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Home Vision Entertainment presents
"If you really go against government power and against injustice and against evil, you may die, and everybody who you love and care about may be condemned to different kinds of death for a very long time."
DVD ReviewThe years pass, and the fiercely personal connection to events of recent history become the stuff of textbooks; especially if you're not from or don't live in the American South, the civil rights movement of the 1960s can seem pat, taken for granted, something to be thought about each January when we all get an extra day off from school or work to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. But the personal legacies of those not-too-distant days are still with many of us, and this deeply felt and intensely relevant documentary reminds us that history is something that's fought over ferociously, and provides an extraordinary portrait of the impact of sweeping social change on a single family.
Home of the Brave is the story of Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman killed in the civil rights movement. A Michigan housewife and mother of five, she heeded Dr. King's call in 1965 to come to Selma, Alabama, the epicenter of the movement—the presence of Northerners, of whites, of women was to demonstrate that this was a struggle for the rights of all of us, regardless of the color of one's skin. Shortly after the march, Liuzzo was shot and killed while driving on a local highway; the only other passenger in the car, a black man named Leroy Moton, blacked out and didn't see the murder.
As tragic and awful as that story is, it quickly gets even more disturbing and complicated. Liuzzo's husband was a leader in the Teamsters, and an intimate of Jimmy Hoffa; J. Edgar Hoover's FBI had a file on Viola of over 1,000 pages; President Johnson took unprecedented personal interest in the murder investigation, during which it was quickly discovered that a car full of Klansmen were responsible for the crime, and among them was an FBI informant. Paola di Florio's haunting and evocative documentary smartly walks us through the necessary historical narrative; far more poignant, however, are the more recent scenes of Viola's five children, each of whose lives were of course forever altered by the murder of their mother.
The impact on Viola's two sons was the most overt. Tommy has taken to the Alabama back woods, and has become just the sort of racist against whom her mother was protesting; he's too cowardly even to show up to see his sister for the first time in twenty years, when she comes looking for him. Tony has become a leader in the Michigan Militia, the group with which Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols was once affiliated; think what you will of the militia movement, but it's hard, after the evidence is presented, to doubt that the Federal government had at least some complicity in the murder of Viola Liuzzo. Of the three daughters, it's Mary who gets the most screen time, for she decides to travel down to Alabama, to see firsthand where her mother was killed, to meet those who knew her in her last days and hours. This really is the heart of the movie, and it's incredibly moving—you can see in Mary, even after all these decades, the rawness of her loss, twinned with a child's pride in hearing stories of a parent's heroism.
The movie is at its most powerful when it shows us these scenes of family drama fixed in a larger historical context; it's also respectful enough of its audience's intelligence not to provide a glossed-over highlight film of the era, but rather interviews some key figures from the era and the case (including John Lewis, Gloria Steinem and William Webster) to give us a sense of the time, and just what the sweeping historical elements were that had such an impact on the Liuzzo family. Viola Liuzzo's story shouldn't be lost to history, and this documentary tells it with compassion and care.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: There's a sort of flat, video-y quality to the image, but that's from the source material; the transfer to DVD is more than respectable.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Either the 2.0 or 5.1 track is a fine choice, though narrator Stockard Channing seems to purr just a little bit more on the latter.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
The disc also includes heavily redacted excerpts from Viola's FBI file, obtained through an FOIA request; Hoover's personal involvement in the case is remarkable and deeply unsettling. You'll also find timelines for the civil rights movement for ten Southern states and the District of Columbia; and a gallery labeled Photos, Memorabilia and Propaganda, featuring sickeningly virulent racist KKK publications about Liuzzo and the marches in Selma.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThe story of Viola Liuzzo and her family deserve to be more than merely a footnote to historical accounts of the civil rights movement, and this poignant, informative documentary helps to secure her place in history, while providing a strong sense of the impact of historical circumstances on her children. It's a terrific, inspired and emotional film.
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