Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Above and Beyond: Israel’s Original Top Guns
they answered the call to protect democracy, prevailing against the odds each
time. In 1948, a number of former American WWII military pilots volunteered to
fly for the fledgling state of Israel when it was under attack from nearly the
entire Arab world. They were vastly outgunned and outnumbered, but their
experience and sheer guts became game-changers. Director Roberta Grossman and
producer Nancy Spielberg (sister of the other Spielberg filmmaker) chronicle
the birth of the Israeli Air Force in Above
and Beyond (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
the Arab nations launched the War of 1948, it looked pretty grim for Israel.
The Israeli military did not have a single plane to its name, but the Egyptians
had an extensive fleet. Rectifying the situation would be a tricky business.
Although Pres. Truman supported the creation of Israel, his foreign policy
advisors were much less enthusiastic. In fact, they pushed through an arms embargo,
ostensibly for the entire region, but disproportionately falling on the almost
entirely unarmed Israel. It was not like
there were not plenty of surplus fighter planes leftover from WWII.
Fortunately, engineer Al Schwimmer (formerly with TWA and Lockheed) devised a
plan to smuggle planes from America to Israel.
course, he also had to recruit pilots, such as Lou Lenart, whose Lindberg-like
flight over the Mediterranean serves as the film’s gripping prologue. They were
not just risking their lives, they were also risking their American citizenship
and perhaps even their liberty for violating the Neutrality Act, but they had
their reasons. While not necessarily ardent Zionists, most predominantly but
not exclusively Jewish volunteers were determined to avoid a repeat of the
Holocaust’s genocidal horrors. However, they were still military aviators, with
all the swagger you would expect.
Above documents a truly
desperate time in Israeli history, yet it is also hugely engaging, thanks to the
boisterous reminiscences of the surviving volunteers. They all have great
stories to tell, but Grossman and Spielberg were particularly blessed by the
documentary gods when they sat down with Gideon Lichtman, who couldn’t tell a
boring story if he tried.
its first-person interviews and supplemental commentaries, Above assembles a full portrait of Squadron 101’s early days that
is chocked full of fascinating episodes. Shrewdly, it refrains from playing the
conspiracy card with respects to the untimely death of legendary ace Canadian
volunteer Buzz Beurling, but its straight reporting of the facts still makes
This is a flat-out terrific film that is not
ashamed to celebrate heroism and derring-do attitude. Indeed, it is truly
inspiring (and often wickedly funny) to hear the volunteers recount their
exploits. Grossman and company have crafted a fitting platform for their oral
history, supplying solid historical context and some surprisingly cinematic
visuals. Rigorously researched and wildly entertaining, Above and Beyond is very highly recommended (especially for
students) when it opens this Friday (1/30) in New York, at the Village East.
Labels: Documentary, Israel