Sunday, April 27, 2008

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

In general I enjoy Michael Moore's films, but I'm glad that there are directors like Errol Morris who make documentaries that don't have agendas, and investigate subjects out of sheer curiosity. I don't think there is another director alive who could've made an interesting film about pet cemeteries (Gates of Heaven). But if you can get Fred Leuchter to sit down in front of a camera and talk about his career designing electric chairs, lethal injection machines, gas chambers and gallows, and then explain how he got mixed-up with a group of holocaust deniers as a result, then the movie practically makes itself. It's a fascinating story: the rise is bizarre and the fall even more so. By the way, if you haven't seen The Fog of War (think Donald Rumsfeld as a very old man, reflecting honestly and remorsefully on his career and the blood on his hands) then see that one first.


Ginseng said...

I'm glad to see this movie get such a high rating. It's a brilliantly weird documentary, isn't it? The most remarkable thing about it, in my opinion, is the way in which it tailors your perspective on Leuchter such that you can walk away, having seen a man discuss a career built on refining capital punishment devices and his dalliance with the Holocaust denial movement, and feel something like sympathy for the guy.

scituate said...

Yeah, during the first half or so I was thinking to myself "OK, he believes in capital punishment, which I don't, but at least he's trying to make the execution devices more humane and that's a pretty noble cause." It's interesting how he talks about the fact that throughout his career people were asking him to do things he wasn't qualified to do. But then when he's asked to disprove the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz he acts like he's the only one in the world who knows what to look for! It's clear that he was sincere about it though, even if horribly misguided.