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Aviva Kempner
Writing Credits:

The special edition of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg includes never before seen footage and interviews with Walter Matthau, Billy Rogell, Bob Feller, the Levin Brothers, a phone interview with Ted Williams by director Aviva Kempner, and more! Containing over two hours of extras, the bonus disc offers audiences a behind the scenes look into their favorite stars of the golden age of baseball.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $30.00
Release Date: 4/24/2013

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Aviva Kempner
• Trailers
• Extra Scenes
• Hank Greenberg Biography and Stats
• Filmmaker’s Biography
• Reviews and Awards


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The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg: Special Edition (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 2, 2013)

When it comes to civil rights in sports, Jackie Robinson gets the lion’s share of attention, and I find it hard to argue that the pioneering player doesn’t deserve this. However, others also merit discussion, and 1998’s The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg seeks to address this.

Greenberg hit the Major Leagues in 1930, so he was far from the first Jewish ballplayer. However, he was the first Jewish athlete to become a true star in the sport, which makes him worthy of notice – as does the fact that unlike his predecessors, he didn’t hide his religious status.

Times gives us the expected mix of archival footage and modern-day interviews. In the latter, we hear from son Stephen Greenberg, brother Joe Greenberg, friends Harold Allen and Walter Matthau, baseball historian Bill Mead, Detroit Tigers owner’s grandson Basil “Mickey” Briggs, sports columnists Shirley Povich, Ira Berkow and Joe Falls, historian Dr. Leo Ribuffo, former players Charley Gehringer, Herman “Flea” Clifton, Al Rosen, Bob Feller, Virgil Trucks, George Kell, Ralph Kiner, Billy Rogell, George “Birdie” Tebetts, Harry Eisenstat, Hal Newhouser, Barney McCoskey, and Eldon Auker, Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, broadcaster Dick Schaap, sister-in-law Marilyn Greenberg, children Alva, Glenn and Stephen Greenberg, journalist Maury Povich, umpire’s grandson Michael Moriarty, Tigers employee Rip Collins, Tigers owner’s daughter Jane Briggs Hart, sports agent Arn Tellem, Hank Greenberg’s ex-wife Caral Gimbel, and fans Rabbis Reeve Brenner and Max Ticktin, Alan Dershowitz, Senator Carl Levin, Don Shapiro, Bert Gordon, Dr. George Barahal, Robert Steinberg, Harvey Frank, Harriet Colman, Max Lapides, Congressman Sander Levin, and Hoot Robinson. We also get some older comments from Hank Greenberg himself. (The slugger died in 1986.)

The film takes a fairly traditional approach to its subject. We get basics about Greenberg’s life and how he got into baseball. We follow his career as well as controversies and social impact.

Expect a good but not scintillating documentary from Times. On the negative side, the film can seem a bit “by the numbers” at times. It doesn’t do anything to deviate from a standard pattern as it hits the usual notes.

That’s a minor complaint, though, as I’d prefer a slightly dry but still informative program over one that “pushes envelopes” in a manner that makes it edgy without purpose. Times manages to cover the player’s career in a reasonably efficient manner, and it throws in some commentary about Greenberg’s effect on those who followed him.

Normally I’m not wild about those kind of retrospective comments, as they tend to gush with praise and lack much insight. However, given Greenberg’s pioneering impact in sports, it’s good to hear Jews let us know what he meant to them in the time. This adds resonance to the tale and keeps it from becoming a simple recitation of dates and stats.

I don’t think Times offers great insight into Greenberg himself, though. While we get some glimpses of his personality, the movie really does concentrate on either how others viewed him or his basic work as a ballplayer. This meat and potatoes approach isn’t ineffective, but it means that we don’t feel like we get to know Greenberg the man all that well; we understand his success as an athlete but not much beyond that.

Despite that issue, Times remains an enjoyable enough documentary. It’s good to see the player get his due, and I like all the footage from the 30s and 40s along with the memories of the old players. While I can’t call this a great documentary, it’s breezy viewing for baseball fans.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus B

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1; due to those dimensions, the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of archival footage and 15-year-old (or more) shots, the movie showed its roots.

