The title of the film comes from an interview with Hacker's mother, the late Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth Morley. Morley's parents sent her to England from Vienna after her "knees jumped out" -- that is, she fainted at the prospect of her father being taken to jail for the second, and possibly the final, time. The film chronicles both Morley's story and the kindertransport movement, tackling issues such as survivor's guilt, Jewish self-definition, hate, forgiveness and the frightening images of persecution that haunt even descendants born safely in America.
My Knees Were Jumping is a conventional documentary, developed through headshot interviews, newsreel footage and black-and-white file photos. Hacker has beautiful raw material. The old photos depict wide-eyed children clutching dolls and smiling bravely for the newspaper cameras. In one interview, a woman stoically re-counts how her father ran after her departing train, crying, "Don't take my baby!"
The editing, however, is unimaginative and the narration fairly dry. In the lone stylistic variation, photos of Morley as a child flicker past, flip-book style. This scene, reminiscent of the earliest motion pictures, creates a striking visual image of her uncertain childhood. Had Hacker been willing to take more such artistic chances, her good film might have been great.
My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports.
Directed by Melissa Hacker.
Saturday and Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts.