY | 08/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although already familiar with the story of Sacco and Vanzetti, I was thoroughly shocked and enraged (and ultimately charmed) by this thoughtful film. It is a very straightforward historical documentary (nothing flashy here), but the music and poetry and artwork woven into it really brings the story to life. I would have liked to have seen more attention given to the story's relevance today (immigrants' rights again being a hot topic in this country), but nevertheless this is a solid and well-crafted treatment of one of the most notorious criminal trials in American history."
Guilty Until Proven Innocent: "The Passion of Sacco and Van
Rocky Raccoon | Boise, ID | 09/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ever since high school I have been immediately intrigued and drawn to the story of Sacco and Vanzetti. Edna St. Vincent Millay's pungent poem, "Justice Denied in Massachusetts" was a part of our American Literature textbook, and ever since we read that poem, I have yearned to learn more. Coming across bits and pieces over the years, my curiosity wasn't satisfied until this recent documentary. There are a lot of candidates for "Trial of the Century". The Lindburgh Trial was chief contender for a long while until O.J., but big things come in threes. "Sacco and Vanzetti" has to be up there. Using a plethora of interviewees and actual film of the defendants, including swelling crowds of protestors, Director Peter Miller and Editor Amy Carey Linton draw upon a wealth of material and angles of the trial.
Many historians are present and much of the trials' testimonies have been documented. Throw in some modern ballistics experts, letters by the defendants, and interviews with living relatives of key people, and you have a rich and condensed viewing experience. They even have artists testify to the powerful inspiration of Sacco and Vanzetti with repercussions in painting, literature, film, and movies. Some of the film has clips from Guiliano Montaldo's 1971 movie of the men as well as other performances, including a passionate invocation by Henry Fonda.
A smooth and detailed sense of history pervades the documentary. When narrating their upbringing in Italy, they bring footage of their childhood neighborhoods. Even Nicola Sacco's niece is interviewed in Italy with subtitles translated into English. Historians like David Kaiser do a skillful job of piecing together the steps that led to their arrest and subsequent executions. Giving background of the "red scare" of the 1920's (and I only thought that was in the '50's), the mistrust of foreigners, the smearing and deportation of many Italians, they shed light on Sacco and Vanzetti's vulnerability. Mainly, guilt by association was used by two men who believed in anarchy and socialism (mostly the latter for the horrible conditions for their fellow Italians).
If I had a criticism of the movie, it's how they stack the deck. They don't have too many guests who debate in favor of the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti, but maybe there weren't any takers. Of course that may be poetic justice for the lack of justice at their trial. After watching the documentary, I believe what I suspected in my bones for years: That they were innocent. However, the historians are good at conceding there are holes in places in favor of their innocence. One of the merits of the film is how they sort out the evidence. But, what they do prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the trial was unfair. It is the principle of the justice system to implement the credo: "Innocent until proven guilty." And this clearly wasn't served. To give just one example in the film, they document how during the implicated bank robbery and murder on December 24, 1919, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a street fish vendor, was selling eels to his Italian neighbors to fulfill an Italian Christmas Eve tradition.
Presenting conflicting evidence and the documented biases of the presiding judge, 'Sacco and Vanzetti' is a fascinating and absorbing ride through a landmark piece of the past. With clarity and a keen vision, the film makes a great case for our benefit. Even drawing some analogies of today, the movie does an admirable job of becoming a cautionary tale without overdoing it. Clocking in at 1:23, the documentary is never tedious nor does it take extraneous detours. There's so much more evidence to take in, but this treasure is meant to be unearthed for yourself.
(Also featuring Studs Terkel and Arlo Guthrie.)
THE CASE THAT WILL NOT DIE NOR SHOULD IT
Alfred Johnson | boston, ma | 09/10/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have used some of the points mentioned here in previous reviews of books about the Sacco and Vanzetti case.
Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the 19th century, the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930's, the Rosenburgs in the post-World War II Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. In America after World War I when the Attorney General Palmer-driven `red scare' brought the federal government's vendetta against foreigners, immigrants and militant labor fighters to a white heat that generation's case was probably the most famous of them all, Sacco and Vanzetti. The exposure of the tensions within American society that came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the film under review.
Using documentary footage, reenactment and `talking head' commentary by interested historians, including the well-known author of popular America histories Howard Zinn, the director Peter Miller and his associates bring this case alive for a new generation to examine. In the year 2007 one of the important lessons for leftists to be taken from the case is the question of the most effective way to defend such working class cases. I will address that question further below but here I wish to point out that the one major shortcoming of this film is a lack of discussion on that issue. I might add that this is no mere academic issue as the controversy over the strategic call for retrial or freedom in the current case of the death-row prisoner, militant journalist Mumia-Abu-Jamal, graphically illustrates. Notwithstanding that objection this documentary is a very satisfactory visual presentation of the case for those not familiar with it.
A case like that of Sacco and Vanzetti, accused, convicted and then executed in 1927 for a robbery and double murder committed in a holdup of a payroll delivery to a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1920, does not easily conform to any specific notion that the average citizen today has of either the state or federal legal system. Nevertheless, one does not need to buy into the director's overall thesis that the two foreign-born Italian anarchists in 1920 were railroaded to know that the case against them 'stunk' to high heaven. And that is the rub. Even a cursory look at the evidence presented (taking the state of jurisprudence at that time into consideration) and the facts surrounding the case would force the most mildly liberal political type to know the "frame" was on.
Everyone agrees, or should agree, that in such political criminal cases as Sacco and Vanzetti every legal avenue including appeals, petitions and seeking grants of clemency should be used in order to secure the goal, the freedom of those imprisoned. This film does an adequate job of detailing the various appeals and other legal wrangling that only intensified as the execution neared. Nevertheless it does not adequately address a question that is implicit in its description of the fight to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. How does one organize and who does one appeal to in a radical working class political defense case?
The film spends some time on the liberal local Boston defense organizations and the 'grandees' and other celebrities who became involved in the case, and who were committed almost exclusively to a legal defense strategy. It does not, however, pay much attention to the other more radical elements of the campaign that fought for the pair's freedom. It gives short shrift to the work of the Communists and their International Red Aid (the American affiliate was named the International Labor Defense and headed by Communist leader James P. Cannon, a man well-known in anarchist circles and a friend of Carlos Tresca a central figure in the defense case) that organized meetings, conferences and yes, political labor strikes on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, especially in Europe. The tension between those two conceptions of political defense work still confronts us to day as we fight the seemingly never-ending legal battles thrown up since 9/11 for today's Sacco and Vanzetti's- immigrants, foreigners and radicals (some things do not change with time). If you want plenty of information on the Sacco and Vanzetti case and an interesting thesis about it's place in radical history, the legal history of Massachusetts and the social history of the United States this is not a bad place to stop. Hopefully it will draw the viewer to read one or more of the many books on the case. Honor the Memory of Sacco and Vanzetti.