The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (DVD Review)

There was a golden era of baseball that has long since passed. It covered a time that spanned the years before and shortly after World War II.  The teams of this age consisted of rosters that held the names of some of the greatest that ever played the game. There were those dangerous with a bat like Ted Williams and Babe Ruth and those who shut down the opposition from the mound like Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller. While these men and their teammates had their highs and lows, none of them faced the struggles and hurdles like the late, great Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg.




As a baseball fan, Greenberg’s name is one I had heard frequently over the years, though I never really delved any deeper into the athlete’s history.  My familiarity with Greenberg’s playing days amounted to little more than knowing he was a Hall of Famer.  What I didn’t realize was what he went through to get there, or what he accomplished while he was at the top of his game.

Writer/Producer/Director Aviva Kempner gives us not merely a snapshot, but a comprehensive portrayal to the viewer of Hank Greenberg’s life and career in this 2-disc set.  The first disc is the 95-minute documentary while the second disc features over two hours of additional interviews cut from the main film.  The documentary as a whole is fulfilling and educational if nothing else.  The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg contains a plethora of one-on-one discussions with those that looked up to Greenberg, those that knew him and of course the man himself.  To be able to hear the experiences recounted from his peers on the ball diamond was a special thing.  There is also an arsenal of vintage game footage as far back to the early 1930’s which conveys how the 6’4″ slugger was off the field and how he battled the opposition and anti-semitism on the field.

Kempner paints a picture that vividly shows viewers Greenberg was a hero not only for Tigers fans, but for Jews across the country.  His talent and power equated to an output that could not go unnoticed by the opposing team, nor by those that despised him for his enthnicity.  While many Tiger fans rallied around his athletic performance, Jewish communities rallied around him for his pioneering accomplishments.  The way Kempner has assembled and delivered the goods in this documentary pleases the entertainment palette while enlightening the mind to the life and times of one of baseball’s greatest players to ever take the field.


This is going to be my first review of a disc-based film where I just cannot provide a score to the video quality.  Simply stated, it would not be fair.  This documentary is based around a significant amount of interviews recorded in standard definition that have not withstood the test of time all that well.  In addition, some of the game footage is only a few decades shy of the century mark, and as a result, comes across pretty grainy and even a little blurry at times.  Even if this documentary was on Blu-ray, we’d still see the same visual issues as it is the source material that is quite aged and somewhat flawed.  I did want to mention, do not let all the photos here steer you into thinking this is an exclusively black and white film.  There is a significant amount of color footage in this film.



The audio experience is a simple one.  As this is a DVD, and a dialogue-driven one at that, the primary sound is coming through the front speakers with little to no use of the rear channels.  That’s pretty much standard behavior from a documentary anyway, and with the DVD capabilities falling short of Blu-ray, you can expect that behavior to be solidified here.  On the bright side, it gets the job done.  There are no real moments of “what did they just say?” to be found here.


As previously mentioned, there is a second disc in this set that is comprised solely of additional footage cut from the documentary.  It’s about 2 hours and 14 minutes worth of additional interviews and footage that ultimately makes for another documentary in and of itself.  The only thing is these extras are similar in content to its documentary counterpart.  I would have loved to have seen a break from the norm, such as an interview with the film’s creator, Aviva Kempner, or even some more updated discussions.  After all, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg came out in 1998 and many of the film’s interviews look like they took place in the 1980’s and earlier.  It is this disc that earned the film a re-release on DVD.



Aviva Kempner brilliantly covers all the bases with this documentary of Hank Greenberg.  As a fan of the game, I appreciate the insight from those that played with him and those that played against him.  It gives viewers a window into a period of baseball that is best recaptured through a film like this.  As a student of history, I am educated by the social tribulations that Greenberg lived through and admire him for his undeniable class and patience.  This documentary is a keeper for any sports fan as well as anyone looking for a biography on one very accomplished individual.  For more information on the film, please visit www.HankGreenbergFilm.org.

The Life & Times of Hank Greenberg - Why So Blu









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