LIBERTY HEIGHTS Review by Dave Smith
About a year ago I was having lunch with a friend in the commissary on the Paramount lot. I thought one of the people at the next table looked familiar. I finally recognized him to be Barry Levinson. I almost spoke to him but thought it would be too rude and crude to interrupt his lunch. I have admired his work for years, but more than that we have a mutual friend. Gloria Gresham, who does the costumes for almost every Levinson film (She was nominated for an Oscar for Avalon), is from Indianapolis and I knew her family well. But, sad to say, I never spoke to Mr. Levinson. He was meeting with another person and had a large loose leaf notebook in front of him. Could it have been the script for Liberty Heights? Well, whatever! The fact is Liberty Heights is another beautiful film by Levinson. It's a continuation of his somewhat autobiographical journey through life. His other "Baltimore" films were Diner, Tin Men and Avalon. Levinson of course is a writer as well as a director. The old rule of writing applies here. . .always write about something you know very well. Neil Simon has certainly done this in his autobiographical works. Levinson draws on his experience of growing up Jewish in a Jewish neighborhood, not having much contact with the outside world. Suddenly in high school, he is exposed to those "other people." One in particular which interests him is a girl named Sylvia who happens to be black. Ben Foster as Ben Kurtzman, carries the film. Look for big things from this actor. His naturalness and rebel-like attitude are certainly remniscent of James Dean. Rebekah Johnson as Sylvia is just right. The whole film seems very believable for those of us who lived through the 1950's. I read a recent review on the internet in which the reviewer lamented the fact that, "nothing BIG happened." Too bad. . ."he is more to be pitied than censured." Liberty Heights is a wonderful, touching, realistic microcosm of what was happening in the 50's, when forced integration was bringing America closer to the melting pot she was supposed to be.
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