“Religion is a big deal with her, but she has a problem with God”
Despite acknowledging it’s a well-made film, I was disappointed by Oscar-winning short The Lady in Number 6 because of its subject’s attitude towards surviving the Holocaust. Her unique concentration camp circumstances inexplicably allowed her to let the experience wash away so she could be grateful it led to a second lease on life. I simply can’t reconcile that way of thinking. In my mind a survivor must be more like Elmira, NY resident Dina Jacobson: a woman still devout in Jewish tradition and culture but rightfully unable to believe a God could exist after the tragedy endured. Six million people were wiped from this earth in genocide—how could you leave that without a crisis of faith? Dina refuses to look past the horror and in turn tells her story so we won’t either.
At the center of Rich Kellman’s short Blue Tattoo, Dina stands as a woman who cannot shake what happened. I don’t mean to belittle the late Alice Herz Sommer, her optimism, or her ability to let WWII be just a pit stop in her life—there’s strength to that outlook and it obviously impacted many to earn its filmmakers an Oscar. Maybe it’s the amount of Holocaust information swimming in my head, its despicable details and impossibly high death count, but a lack of anger rings false to me. That’s why Dina’s quivering lip explaining how she wanted to die in the gas chamber to escape her plight can’t help but hurt my soul. Her family was taken away; her identity labeled inhumane. How could anyone deny her an emotional swell of pained memory when talking about what occurred?
She is the epitome of grace and fortitude at age ninety-two, still walking to synagogue every Saturday to pray for those who died despite her personal problems with God while also speaking at local high schools to ensure America’s youth learns what happened in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Hers is a life rich with blessings and sadness that’s bolstered by daughters Connie and Sarah at her side as well as a slew of old photographs and archival footage—ripe for a cinematic package if only to immortalize her words for future generations. This is the main goal of director Kellman and co-producer Marty Kerker after all: to see their film used as an educational tool when Dina herself no longer can. But I wonder if they bit off more than they could chew.
What I mean by this is that Blue Tattoo isn’t just about Dina and her life. The filmmakers have decided to split their focus with Ithaca, NY based singer/songwriter Joe Crookston too. An artist who takes the stories of people he meets and transforms them into song, it’s his track based upon Dina’s life that serves as the film’s title and a backdrop to its imagery. My issues with the lyrics aside (every four-line verse is bookended by the same line for a level of repetition I cannot overlook), spending so much time on Crookston’s process takes something away from what I believe is the real purpose. I don’t deny it’s place along her timeline, but I wonder if the whole wouldn’t have been better served with it included as an aside rather than equal importance.
Their overlapping is the film’s thesis, however, so even though I saw a work-in-progress, this is the desired vision. The song seems to have huge appeal and understandably touches those close to Dina greatly while also giving the whole a backbone to rest upon. In this regard it’s a necessary addition because Kellman rifles through a ton of historical information (some of which contains specific details outside of Dina’s life that I’d deem superfluous) in a short period of time. The cuts are abrupt in subject matter despite being somewhat smooth visually, so having that through line from Crookston helps hold it together. But it’s watching the effect Dina has on friends, family, and students met that truly inspires. The rest only begins to feel like filler in comparison.
Blue Tattoo plays the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival the following dates:
Amherst Dipson Theatre | Sunday, May 18 | 5:30 pm
Amherst Dipson Theatre | Wednesday, May 21 | 5:30 pm
JCC Benderson Seller Theatre | Thursday, June 12 | 5:30 pm*
*Sponsored By The Sara and Bill Eisen Memorial Fund of the Holocaust Resource Center