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April 21, 1989 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ON THE AIR

r-

HBO Film Depicts
Wiesenthal Mission

I

MORRIE WARSHAWSKI

Special to The Jewish News

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34

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 1989

569-5335

hen Robert Cooper
was a young boy
growing up in Mon-
treal he lived in a duplex with
his Jewish parents and grand-
parents. Cooper's Russian
grandfather used to talk to
him about civil rights, about
individual responsibility for
the injustices of the world
and, as an aside, about ". . . a
very important man who
wants to make sure that we
never forget!'
That man was Simon
Wiesenthal, the subject of
Cooper's new film for HBO,
Murderers Among Us: The
Simon Wiesenthal Story,
which airs on HBO Sunday at
8 p.m. (Continental Cable
Channel 5). Cooper nurtured
the project along for years as
a producer, and brought it
with him to HBO when he
took over the job of senior vice
president, HBO Pictures.
Cooper's past credits in-
clude The Terry Fox Story,
Between Friends (starring
Elizabeth Taylor and Carol
Burnett) and The Guardian
(with Louis Gossett, Jr. and
Martin Sheen). Before becom-
ing a filmmaker Cooper
hosted the Canadian Broad-
casting Corp.'s investigative
journalism program, "Om-
budsman!'
Gaining Wiesenthal's per-
mission to film his life story
was not easy. "I spent lots of
time with him in Vienna,"
says Cooper. "What I was
quickly able to figure out was
that the best tack to use was
the following; I said to him:
`Mr. Wiesenthal, you are 75
and you say your mission in-
life is to make sure people
don't forget. With the
greatest respect, you will not
be around forever. A movie if
properly done can carry on
your mission. The issue is not
should there be a movie, but
how can you ensure while you
are alive that the movie is
done well and effectively! "
Cooper cautions that
Murderers Among Us is not a
movie about the Holocaust.
He explains: "This is a movie
about after the Holocaust. It's
the only movie I know about
a survivor talking about his
life. The flashbacks to the
concentration camps are
there only to explain what he
did in his life.'
One of Cooper's main
themes is remembrance. "I
hope the film will make folks
realize that they want to



Simon Wiesenthal, left, and Robert Cooper, confer during the shooting of
"Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story."

forget. The public generally,
not rationally but viscerally,
would like to believe that this
happened during the Roman
era. If you asked people when
it happened they would say
1939 to 1945, but they don't
feel it. Most feel it happened
somewhere else, in another
time, in another place having
no connection to us. But in
fact, look how brief a time it
has been. For some reason we
built these mechanisms to try
to deny that it happened or
that it has any relevance."
As an example, Cooper
points to scenes in the film
where a prominent world
Jewish organization denies
Wiesenthal's appeal for $500
to pursue Eichmann, and to
an incident when a group of
rich American Jews refuse
him money because they
want to put the war behind
them.
Cooper's opinion is that
Wiesenthal's role as a Nazi
hunter has had great value.
He quotes something that
Wiesenthal once said: "One of
the greatest things for Jews
was that Eichmann escaped
for so long, because when we
got him in 1960 at least we
could teach a whole new
generation. If he had been
caught in the '40s where
would the mechanism have
been for the next genera-
tion?"
Cooper says that the film
has had an enormous impact
on his own life. "I believed I
could assimilate very easily
and comfortably. Now I make
greater references to the fact
that I am Jewish whereas I
wouldn't have before. Not that
I wanted to hide that I am a
Jew, but rather that I didn't
see its relevance in many

ways . . . Like many an
adolsecent when I grew up I
just said 'Who cares?' Now
I've answered the question —
I care."

11

1

If the film does its job, then
Cooper wants it to have a
similar effect on a large
number of people and rein-
force his belief that ". . . words
can have an enormous impact
on people." This explains
Cooper's reliance on dialogue
to carry much of the film.

'The single most
important part of
the movie is the
words, not the
images but the
words.

"The single most important
part of the movie is the words,
not the images but the words.
It took four years to write
that, to be accurate, dramatic
and original," he says when
describing the arduous pro-
cess that involved three
writers and many meetings
with Wiesenthal.

Cooper points to one par-
ticular scene that exemplifies
his theory and of which he is,
particularly proud. In the
scene, Wiesenthal is sitting
on a bench and tells his
daughter the story of his own
youth when he was slashed
across the face by a man who
was never punished. The
young Wiesenthal ran crying
to his grandmother who told
him, "Every cry of pain is
heard forever in the mind of
God." "This is a simple
scene," says Cooper, "but it
contains words than can
haunt you."



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