As someone obsessed with American History, Marshall Curry, like many of us had never heard about a Nazi rally that happened in 1939 at Madison Square Garden. A friend had stumbled across the fact while researching a screenplay and Curry went off to do his own research.
Sure enough, the Garden that’s synonymous with the New York Knicks, Basketball, and iconic concert tours was once the scene of a pro-Nazi rally in the heart of Manhattan.
Curry sought out footage and pieced this Oscar-nominated short together. Not only is the film a jolt as to behold, it’s timely and real-news relevance made this even more of an eye-opener.
Read our chat below:
You would never associate Madison Square Garden with a Nazi rally, but here we are with Night At The Garden and this archive footage showing just that. How did you come across this?
Initially, a friend of mine who was writing a screenplay that takes place in New York in 1939 told me about it. We were at dinner and he said, “Did you know there was a huge Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939?”
I thought he was wrong because I know American history pretty well and I went home and looked it up and sure enough he was right. Not only that, there were some historical documentaries that had little five second clips in them. I thought if there are five seconds there has to be more than that.
I got an archival researcher who is a friend to start digging around and he found pieces of it in UCLA’s archive. There were some places that had audio and no video. The National Archive had prints that had never been scanned high-def before and when I looked at it, I was shocked.
I studied in American History and we never learned about it. I didn’t know about it until seeing your film. Why do we not know about it and why is it kept almost a secret?
Almost no one I’ve spoken to has heard of it. I think in 1939 before America got involved in the war, I think this was a legitimate philosophy. Not most people. I think most people were repulsed by the Nazis, but lots of Americans thought ‘maybe the Jews shouldn’t have all the rights of everyone else.’
I think that there were mainstream anti-Semites that are part of our history such as Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin the radio host. He was broadcasting into 30 million homes saying positive things about Hitler and Mussolini. I think when World War II started and German Nazis started killing American kids, we started to erase the fact that anybody had ever shared this philosophy and it became a taboo.
Here we are and there’s a political climate in the US and other parts of the world where that support is being encouraged to come back.
How much footage was there overall for you to sift through?
I would say less than an hour. They were shooting on film so it was expensive to shoot. They had 4 or 5 different setups of cameras filming the rally. There were high shots and others were filming up close.
It’s 7 minutes of jolt. How did the editing and music factor in here?
I wanted to make something of it. I wasn’t sure whether I should find traditional historians who could explain it. I decided an exercise to see what it would be like to let it play like a movie. I pulled together different pieces and tried to think about what it would feel like to drop an audience into this world and to create questions.
I intentionally make you think A Night At The Garden and maybe it’s about a basketball game. Then there are people outside protesting. Then it’s a Pro America rally and you think it’s patriotic.
You see a swastika next to George Washington and people doing the Nazi salute. I spent a lot of time trying to construct a surreal cinematic journey that the audience would go through as they slowly start to piece together this event. I wanted the music and the sound effects to play a part in that.
It’s there to give emotion. There are places I use silence to give you that lonely hollow feeling. Then there are places I use the original soundtrack during the speech and when the woman sings the national anthem at the end. It’s ironic that in the midst of this rally that I would argue is contrary to all of the ideals that America was founded on, here she is singing the National Anthem.
Trying to piece together those different types of sounds and to visually take the audience on a surreal and provocative journey.
That moment was so ironic.
It’s so familiar today. That’s what is so upsetting about it. I’m happy that it’s getting attention, but I was saying to a friend, I wish people who saw it would be saying, “What does this 80-year-old rally have to do with America today? This is history.” I would trade all of the attention for that to be the case.
Hate crimes, anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise and politicians are stirring up hatred.
When you started, was Trump president?
As soon as I saw it, I thought it was Trumpian. It was actually before Charlottesville. Originally when I was editing it, I thought it was a metaphor for Trumpian demagoguery that would remind people to be skeptical of leaders who attack the press and wrap their ideologies in symbols of patriotism. Then Charlottesville happened and it wasn’t a metaphor anymore. Our president was being sympathetic to real Nazis. That was when I got Laura Poitras at Field of Vision and sent it to them and they got behind it really enthusiastically.
Watch Night At The Garden below