A Night At The Garden


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Night At The Garden
"This is, inevitably, a film that derives much of its power from context."

Tonight it's Nazis. Later in the week it will be sport. This is America - back in 1939. Marshall Curry's Oscar-nominated documentary uses archive footage to tell the story of a rally that took place on the eve of World War Two, attended by 20,000 US citizens who cheered in support as they were told they deserved a whites-only country free from the influence of Jews.

This is, inevitably, a film that derives much of its power from context - from the conflict that followed and from the fact that much of the rhetoric we hear from its speakers is still around today. whilst this is present as a reference point, judicious editing means that no one such argument is sustained for long enough for the film itself to risk perpetuating such ideas. Its importance in the present lies in its challenge to the myth that America always stood against such extremism, and in its demonstration that today's US Nazis are part of an ongoing tradition, not a freak occurrence or a latter day response to events overseas.

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Beyond this, the film is interesting as a slice of history. it reflects not only on Nazism but on the particular issues that attendees felt sore about, and there are also interesting observations to be made about class, social aspiration and gender segregation. Curry doesn't over-emphasise any of this but arranges the footage so that viewers can draw their own conclusions. This footage has been painstakingly assembled from multiple collections after decades of neglect.

Central to the film is a portion of a speech by white supremacist and leader of the German American Bund Fritz Julius Kuhn, in which he briefly comes into conflict with protester Isadore Greenbaum, the only indication of resistance that we see. As he is dragged away, beaten and humiliated, we briefly see Greenbaum's face, naturally expressive and illuminated as if he were the hero of a silent film. His silencing is most notable by its contrast with the cheering throng as they listen to rhetoric about taking their country back.

As the billboard we see at the start makes clear, this rally was only one of a number of events taking place at Madison Square Garden that week and might not have seemed like a big deal, but nobody went to war over the sport.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2019
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A Night At The Garden packshot
Archival footage of an American Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939

Director: Marshall Curry

Starring: Isadore Greenbaum, Fritz Kuhn

Year: 2017

Runtime: 7 minutes

Country: US


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