Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
I can just vaguely remember the Rosenberg case from the early 1950s; long-ago adult voices echo in my memory, saying "They gave away the secret of the atomic bomb to the Russians." It is a large exaggeration to suggest that the Rosenbergs literally gave the Russians the bomb, but they were found guilty of giving them classified information and for that they were executed, in one of the most famous and painful cases in American legal history.
Thirty years have passed, many books have been written on the Rosenbergs, and even now a controversy rages over a new book that concludes that Julius Rosenberg was probably guilty of spying -- although his wife's involvement is less clear. The controversy has spilled over into considerations of "Daniel," a new movie that would seem to be about the Rosenbergs and their children (what other historical figures could possibly have inspired it?), although the filmmakers claim it is not.
Sidney Lumet, who directed the movie, and E. L. Doctorow, who based the screenplay on his own novel, are at pains to separate themselves from the Rosenbergs -- who are renamed the Isaacsons. Beyond the usual disclaimers, they say that their movie isn't really about the parents, but about the legacy of the children.
As a viewer, I don't really care. I don't expect "Daniel" to be historically accurate about the original court case, nor do I want the story of the children to follow the real lives of the Rosenberg children. What I do want, though, is for the movie to make it clear where it stands on the Isaacsons. I don't mean I want the movie to declare whether they were innocent of guilty -- but whether they were good or bad. And there the movie holds back. The parents in this film are seen through such a series of filters -- political, emotional, historical -- that they are finally not seen at all.