17 November 2010 | Michael Fargo
The contributions of an early pioneer
The intense rush of nostalgia that Aviva Kempner's film floods the audience with is carefully interrupted with well-placed--though brief--darker sides of the facets of Gertrude Berg's extraordinarily unique life. For instance, we're shown the close relationship with her mother in earlier years, but later told a more troubling aspect which adds depth but never spoils Berg's optimism that was such a hallmark in her material.
This technique is constantly employed and keeps us engaged with one exception: The McCarthy era is given a longer sequence into how the Red Channel affected those in Berg's circle and brought shame to a country that ironically also provided opportunity to many mentioned in the film, many of whom were broken beyond repair by rumor and suspicion.
There's generous archival footage that covers the entirety of Berg's life, and reminds us of her contribution not only to early radio and television, but of a rare driven talent that can still touch us today. We're fortunate this film was made when it was since some of the original cast and friends and colleagues provide primary source material. This is a warm and loving portrait that also touches on difficulties most pioneers face.