Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

20 January 2008

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., dir. Errol Morris (1999)

NIKKI says:
I found this in line with the better Morris films we've seen. It was focused and engrossing and really told the story it wanted to tell (or I wanted it to tell) rather than deviating all over the place to include crazy little human tidbits as in Gates of Heaven.

I was not expecting the story I ended up with, however. I knew nothing about Leuchter's trip to Auschwitz and the eventual trials that followed. This aspect of the film was its most compelling; how Leuchter attempted to explain and excuse his actions was fascinating as well. It prompted much discussion afterwards as Steve and I tried to piece together the psyche of such a man.

He is an interesting person to pull apart, and his story is strange and sad.


STEVE says:
What an odd little man. Fred Leuchter was hired to redesign an electric chair for the state of Tennessee (more, it seems, because his father had worked at the prison than for any expertise in such matters), and because he did such an amazing job, was then hired to design a lethal injection machine for the state of Delaware. He marvels at this: Why would he know anything about lethal injection? But it went on like that, later being hired to design a gas chamber.

Now this is where it gets tricky.

He admits to knowing nothing about these things, although his designs were accepted and carried out. But then he's called in as an "expert witness" for the defense in a case against a man who claims that the Holocaust never happened. Leuchter goes to Auschwitz and inspects the camp to see whether it actually was a concentration camp, used to gas hundreds of thousands to death, or whether it was just a slave labor camp, and he states that there's no one more qualified than himself. From an engineering point of view. Although he's not licensed. Nevermind.

Leuchter turns out to be a rather sad little man, claiming through his findings that the Holocaust never happened, and going around the world to speak out on the subject because he couldn't possibly be wrong about it, could he? That would be unthinkable. Even though all the evidence points to the contrary.

One of the better Morris docos we've watched, right up there with The Thin Blue Line. Another one of those stranger-than-fiction, "If You Saw It In A Movie, You Wouldn't Believe It" scenarios.


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