[From The Guardian]
It’s dawn and it’s sub-zero and it’s a potholed car park in Vilnius, eastern Lithuania, and a hobbit is preparing to tell the world about the Holocaust. A dark-suited Martin Freeman, breath steaming, pauses to greet us on his hurried way from trailer to set, and already he’s in character, with a soft New York accent which he will insist on retaining even off set. Nothing is as it seems. Far less so than is normal even in the kooky looking-glass world of film. Vilnius is playing Jerusalem in the broiling summer. The year is 1961.
A television programme is being made about the making of a television programme. It was a big television programme. In May 1960 Adolf Eichmann was captured by Mossad and Shin Bet agents on the streets of Buenos Aires, where he had been living under the name of Ricardo Klement since 1952. He was smuggled back to Israel and put on trial for genocide, for his leading part as architect of the Final Solution. The decision was made to film the trial for a worldwide TV audience.
Hence, today, Viesoji Istaiga Vilniaus Kulturos Pramogu Ir Sporto Rumai, or the Vilnius Cultural, Entertainment and Sports Palace, a Stalin-era delight of neo-brutalist fearful symmetry, and thus in a way appropriate, encapsulating the last century’s other wave of optimistic totalitarianism. It is rather beautiful, in its ugliness, but it is primarily useful today for the existence of 1961-era microphones and cameras, an auditorium wholly available for conversion to a courtroom, several severely talented Vilnius craftsmen and a handful of local mensches doubling as Israeli guards and possibly wishing it was actually 1961 and, maybe, Jerusalem and actually warm.
The decision to film Eichmann’s trial was taken in 1960 by David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, partly because he had been befriended by a young US producer by the name of Milton Fruchtman. Martin Freeman, who plays him, explains in Fruchtman’s accent (he’s wary of dropping out of dialect even for a lunchtime chat): “I’ve read up on Milton – he’d been filming some neo-Nazis in the 50s, in some bierkeller – and at the end they stood and chanted ‘Heil Hitler’, 15 years after the fucking war, and that led him indirectly to Ben-Gurion, whom he essentially schmoozed. Milton was charming, and fluent in both Hebrew and German, and he persuaded the Israeli authorities to allow him to film proceedings.”
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