"Liberty Heights", (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When he is at the top of his game, Barry Levinson makes wonderfully human films, mostly centered around memories of his own childhood and youth in Baltimore. This time it's 1954 and, through the eyes of some teenagers, we see the country's reaction to the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown Versus the Board of Education. Our protagonists come to a public swimming pool and stare down the ugly sign "no jews, dogs, or colored". The Jewish guys wonder why they got top billing, and then in a marvelous bit of dialogue they reason that dogs can't read the sign, and black people never go swimming at pools or beaches anyway, so the sign is really just to keep out Jews, and all the extra words are subterfuge.

I like this movie. It's an almost perfect little masterpiece with excellent production values, careful attention to period details, real-life dialogue from real people, and themes striking close to the bone if you actually lived through those times. The good and bad characters are never black and white, but rather as complicated as in reality. The preppie guys aren't Marmalard, but usually just decent guys with different core values, and our nerdy friends can usually figure out a way to get along with them if everybody stays sober, and the numbers are small and even.

Levinson remembers it well, and tells the stories beautifully. There isn't anything on earth wrong with it, except that you may not have a taste for these character based slice-of-life dramas with no traditional narrative structure. There are no big events leading up to a stirring climax, followed by a satisfying denouement. Levinson's people just move on to another stage in their lives, or maybe they don't but their friends do. Some friendships just wither away, moods pass, times change, and some promises are broken, even when they are made with good intentions. Just the way things really happen. I'm glad some people still make movies like this.

No nudity. It's a realistic movie, and people weren't allowed to see each other naked in 1954. By law, they were even required to wear dark sunglasses in the shower.

Sadly this little gem was ignored at the box office. It took in only 4 million in domestic gross, and never made it to more than "one screen per city" status.

IMDB summary: 7.6 out of 10. Apollo gave it an 82, Apollo users a spectacular 94. Berardinelli gave it three stars, Ebert three and a half.

Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive overall, and 100% from the elite critics!

DVD info from Amazon.

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