Definition varied quite a bit. Like all documentaries of this sort, the archival footage displayed the most inconsistency and problems. They offered mediocre clarity and muddy colors (when appropriate), and they also came with a lot of source defects.

While the footage shot explicitly for Times looked better, it still came with footage-related restrictions. Still, those clips tended to offer decent reproduction. Sharpness was adequate to good, without a ton of softness; the “talking head” bits demonstrated acceptable clarity but not much better.

The same went for other aspects of the transfer. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes were absent. Print flaws failed to appear for modern material; the flick could be quite grainy, but no specks, marks or debris marred the presentation.

Colors were ordinary. Given the interview format, they didn’t get a lot of room to shine, and the hues remained fine but unexceptional. Blacks were also decent to good, while low-light shots weren’t an issue. Overall, I thought the image wasn’t especially attractive but it remained watchable.

As for the film’s Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack, it didn’t push any envelopes. Documentaries don’t usually provide lots of room for exciting audio, and that held true here. Dialogue dominated the film and concentrated on the center channel. Music showed decent stereo presence, but that was a minor development at best. Effects were a non-factor.

Audio quality was fair. Except for the sibilant archival interviews with Hank Greenberg, dialogue was pretty natural and concise. Music showed acceptable definition; the score didn’t show lots of punch, but it came across with reasonable pep. Again, effects had little to nothing to do in this flick, so they didn’t matter. This track was nothing special, but it seemed fine for a low-budget documentary from 1998.

In this two-disc set, we get a mix of extras. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from writer/producer/director Aviva Kempner. She provides a running, screen-specific look at aspects of Greenberg's life and career, sociological issues, editing and compiling archival footage, and the various interview subjects.

While not a stellar commentary, Kempner manages to give us a reasonably useful look at her film. Her affection for the material comes through clearly, and she delivers a fairly nice take on the topics. She makes some amusing goofs at times - such as when she refers to "Barry Diner's (film) Levinson" or the musician Eric “Clapman” - but she's usually on target.

Note that this commentary was recorded for the original 2001 DVD, so expect some dated comments - such as the statement that DC has no MLB team!

DVD One also features trailers for Greenberg as well as Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg and Partisans of Vilna.

On DVD Two, the main attraction comes from 27 Extra Scenes. With a running time of two hours, 14 minutes, and 27 seconds, these clips substantially outlast the length of the final film itself.

In these, we hear from children Stephen and Alva Greenberg, brother Joe Greenberg, Tigers owner’s grandson Basil “Mickey” Briggs, sportswriters Shirley Povich, Ira Berkow and Joe Falls, friend Harold Allen, baseball historian Bill Mead, umpire’s grandson Michael Moriarty, Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, Tiger Stadium employee Rip Collins, first wife Caral Gimbel, player Andy Cohen’s son Hank, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, sportscaster Dick Schaap, MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller, sister-in-law Marilyn Greenberg, former players George “Birdie” Tebbetts, Ted Williams, Billy Rogell, Herman “Flea” Clifton, Al Rosen, Harry Eisenstat, Virgil Trucks, Barney McCoskey, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, Ralph Kiner, George Kell, and Minnie Minoso, and fans Senator Carl Levin, Walter Matthau, Max Lapides, Judge Avern Cohn, Alan Dershowitz, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joanne Kinney, Arn Tellem, Norman Rosenfeld, Rocky Ross, and Congressman Sander Levin.

The “Extra Scenes” touch on subjects similar to those in the film; it simply expands on them, so we get more about Greenberg’s career and cultural elements. The addition of Williams is a bonus, and we get some other segments shot after the movie’s original release. This becomes a satisfying collection of material.

A few text elements also appear. We get a Hank Greenberg Biography and a compendium of Hank Greenberg Stats. Another biography tells us about Kempner, and Reviews and Awards gives us information in those areas. Trailers repeats the same three ads on DVD One. A short Booklet with a “Director’s Statement” finishes the package.

Though not a great investigation of the legendary ballplayer, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg delivers a good overview. It emphasizes his time on the field but also gives us some perspective to understand his impact on social issues. The DVD provides mediocre picture and audio along with a useful collection of bonus materials. This ends up as an enjoyable baseball documentary.

Viewer Film Ratings: -- Stars Number of Votes: 0
0 3:
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