Steven Spielberg’s 3-D Motion Capture film “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” is due for release in 2011, but already publishers are hurrying to offer books about the Belgian artist Hergé (born Georges Remi in 1907) who created its characters.
The graphic tales of the blank-faced reporter Tintin, his dog Snowy, and friend Captain Haddock, are much beloved around the world. Now that “Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin” by Pierre Assouline (Oxford University Press), a journalistic bio from 1996, and “The Metamorphoses of Tintin: or Tintin for Adults” by Jean-Marie Apostolidès (Stanford University Press) — a revised version of a 1984 psychoanalytic study — are available in English, affection for Hergé as a person may diminish.
Hergé started as an artist for fascist, antisemitic Belgian publications like “Le Soir,” which is, even today, not blameless. In 1941-42, when Belgian Jews, threatened with slave labor, wore the Yellow Star, Hergé’s Tintin adventure, “The Shooting Star,” featured a Jewish villain, Blumenstein the banker, intended, as Assouline explains, to represent the “incarnation of evil.”
Hergé, much criticized by Belgians after the Nazi defeat, revised his most egregious offenses in later editions of his books, but possibly never truly understood why they offended. In 1945, a friend who had been in a German slave labor camp returned and described Jewish concentration camp prisoners, Hergé replied: “You mistook what you saw… First of all, how do you know they were Jews? They must have been common law criminals.” While the antisemitic aura of Tintin has long been known in Europe, the new availability in English of such books will surely raise further questions about what Hergé hath wrought.
Parents anxious to avoid potentially evil writers of children’s books should turn their attention instead to “Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book” co-authored by that endearing French Jew of Polish origin René Goscinny.
When it was released in December 2005, Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” — the story of the Israeli agents tasked with assassinating those responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre — was criticized in some corners of the Jewish world for what was seen as lily-livered progressivism or, worse, downright hostility to Israel.
The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier wrote that that the film was “soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness,” and that its “mechanical symmetries” came perilously close to “the sin of equivalence.” Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, took matters a step further, arguing that the film “libels” Israel and humanizes Palestinian “haters and killers.” Klein ultimately urged a boycott.
In the spirit of sweaty evenhandedness, it should be noted that “Munich” also had its Jewish defenders. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called the portrayal of the film’s Israelis “humane,” adding that “they are struggling with issues the world is struggling with today.”
That said, there was not one commentator who saw in the film a tale of Jewish heroism. That is, until now.
Early in Judd Apatow’s new comedy “Knocked Up,” leading man Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is at a bar with his zhlubby band of heym-boys. “You know what movie I just saw again the other day, which is just [expletive] mindblowing,” he says: “‘Munich.’”
“‘Munich!’” the posse cheers.
“That movie has Eric Bana [Israeli team leader Avner Kauffman] kicking [expletive] ass,” Ben continues. “Every movie with Jews, we’re the ones getting killed. ‘Munich’ flips it on its ear. We’re capping [people].”
“Not only killing, but taking names,” a friend chimes in.
“If any of us get laid tonight,” Ben says hopefully, “it’s because of Eric Bana and ‘Munich.’”
Not to give too much away — see the movie, it’s a hoot — but, as the film’s title might indicate, one of the boys does see some action that night. Whether or not the lucky girl had seen “Munich” is left an open question.