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February 16, 1990 - Image 43

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-02-16

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Jessica Lange plays an attorney who defends her father (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl), accused of crimes
against the Jews, in the upcoming film Music Box. Michael Hooker, right, plays the defendant's son.

Not Just Another Holocaust Film'


Despite the
producer Irwin
Winkler says his
new movie is not
based on the
controversial trial.

ne of Hollywood's
most successful in-
dependent producers,
whose films have won 11
Academy Awards, Music Box
producer Irwin Winkler belies
the stereotype of the suc-
cessful moviemaker. A slight,
soft-spoken, bookish-looking
man, Winkler politely insists
on three points: He will not
explain the title of the movie,
he will not give away the end-
ing (except to promise an
unexpected switch), and he is
not making just another
Holocaust film.
"Of course, the Holocaust
comes into it, but this is
basically a tense courtroom
drama which explores how a
family faces a crisis, that asks
how well we really know our
parents," he says.
However, Music Box direc-
tor Constantin Costa-Gavras
indicated in a recent inter-
view that the film is partial-
ly based on the John Demjan-
juk case. Demjanjuk, a native
Ukrainian and a naturalized
American, was stripped of his

U.S. citizenship and convicted
two years ago by an Israeli
court of committing atroci-
ties at the Treblinka concen-
tration camp. His appeal of
the court's death sentence is
Winkler says he finds the
analogy to the Demjanjuk
case "unfortunate" and
points out that screenwriter
Joe Eszterhas approached
him with the story idea as
long as four years ago. He
agrees, though, that there are
some similarities: Both Dem-
j anj uk, a retired auto worker
from Cleveland, and the film's
principal character, Michael
Lazlo, were blue collar
workers in a Midwestern city
who raised apparently
devoted American families.
Furthermore, the Lazlo film
trial, like the Demjanjuk trial
repeatedly raises questions
about the reliability of pro-
secution witnesses whose
recollections date back more
than 40 years.
Cast as the daughter-

defense attorney is Jessica
Lange. "We wanted someone
representative of Midwestern
America," says Winkler. Her
father is portrayed by the
German actor Armin Mueller-
Stahl, her young son by
Lukas Haas, and the deter-
mined prosecutor by Frederic
Winkler says considerable

research went into making
the Music Box, especial-
ly of the period in late 1944
when the German army had
evacuated Hungary but
Soviet troops had not yet
reached the capital. During
that period, Hungarian
Fascist extermination squads
hunted down the Jews of
One favorite tactic of the
Hungarian thugs was to wrap
barbed wire around a Jewish
family, shoot one of them,
then throw the entire family
into the Danube River. Par-
ticipation in these and other
"equally horrible crimes" is
charged against Lazlo by the
film's prosecution witnesses,
says Winkler.
Also pertinent to the film,
is that Nazi collaborators
from Eastern Europe man-
aged to hide out and, in effect,
run the DP camps. From
there, collaborators found it
easier to enter the U.S. under
the then-prevailing immigra-
tion laws than did their
Jewish victims.
Filming of Music Box
started last January in
Chicago and was completed
in April in Budapest, at a
total cost of $14 million.
Music Box was released
toward the end of 1989 in
the United States, the prefer-
red time slot for likely
Academy Award contenders,
and this month in Israel and
uosta-uavras, wmiuer ana
Eszterhas most recently
teamed up in Betrayed, a
study of right-wing racism in
the United States. Winkler's
most notable productions
have included Rocky, Raging
Bull and The Right Stuff.
Although the plots and pro-
tagonists in his films vary
widely, Winkler says they are
linked by a basic common
theme: "to show how people
act when confronting a state
of crisis." — Tom Tugend

Producer Irwin Winkler (I) and director Constantin Costa-Gavras confer in
Chicago during the shooting of Music Box.



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