Strange Fruit (Joel Katz, U.S.). 57 minutes. Tuesday (May 9), 4 pm, Al Green. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Billie Holiday could make a jingle sound important, but those who've heard her famous rendition of the titular shocker, with its poetic, sad lyrics and evocative melody, know this not your average song. Decades after Holiday first performed it in 1939, this song about a lynching in the South retains its power. Who wrote it? Abel Meeropol , a young Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx. In the film, Joel Katz focuses on Meeropol (who wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Allan ), interviewing his sons (whom he adopted after the U.S. executed their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), friends and colleagues, to reveal the values he prized. These were best captured in his Academy Award-winning song The House I Live In, particularly the lyrics "with neighbours white and black," which, strangely, were omitted from the film.
Equally compelling, though, is the way Katz links the relevance of Strange Fruit to other crimes of prejudice from Matthew Shepard's murder to 9/11. A history lesson and a biography buoyed by Holiday's haunting performance, as well as stirring renditions by folksinger Pete Seeger and Cassandra Wilson , Katz's film, like its subject matter, is worth examining.