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MR DEATH

SYNOPSIS:
Massachusettes engineer Fred E. Leuchter Jr took it upon himself to improve the quality of the electric chairs in various States of the US, prompted by humanitarian motives: to kill, not torture the executees. His dedication and success generated good word of mouth and he was asked to improve other execution equipment, from the gallows to gassing. This was the thing that motivated Ernst Zundel, a rabid neo-Nazi and revisionist, to commission Fred to go to Auschwitz. Inadequately qualified for the task, Leuchter innocently but erroneously concluded that the Auschwitz gassings never occurred. But Leuchter soon found his fame turning to infamy, and the word of mouth got bad. Work was not coming, and one job was even cancelled half way through, leaving him stuck with half of an electrocution setup, and Fred a bewildered man.

"Errol Morris employs his trademark filmmaking style - intercutting stylised shots with naturalism, black and white versus colour, extreme close ups, etc - to best effect in this 'two for the price of one' doco. Two, because what begins as an almost endearing story of a bespectacled, mousy man in a fawn suit with a cream shirt a dreary tie and a quiet obsession with making executions more humane, soon becomes a story of a stupid man stumbling around one of the most provocative issues in history: Holocaust denial. No wonder Morris wanted this story: it has all the elements of a grand drama, driven by a little man. The complexity of Leuchter's persona, his failed marriage and his resolute stupidity in the context of the Holocaust denial machinery are formidable filmic elements. Morris, whose last work, Fast Cheap and Out of Control, was less cohesive and less engaging, reveals his eye and ear for non-judgmental documenting is very much intact, and his cinematic skills are sharpened by his passion for the subject. Put this on your priority list."
Andrew L. Urban

"How can we recognise true evil? Not the fictional super-villans battled by the likes of James Bond; but those regular everyday people who commit the most unspeakable acts. In this extraordinary documentary film, Errol Morris looks at a regular guy, Fred Leuchter, for whom the lure of evil was too powerful. Leuchter is the kind of person who, if you passed in the street, youd hardly give a second glance. Hes what you might call a geek; but this geek is deadly. He not only makes execution devices; hes played a crucial part in the biggest lie in history. Even describing what to expect from this film is difficult. It seems to have an energy - almost a life - all its own. Its constructed with intelligence and acuity. At times it is deeply disturbing; so much so it produced a physical reaction for many people (me included). But at other times, its very funny; almost whimsical. For the technically minded, the film is worth seeing for the interviews alone. They were shot with the aid of "Interratron", a device designed by Morris which allows the subject to be interviewed naturally while appearing to speak directly to the viewer. And the effect is quite remarkable. Ultimately, Mr Death is not about Fred Leuchter. Its about something much bigger than any one person. Its not drawing too long a bow to say the film deals with some of the most fundamental and crucial issues facing humanity today. As with all Errol Morriss films, Mr Death is constantly intriguing, utterly compelling and immensely rewarding."
David Edwards

"If truth can be stranger than fiction, the corollary is that real people are sometimes stranger than imaginary characters. Documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris has an uncanny ability to seek out the most eccentric forms of the human condition and fascinate us with a prurient peek into their lives. In Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., he reveals a human idiosyncrasy who is pitiable, tragic and infinitely intriguing. Using the Interretron, a device designed by Morris to enable an interviewee to talk directly to camera, Leuchter is allowed to narrate his own story. There is a macabre surrealism to the montage of stylised footage (including an opening construction that would not be out of place in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Marc Caro production) interspersed with Leuchter, all broad-brimmed glasses and rotting teeth, matter-of-factly relating his unusual life. It is the story of an intelligent fool, whose naivety has overshadowed his humanism. From useful geek, who talks enthusiastically about his vision of a luxury lethal injection chair with accessories like TV what a terrific idea: they could hook-up the ultimate anaesthetic, a video of Mission to Mars to social and professional pariah in his role as a Holocaust-denier, Leuchter is a morbidly compelling study of self-delusion. He mocks bureaucrats who blindly assumed he could design gallows and gas chambers because of his work with electric chairs, yet fails to see the irony in his self-appointed role as forensic expert. It is easy to feel compassion for Leuchter. Hes not an anti-Semite although he does lap up the flattery of racists and has paid a heavy price for his ingenuousness. But disturbing images of Leuchter flouncing around the ruins of Auschwitz, cheekily chiselling samples like some naughty school boy, are a grave reminder of the dangers of ignorance."
Brad Green

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See David Edwards' interview with
ERROL MORRIS

MR DEATH - The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (PG)
(US)

DOCUMENTARY - interviews with Fred A. Leuchter, David Irving, James Roth, Shelly Shapiro, Suzanne Tabasky

DIRECTOR: Errol Morris

PRODUCERS: Dorothy Aufiero, David Collins, Michael Williams

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson

EDITOR: Karen Schmeer

MUSIC: Caleb Sampson

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ted Bafaloukos

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Niche Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: June 29, 2000 (Sydney)

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Siren Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: February 13, 2001







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