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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/28/02

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg
1999 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/C

Specs and Features

95 mins, PG, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/producer/director Aviva Kempner), Hank Greenberg biography, Hank Greenberg statistics, Aviva Kempner filmmaker biography, director's notes, selected film reviews, additional interviews, theatrical trailer, Hank Greenberg baseball card, film-themed menu screens, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish and Yiddish (English transliteration), Closed Captioned

"A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be."

I hate hype. I absolutely hate hype. I hate it, because it causes otherwise good experiences to be short-sold when the truth comes out. As documentaries go, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg has gotten absolutely rave reviews. This not being the ultimate in mainstream genres for most moviegoers, it says something that many are even aware of this biography of the great Jewish ballplayer who stood tall in an era rife with anti-Semitism.

All that being said, I must admit the film is not as good as the hype says it is. But in saying this, I make it sound as if the film itself isn't all that good. In fact, it's a very good documentary, but it's not a phenomenal piece of cinema. The subject matter is interesting, with quite a few charming stories to tell, but that doesn't lift this documentary above the other highly competent, solidly crafted films out there. What does that leave for a final verdict? It leaves the conclusion that this should be applauded as a film worth seeing, an ably crafted documentary amidst dozens of mediocre, or just plain bad, documentaries. It nicely reflects the life of an interesting, perhaps even key, figure of Jewish America in the 20th Century. Hammerin' "Hank" Greenberg's impact on baseball, and other Jews, is all told masterfully here.

But then there's the damn hype, and I'm just not able to laud it as just about everybody else has. All I can do is hope, just keep hoping, that I've missed something. So it's that hope that makes me implore you to go rent or buy this DVD. If I'm wrong, then the hype was correct and you've seen a fantastic film. If I'm right, you've still seen a competently done documentary about an interesting subject. Think of it as a win-win situation, and I'll feel better.

On DVD, there's enough to enjoy regardless of the issue with the hype. Presented in its original, full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the film looks like most documentaries that rely on archival footage and interviews. What you've got is a hodgepodge of footage from various sources and various time periods, all with varying degrees of quality. It's sharp where it can be, not so sharp where it has to be.

The sound mix is just as notable, and that is to say it isn't. It's dialogue, plain and simple. That also means the English 2.0 soundtrack is more than enough to manage the material. And that, as they say, is all there is to say about that.

Extra material is here, serving to highlight the film nicely. Some biographical material on Greenberg and filmmaker Aviva Kempner is nice enough to read, but you'll find the additional interviews the best extras here. They run long enough and are interesting enough to serve as a second, mini-documentary of their own. An audio commentary by Kempner connects some of the dots that were touched upon in the film, but it doesn't delve much into the making of the film, and you'll walk away knowing just a few bits more about Greenberg than when you walked in. Add in a theatrical trailer and a collectible baseball card, and you've got a finished product.

Now go watch it, and prove me wrong... or prove me right. Either way, just go watch it.

Brad Pilcher
[email protected]

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