Published in 55 languages and various states of bowdlerization since its initial Dutch printing in 1947, The Diary of Anne Frank has been read as everything from a universal testament against bigotry (that’s what Anne’s father Otto wanted) to the tale of a great writer whose talent was grimly nullified at an early age. Indeed, the very diversity of published Anne Franks has encouraged Nazi apologists to proclaim the diary a forgery. Anne Frank Remembered counters with a very specific Anneliese Marie Frank, the one still remembered by family and friends.
Anne is so well-known from her diary that it apparently never occurred to any filmmaker to document her life directly until Jon Blair took up the challenge. A South Africa–born TV producer and documentarian, Blair is the co-creator of Spittin’ Image, the British satirical TV puppet show, and the director of Schindler, the documentary that blazed a path for Steven Spielberg. (The Hollywood director repaid his debt by investing in Anne Frank Remembered.) Writer/director/producer Blair uses Anne’s diary (read by Glenn Close) sparingly. Instead, he presents historic film and stills, and interviews with many previously unqueried eyewitnesses.
The Anne they remember was a smart, sometimes obnoxious showoff who could pop one of her arms out of its socket at will. A fan of Rin Tin Tin and Hollywood glamour queens, she was a “naughty” girl who “knew better” than God, the mother of one of her playmates used to complain. Her diary was unfairly critical of Fritz Pfeffer, the strait-laced dentist with whom she shared a room while she and seven others hid from the Nazis, insists Pfeffer’s son, who survived the war as a refugee in Britain. Hopes buoyed by the Allied invasion of Normandy, Anne saw the account of her two-year confinement in the annex of an Amsterdam canal house as the ticket to literary prominence, and began rewriting her diary for publication.
The diary was published, of course, but not on Anne’s terms. Betrayed by an anonymous informant, the Franks and the other inhabitants of their hideaway were arrested in August 1944. At that point the war in Europe had less than a year to run, and if these eight people had been a little luckier they might have survived their internments in various concentration camps in Holland, Germany, and Poland. Only one of them did: Otto Frank was liberated from Auschwitz by the Soviet army a month or two before 15-year-old Anne and her older sister Margot died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen.
Many of the Dutch employees who helped hide the Franks, a German Jewish family that arrived in Amsterdam from Frankfurt in 1933, have died since the war. Still available to Blair’s camera, however, was perhaps the most important of the Franks’ protectors, Miep Gies, who kept them supplied with food and news. The Austrian-born Gies, already threatened with “the worst punishment” for harboring Jews, nonetheless visited Gestapo headquarters after the raid in an attempt to get the family released; she’s also the person who preserved Anne’s diary, which she found on the floor after the Nazis had looted the annex. The film’s most emotional moment is the introduction of Gies to Pfeffer’s son, who chokes back tears as he thanks her for helping shelter his father.
Made with the cooperation of the Anne Frank House, shot with cutting-edge equipment, and narrated (somewhat distractingly) by Kenneth Branagh, Anne Frank Remembered is hardly guerrilla filmmaking. What’s most striking about the documentary, however, is neither the careful recreation of the wartime look of the annex rooms (traditionally kept bare) nor the eerie shots of Auschwitz at night; it’s the simple talking-head interviews with Gies, Anne’s cousin Berndt, and her childhood friends. Humanizing the saintly Anne Frank her father long labored to present, their memories of the “spicy girl” they once knew makes her brutal annihilation all the more real.
Worlds away in both content and style, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam could also be billed as the story of a sassy yet innocent girl. To director/sleuth Nick Broomfield, Fleiss is the fall gal for a Los Angeles that’s more decadent than anything Weimar Berlin could have imagined. Awash in cash and cocaine, Hollywood dignitaries paid Fleiss’ stable of hookers for companionship that—according to former Fleiss employee Victoria Sellers, daughter of Peter—rarely descended to actual sex. “A lot of times they hired us to watch them do drugs,” explains one near-naked woman, who’s pleased to have graduated from prostitute to porno actress.
British documentarian Broomfield, whose 20-odd films include Soldier Girls and Monster in a Box, arrives in L.A. expecting to interview the paroled Fleiss, only to find that she’s been ordered into a drug-rehab program. Deprived of his subject, the boom-mike-lugging director and his cameraman try to locate some of the other players, notably elderly Madam Alex, Fleiss’ predecessor as procurer to the stars, and TV director/pimp Ivan Nagy, Fleiss’ sometime lover. Rather than a thorough study of the scandal—the likes of Charlie Sheen don’t really feature in the narrative—this is an eccentric dialogue between Alex, Nagy, and Fleiss, with Broomfield as the bemused (and sometimes amused) go-between.
Broomfield knows he’s in tabloid-TV territory, and he’s willing to pay the going rate—literally. Both Madam Alex and former L.A. Police Chief Darryl Gates are shown counting the money the director has paid them for their interviews, and the cash seems to have a calming effect. Alex doesn’t turn on Broomfield until after she’s decided that he’s gotten his money’s worth, while Gates is so blissed out by the payment that he doesn’t anger when asked why Fleiss was arrested and the chief’s brother, a cop who was a frequent Fleiss customer, was not.
The product of a hippie upbringing, Fleiss proves engaging and seemingly ingenuous when she finally ends up in front of the camera. Though Madam Alex dismisses her as barely a “5,” Fleiss charmed a number of older men, including financier Bernie Cornfield, who reportedly gave the high-school dropout $1 million and a Rolls-Royce for her 21st birthday. She may have been Hollywood’s most fashionable madam, but Fleiss’ ongoing destructive relationship with Nagy is not exactly evidence of her skills as a master manipulator.
Blundering his way into interviews with hostile hookers and self-justifying cops, Broomfield himself seems a bit naive at first. By the time Nagy gets around to calling the filmmaker a “rube,” however, it’s clear that Broomfield knows what he’s doing. Playing the clueless Brit who has accidentally tumbled down the rabbit hole into a Wonderland of coke, porn stars, and $40,000-a-night hookers, the director uses his feigned guilelessness to get just the confessions he wants. When he’s finished, the wonder isn’t that some Hollywood lowlifes have exotic sexual tastes and money to burn—it’s that they can’t bring themselves to shut up about it.CP