Scribbling for my supper in middle age, the scariest prospect is being deemed out of touch. The last thing I want to be telling my readers is that the best film they may see this year is a documentary.
Well, actually that is the antepenultimate thing. The last thing I want to be telling my readers is that the best film they may see this year is a Spielberg film by a producer whose first name is not Steven.
No, actually that is the penultimate thing. The last thing I want to be telling my readers is that the best film they may see this year features a bunch of ninety-year-old guys reminiscing about their roaring twenties. Now, that is really the last thing: ultimo! Carry me off and drop my columns on the remainder table…
Some of you actually stayed? Your loyalty is touching, your trust is ennobling. Now get out of here to your local theater to see Above and Beyond, the wonderful documentary film by Nancy Spielberg. I promise you will be entertained and edified.
The story goes like this. Here is Nancy Spielberg, a nice lady. Acts a little, produces a little, has a nice life. Very lovely, very pleasant, very personable. What’s not to like? Of course, when no one is looking she goes into her secret room in the basement and throws darts at a picture of her brother, Steven Spielberg. What has he got that she hasn’t got? Why is he celebrated the world over and nobody knows her name? Why does he have a kajillion dollars and she gets by? She sighs and locks the door behind her. She composes herself and faces the world again as sweet old Nancy.
One day in 2011 she reads in the paper that Al Schwimmer passed away at the age of 94. The article says he was the American-born founder of the Israel Air Force who had his citizenship revoked by the United States and then became wealthy as the head of Israel Aerospace Industries. So sad, may he rest in peace…
Wait a second, what the hey?! An American founded the Israel Air Force? The United States revoked his citizenship? He started the aerospace industry in Israel? And he just died now? How come no one ever heard of this guy? How come no one ever heard that an American launched Israel’s public-sector Air Force and private-sector aerospace industry? How come no one ever heard that our government revoked a man’s citizenship over these “offenses”? There has got to be a film in all this…
Astonishingly she discovered in her research that the entire Israel Air Force in the 1948 War of Independence was founded by American Jews who had been fighter pilots for the United States in World War II. She also found out that our government had been vehemently opposed and threatened to revoke the citizenship of anyone who participated. But a group of good-hearted American boys were not intimidated, so soon after the Holocaust, by the pettifoggery of Foggy Bottom bureaucrats. They flew off into the sunrise.
These forgotten heroes were instrumental in the emergence of the State of Israel as a viable entity. Clearly their story cried out for retelling on camera.
Here is where Nancy discovered the most miraculous news of all. Virtually all these men were still alive. The film would not have to be pieced together from old footage and the reportage of musty professors. It could be told by the players themselves, a bunch of nonagenarians (the youngest was eighty-eight at time of filming) whom the good Lord had preserved with their personalities, distinctive looks, expressive voices, and rich memories all intact. This simply must be seen to be believed; it belies any rational explanation and defies all odds.
These guys are fun and funny; they describe breathtaking ventures and adventures; fascinating characters walk on and off the stage; there are dogfights and cat fights and bar fights; you will laugh and cry and learn a great deal. The direction is adept and sensitive, enabling the golden oldsters to craft the narration. This flick should win every award going. And we join very talented sister Nancy in saying with all due respect: “Eat your heart out, Steven Spielberg!”
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