The Wild One is the Unforgettable Tale of an Unheralded Show Business Legend
Tribeca Film Festival 2022
The Wild One Review
Jack Garfein, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 89, was notable for two distinct things: His survival of the Holocaust, and his decades of work in the entertainment industry, as everything from an acting teacher to a film director to an impresario in theater and in television. He was never quite a household name but probably deserved to be one.
A new documentary about Garfein, The Wild One, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a brilliant tapestry of these two different sides of Garfein. Directed by the French filmmaker Tessa Louise-Salomé, the film goes back and forth between Garfein’s show business career and his Holocaust story, using both interviews with Garfein himself and extensive readings from Willem Dafoe.
Born in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1930, Garfein came of age during the Holocaust and lived in more than ten different concentration camps. He once even met Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor.
Stories like this are always extremely compelling, of someone surviving the Holocaust and then going on to live a very long life without ever quite losing those scars. And Garfein’s life was certainly an intriguing one.
Arriving in New York in 1946, Garfein landed in an acting program at the New School the following year and eventually worked his way up to playing a key part in the Actor’s Studio, including the founding of its West Coast branch. This put him in the orbit of a who’s who of famous actors of the time, including Marilyn Monroe and Carroll Baker, who he married. Garfein was a student, and later a colleague, of the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg.
But the story had even more twists and turns to come. He directed a movie called The Strange One which, in 1957, was suppressed due to its inclusion of homoeroticism. Another movie, Something Wild (not to be confused with the 1980s Jonathan Demme film of the same name.) Garfein is positioned, by the film, as a passionate defender of the freedom of speech, especially considering the encounters he had with tyranny earlier in his life.
The film won a Tribeca award for Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature, likely thanks to the way it films Garfein in his interviews. In his 70s at the time, Garfein is incredibly lucid, having a fine recall of events that took place decades earlier.
The Wild One has no distribution or release plan in place as of yet. But once it does, the story of Jack Garfein is one that you should know, and this extraordinary film delivers it.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs June 8-19. Visit the festival’s official website for more information.