Late Friday, I received an invitation to a website called Snagfilms, a remarkable repository of documentary features available for free viewing.
The Snagfilms library includes Oscar winners, documentaries of immense historical importance and films that have been banned, languished undistributed or have simply not travelled beyond their country of manufacture.
They touch every imaginable topic from an inner city high school that fights gangs with its marching band, to talent scouts riding the Trans-Siberian Express in search of the next Supermodel to exploding offshore oil rigs.
There’s a study of Norman Corwin, the prolific screenwriter about to be honored by the Writers Guild of America on his 100th birthday. There are Richard Dawkins’ profoundly challenging “Atheism Tapes”. There is even the story of the Moscow Cat Theatre.
I couldn’t believe what I’d discovered and couldn’t wait to introduce you all to such a vast and rewarding collection.
And then I found “Girl 27”.
I pride myself on knowing a lot about Hollywood, the inside stories, the untold stories, those bits of trivia that help some people win small fortunes on “Jeopardy”. But I had never heard of “Girl 27” and her story utterly stunned me.
In 1937, MGM, the world’s most powerful studio, tricked 120 underage chorus girls and extras into attending a stag party for its top salesmen. They attended costume fittings and received performance instructions, thinking they had been hired for a movie shoot. But, in reality, they were literally being thrown to the wolves.
When dancer Patricia Douglas tried to escape, she was brutally raped; and then defied the studio’s demand for silence, filing charges as MGM fought back with the biggest cover-up in Hollywood history. A cover-up that has continued for more than 70 years.
Among the many moving moments in “Girl 27” is a shot of the elderly son of another MGM victim hearing his mother sing for the first time. But we see only his emotional reaction and not the performance he’s witnessing. For MGM forbid the use of any of its footage when it discovered what “Girl 27” was about.
Frequently, some of us in the Canadian showbiz blogosphere bemoan the professional dread of retribution that silences so many in our community.
As recently as this week, I learned crewmembers on a new Canadian film were being careful about sharing their first hand knowledge that the movie was little more than a well-polished turd. It had been made clear to them that any negative comments would curtail future employment.
Interesting the kind of people who get your tax dollars to make movies around here, isn’t it?
And while that kind of self-censorship is troubling. What happens in “Girl 27” is unbelievably worse. It is a chilling example of how silence destroys everyone but the guilty.
You can see the story of “Girl 27” in HD, high quality audio and in its entirety here courtesy of Snagfilms.
It’s a hard film to watch. But you need to. And then you need to ask yourself why you keep quiet about things that matter.
And then try to Enjoy your Sunday.