Sunday, October 23, 2016

Denial (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Chattahoochee) takes on the insidious and offensive subject of historical revisionism in "Denial," deftly but without as much gusto as the outrageous subject demands. The film covers the 1996 court case of David Irving vs. Penguin Books and Debra Lipstadt in the UK.

Irving, an infamous historian of some thirty books, ranging from Hitler to Churchill, gained poison-pen notoriety in the late 80s for asserting anew that there is no real factual evidence for the use of gas chambers during The Third Reich. He argued that there were no free-standing photographs or explicit documentation (no supposed "gas holes") and as Irving opines, only a handful of survivors' so called false accounts.

This was a "volte face" from his 1977 position when Irving clearly acknowledged the chambers' locations in the first version of his book Hitler's War.

Irving took his new stance as a licence to question history's causes and effects, to further state that Hitler had no knowlege of the Final Solution and that it was not possible for lethal gas chambers to be in use from the start, given that they were "air raid shelters"

Like one possessed, Irving hounded Ms. Lipstadt in Atlanta, Georgia and aggressively begged to debate her. In the 1990s and lasting for a good fifteen years, Irving understandably became Public Enemy Number One, only having some respite under the sun in Key West. He continued to write and give toxic Apologist lectures, typing over many a naive nose including my own. I have some guilt over Irving, as I once wrote him a colorful letter, thinking that he was a benevolent writer of fiction.

Onscreen, the always arresting Timothy Spall plays Irving, as a hell-bent mole of the Baskervilles, (more of a diminutive figure than the formidible person he is in real life) driven to uphold his case of "no holes, no Holocaust" against the threat of a resolute Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) who must bear the burden of proof in accordance to British law.

This is a somewhat pedestrian courtroom drama but that is not to say that it is not meaningful with meaning and revelance. At its core, it is of good vs. evil.

The camera is terrifically pointed, frequently giving the audience angles at knee level or from above as if we are all groundling witnessses awaiting a verdict of great import, and indeed such is the case. There are some virtuosic and telling moments: Lipstadt waits at Auschwitz as a filmed exposure of survivors scramble and cry around her like phantoms. There are shots from the back of Irving's pommaded hair as he talks of "political correctness" as if hinting of Donald Trump.

When Irving tries to avoid racist claims speaking of the wonderful largeness of his au pair's black breasts, he very much appears to be one of the men of orange.

Although you might wish for more ire and passion, the film is as accurate, true to life and spirit. Under the ridiculous but toxic threat of Trump and his ilk, "Denial" is as topical today as it was some 12 years ago at the conclusion of the case.

One of the last scenes show Lipstadt at a church under Saint George slaying a slippery serpent. The real living serpent is the notion of historical revisionism and half-formed truisms, hissed by Irving with cheers and jeers. Sensitive thinkers must guard against this lazy tease under whatever shape it assumes, be it now or in the future.

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