Where I StandReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 07/03/08 00:57:40
SCREENED AT THE 2008 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: To me, the name of “Greenspun” had always fit into a very narrow definition. Sure, as a journalist myself to a certain degree, I knew the familial patriarch, Hank, for his years of service to the Las Vegas Sun but anytime I heard the surname my brain immediately registered the family’s connection to the roots of the CineVegas Film Festival. So when I heard that 2008’s tenth anniversary was going to be premiering a documentary about Mr. Hank Greenspun, there was the associated trepidation that it was going to be an unapologetic love letter with a leg up among the festival’s programmers. The lovefest part was certainly true, but that couldn’t be helped. Who would even want to find flaws within a life as well spent as this? As Hank’s history is told through the inner monologue of Anthony Hopkins and shaped by Scott Goldstein, like me you will have the feeling that you’re watching one of the greatest stories you’ve never been told unfold with all the twists of a great spy thriller.Known well around Nevada as the publisher and columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, Hank Greenspun’s name still draws mostly blank stares when I’ve tried explaining his story to people. His Wikipedia page is still more a collection of greatest hits than the kind of notated entry that a career such as his deserves, but its easy to see why he deserved his own film (documentary or otherwise.) Bugsy Siegel may always be credited with creating Las Vegas, but Greenspun could put up a pretty convincing argument that he was as instrumental as the mob, the Rat Pack or a catchy sinful slogan. After being one of the only people to call him Bugsy and live to write about it, Hank was hired as Siegel’s consultant on the failing Flamingo Hotel and decades later would enter into a partnership with Howard Hughes to help drive the mob out of this booming town. Casino. Ocean’s Eleven. Viva Las Fear and Loathing. This is one of the best stories about Las Vegas you’ll ever hear. Curious yet?
Greenspun first began publishing The Sun in 1950, often sinking his own money into the losing endeavor to continue writing his infamous “Where I Stand” column. Outspoken on just about any topic of local or national interest, Hank took up arms against Joseph McCarthy years before he was wished good night or good luck. Going so far to question not just his methods and misguided patriotism, but also his sexual preferences, this was just one of the many battles Greenspun would engage our government in on behalf of Americans everywhere. Footage of him on Donahue taking the IRS to task late in his career might seem like the kind of kooky Perot-esque antics reeking of a desperate man looking for a fight, but in the context of his story it’s symbolic of a crusader who was never going to rest. Oh yes, that’s hardly the end.
Movies love the iconic mysteries of double lives from Lee Harvey Oswald down to Gong Show hosts. And I’m sure there have been many successful men who have secretly donated some cash for a cause they believed in. But how many would be actively involved in running guns to guerillas? Not just any guerillas either. They were the Haganah, Jewish freedom fighters who became instrumental in the establishment of Israel. How many of us can say they had a hand in forming an entire nation? (Take that James McAvoy in Wanted!) I haven’t even mentioned his TV station, his pardon by JFK or how Greenspun may have been the cause of a little event known as Watergate.Where I Stand plays very much like that though, although with considerable more panache. Scott Goldstein assembles Greenspun’s life as more than just a collection, tying together history from every decade to provide a George Bailey-like cause-and-effect over the course of this larger-than-life career. Having already referenced two of his films as a director, it wouldn’t be out of the realm to see someone like George Clooney (himself with a little journalistic history and passion for causes) or even Steven Spielberg gravitate towards Hank Greenspun’s story and crafting a narrative around it. Fiction rarely gets to have such gravitas and true stories like this are born maybe once in a generation. Here’s to future generations learning about Hank’s life and inspiring success from financial to the patriotic musings of a media industry all but lost in our tabloid scoop culture. Whatever warts may have existed or glossed over, Hank Greenspun and Where I Stand have nothing to apologize about.
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