Monday, March 05, 2012

Documentary Depicts Myriad Momentous Ways Ruth Gruber Was 'Ahead of Time'

The other day I wrote this post about Harry Belafonte, in which I listed some of the remarkable things the singer, actor and activist has done.

My impetus was his 85th birthday but my interest was largely sparked by a documentary I had seen just days before. Though I've known Belafonte's name almost my whole life, largely as a singer whose heyday was before my time, Sing Your Song--which remains available on HBO On Demand--really opened my eyes to Harry's Herculean humanitarian efforts.

Read my post below or, better yet, watch the movie, but this is a man who was a close confidant of JFK, RFK, MLK and Nelson Mandela, among others, was central to the civil rights movement and many of its major events, and helped to organize numerous African relief efforts, including the "We Are The World" single.

Although I've been watching many documentaries of late, inspired in part by them being the topic of the next Chicago Film Discussion Meetup Lunch, and am intending to soon write a post listing several documentary films that I recommend--I'd also love to hear your suggestions--I wasn't planning on following my Harry Belafonte post with another documentary subject.

But after watching a documentary called Ahead of Time, about Ruth Gruber, it just seemed right to complement the Belafonte piece with one drawing attention to a Jewish-American woman whose fame never rivaled Harry's but whose actions and accomplishments were similarly remarkable and altruistic. (The movie is available on Showtime on Demand, with scheduled airings as well.)

It isn't Ruth's birthday today--she turned 100 last September 30--nor is the documentary, which I've been heretofore oblivious to since its 2010 release, my first exposure to her rather storied life.

No, I first became aware of this woman--who at 20 became the youngest person to earn a Ph.D., embarked on a career as a pioneering female foreign correspondent and photojournalist, befriended Virginia Woolf, explored Alaska as a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, helped publicize the plight of Jewish refugees aboard blockaded ships after the Holocaust and wrote numerous books--when she was just 99.

That was last August, when on the last day of a 4-day trip to New York City, at the tail end of a visit to the International Center for Photography--whose primary exhibit was an excellent one about Elliot Erwitt--shortly before having to head to a theater matinee, I saw a small exhibit on Ruth Gruber. What she had done, which went leaps & bounds beyond photography, was fascinating.

It's strange sometimes, how we learn what we do. If it hadn't been for that brief exposure last August, I almost certainly wouldn't have been prompted to watch the documentary when I noticed it among Showtime's offerings--even that's a fluke, as I'm just days from the end of my 3-month free trial--and would have remained clueless about not only Ruth Gruber, but the 1947 voyage and blockade of the refugee ship Exodus, whose passengers wound up on another ship, where they painted a swatstika on the Union Jack, which Gruber exclusively photographed, which contributed to bringing about the formation of the State of Israel.

It's cool that Mrs. Gruber is still with us after a full century of doing phenomenal things and I hope she's doing well. Though I'd imagine her books are quite worthwhile--there was also a 2001 TV Mini-series about her--if you have access to Showtime (or are willing to buy the DVD--it's not listed on Netflix--or attend/arrange a special screening), I assure you Ahead of Time will be well worth sparing 73 minutes of yours.

Here's a trailer for the film:

Ahead Of Time Trailer from Bob Richman & Zeva Oelbaum on Vimeo.


Kyle Gallup said...

Nice post on Ruth Gruber. I have been her editor for many years. Here's a recent post of my own:

Kyle Gallup said...

For the record, I am Philip Turner (not Kyle Gallup, my wife--evidently our names are linked in this Google account)