The reputations of talk show hosts do not have a particularly long shelf life. How many people under the age of 40 recall Jack Paar? Who under 25 knows Johnny Carson? But Stephen Battaglio’s new biography, “David Susskind: A Televised Life,” makes the case for remembering an impresario who brought a brash exuberance to the rough-and-tumble of ideas and social issues.
The premise of Susskind’s show “Open End” was that it would last as long as the host found the talk interesting. On air, Susskind quizzed a dizzying who’s who of writers and intellectuals, including Lionel Trilling, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Preston Sturges, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell and Truman Capote.
Angering executives and racking up Emmy and Peabody Awards, Susskind brought serious fare to the small screen. His plays, specials and series drew the best talent of the period, crossing the color barrier and hiring blacklisted writers. Susskind had a knack for getting corporate America to sponsor his forays into high culture; an antidote to what Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow once called the “vast wasteland” of television programs.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Whether it’s Malevich’s black or white square, the figure of the collector, the cardinal or the church that appears in Norbert Schwontkowski’s paintings, central to the work will be an existential question about life and death. It reflects the basic lack of trust and faith that he experienced as a boy growing up in post-World War II Germany. Last week, he was a guest at a painters’ gathering at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
About a year ago, at a similar gathering at the Darom Gallery for independent art in south Tel Aviv, the public met with artist spokespersons to discuss painting and its role today and how to talk about it. Passionate arguments erupted. Painter Yonatan Gold thought that an important discussion had begun, one it was very important to continue. Gold, who began this year to teach in the new art department at Shenkar, quickly joined up with Larry Abramson (also at the Darom gathering and the head of the Shenkar department), and they moved to invite international artists to expand the boundaries of the discussion.
If you doubt that a biography of an acclaimed expert in international law can be loveably endearing, then you have not read “The Life of Hersch Lauterpacht” by his son Elihu Lauterpacht, published in November by Cambridge University Press. Both Lauterpachts, father and son, were knighted for their contributions to the field, and Elihu was founder and first director of The Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, named in honor of his father.
Hersch Lauterpacht, born in Żółkiew in Eastern Galicia (today’s Zhovkva in western Ukraine) was raised in an ardent Zionist family and was drawn to his future wife Rachel in part because she was born in Palestine (two of Rachel’s sisters married Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog). Almost all of Lauterpacht’s family was slaughtered in Poland during World War II, and before December 7, 1941, he tirelessly crisscrossed America lecturing on a “more liberal interpretation of the Neutrality Act,” as Elihu terms it, to counter U. S. isolationism.
For over half a century, Alexander Goehr has been one of England’s most important composers, an avant-garde musician whose varied (and often challenging) body of work has been championed by luminaries including Pierre Boulez, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline de Pré.
Goehr’s manuscripts have recently been acquired by the music archive of Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. On January 26, Ultraschall, Berlin’s festival for new music (which ran this year from January 21 to 30) feted him with a composer portrait.
Goehr was born in 1932 into a remarkably musical Jewish Berlin family. His father, the conductor Walter Goehr, championed the music of Monteverdi and Messiaen and also wrote the score to David Lean’s “Great Expectations” and conducted for several of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s films. Both Walter and his brother, Rudolph, a composer of popular music in Paris, took master classes in Berlin with Arnold Schoenberg at the Prussian Academy of Arts. Alexander’s mother, Laelia, was a classically trained pianist. (The family’s accomplishments continue with Goehr’s daughter Lydia, a philosophy professor at Columbia University, who writes extensively about philosophy and music.)
Saul Austerlitz is the author of “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy.” His blog posts are appearing this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series please visit:
Being on tour for a book is simultaneously an exhilarating and a terrifying experience. Exhilarating because, after toiling so lengthily in the mines of authorial solitude, it is a pleasure of no small import to emerge to the surface, book in hand, and talk about it with friends, family, and total strangers. Terrifying because, as all authors who have ever done a book tour can attest to, the midnight panic that occasionally bubbles up, convinced you’ll give a reading and no one — literally not a single person — will show up.
Thankfully, that did not happen to me during my tour for my new book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I occasionally broke out into a cold sweat at the prospect of.
Though they hail from Tel Aviv, punk outfit Monotonix sounds like 1970s New York punk by way of Los Angeles rockabilly garage heroes like X, The Germs and Alice Bag. On their new album, the speedy half hour long “Not Yet,” lead singer Ami Shalev expectorates, clears his throat and howls through 10 fast-paced tracks. As the second track, “Everything That I See,” opens, Shalev hacks (“ooo-cha-cha”) and then croaks, “Slide my arms to shipping my faith / Shout so strong but not be afraid.” Without Shalev’s garbling Israeli-accent and bizarre syntactical delivery they’re emo lyrics. With them they’re simply surreal.
Though they formed in 2005, it wasn’t until they were banned from most Tel Aviv venues that they took their show on the road. (Monotonix is currently touring the U.S. with upcoming shows in New Orleans, Nashville and New York, among other places.) At Austin music festival South by Southwest last year, Shalev crowd surfed in a green plastic trashcan while the rest of the band decamped from the stage to play amidst the audience. Shalev has the touring band’s equivalent of war wounds; a blow he suffered to his leg at a Tel Aviv show in 2008 was exacerbated in Florida last year when he broke it stage diving.
Listen to Monotonix’s ‘Give Me More’:
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Mayn shifl” (“My Cradle”) by poet Leah Kapilowitz Hofman, as sung by Nitsa Ranz:
Nitsa Ranz was born in Poland in 1922 and emigrated to America in 1950. Mayn shifl (My Cradle) was recorded at an event that I produced called Generations of Yiddish Song: A Concert of Mostly Unaccompanied Rarely Heard Yiddish Songs at the club Tonic on New York City’s Lower East Side on January 9th, 2001.
The other singers that day were Michael Alpert, Janet Leuchter, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Paula Teitelbuam, Joshua Waletzky, and Jeff Warschauer. Ranz had a unique singing style, and though the song turned out to be American in origin, as I later found out when I discovered the song sheet (see below), she sings with much of the traditional style in her voice.
Two Israeli films, “Restoration” by Yossi Madmony and “Zero Motivation” by Talya Lavie, picked up prizes at Sundance.
The Egyptian Museum was hit by looters, but it could have been worse.
Israeli filmmakers have received death threats over their film on the Gaza war.
Ian McEwan has defended his decision to accept the Jerusalem Prize, telling his critics, “I’m for finding out for myself, and for dialogue, engagement, and looking of ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides.”
Benjamin Ivry examines the work of misunderstood painter Philip Guston.
Philologos investigates Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel.”
Jenna Weissman Joselit looks at the love affair between Jews and statistics.
The Forward interviews Joan Rosenbaum, departing director of the Jewish Museum.
Filmmaker, Internet pioneer and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain believes that “when you speak your truth, you speak the universal.” This seems to be the case, given the buzz surrounding her new, partially autobiographical film, which premiered January 21 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Best known among American Jews for ““The Tribe,” a 2006 short film that explores American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie doll, Shlain, 40, was in Park City, Utah for the first public screenings of her first feature length documentary, “Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death and Technology.” The film, which explores concepts of interconnectedness and interdependence, is part visual collage and part tribute to her late father, surgeon and author Dr. Leonard Shlain. Shlain’s short film “Yelp,” a riff on Allen Ginsberg’s classic 1956 poem “Howl,” was also selected for Sundance this year. Shlain took time out of her schedule to talk to The Arty Semite about her methods and goals as a filmmaker.
Renee Ghert-Zand: Your film is titled “Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death and Technology,” but you had originally planned to call it “Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence.” Why did you change it?
As part of its epic retrospective of Weimar Cinema, “Daydreams and Nightmares,” New York’s Museum of Modern Art will screen Werner Hochbaum’s 1932 film “Razzia in St. Pauli” on January 29 and February 2, an early German sound film long thought lost.
An atmospheric slice-of-life look at the Hamburg underworld of pimps, prostitutes and criminals (many portrayed by extras who actually held such professions), the film was a box office smash. Once the Nazis came to power, however, they banned the film for its uncritical portrayal of small time prostitution and its socialist-smacking glorification of the working class.
Justin Rosenfeld, the film’s producer and owner of Orbis Film, was forced to take on a Nazi co-owner. The company continued to release films until 1938, when Rosenfeld was briefly arrested. He then fled with his family to the United States. Rosenfeld died in Rochester, NY of heart failure in 1947.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Word from on high is that the Walt Disney Company is planning to open a theme park in Israel. Talk about bringing coals to Newcastle!
For years, religiously-minded Americans had created facsimiles of the Holy Land on American soil. As early as 1881, a “miniature representation in relief and color” of Jerusalem graced Ocean Grove, N.J., a Methodist summer colony.
The organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis did the residents of Ocean Grove one better. “Jerusalem comes to you,” they proclaimed, replicating the Jaffa Gate, the Dome of the Rock, the Tower of David and the so-called Wailing Wall on the grounds of the fair and importing 1,000 honest-to-goodness inhabitants of Palestine to populate the site.
Crossposted from Haaretz
For Yotam Raz-Friedman, 21, shoe design is intuitive. He began to acquire his skills at age 12 in Haifa. He would take apart his family’s shoes and put them back together again, and he diligently studied shoemakers at work.
At 16, he had already customized sneakers for clients. Two years later, he created the label Nouveau Riche Dog with Maoz Dahan. The two used black or white pairs of sneakers made by Nike, Adidas and Reebok and colored them with special leather dyes, removed parts and sewed them back in new places, tore out tongues and linings and added panels and strips of Velcro.
“When I was 4-years-old, I saw the movie ‘Bambi’ with my mother, and I asked her how animals knew when they were supposed to reproduce or run from fire. She told me they inherited instincts. That’s how it is with me and shoes. It comes to me naturally,” he says.
Each Thursday, the Arty Semite features reviews and excerpts of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, however, the poet and poem are contemporary in spirit, if not in fact.
Morris Rosenfeld, born in 1862 in Russian Poland, became famous in the early 20th century as one of the Yiddish “sweatshop poets” of New York. When the Triangle Waist Company fire killed 146 workers on March 25, 1911, Rosenfeld responded with a poem printed on the front page of the Forward. (To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the fire, the Forward is sponsoring a poetry contest — see here for details.)
It didn’t take a tragedy, however, to prompt Rosenfeld to lament the poor labor conditions that characterized the lives of many immigrants. In another poem titled simply “The Sweatshop,” translated by Forward Association Vice President Barnett Zumoff and published in “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry,” Rosenfeld described the drudgery of menial labor and the constricting effect it had on the life of mind and spirit. While the world of Lower East Side garment factories is now part of history, sweatshop labor has far from disappeared.
A decade ago, American journalist and photographer Edward Serotta decided to collect the life stories and family photographs of every elderly Jew living in Central Europe that he could find. “I wanted to document a whole world,” he said.
It was a world that few Jews or Europeans knew about. Jews were unaware that a considerable number of Holocaust survivors chose to remain in Central Europe after World War II, while Europeans knew little about Jewish life and Jewish contributions to European society in the early part of the 20th century.
“Jewish Witness to a Polish Century: Pictures and Stories from the Centropa Interviews 2001-2008,” an exhibition now on view at Beth Tfiloh School in Baltimore, following exhibits in Northern California and before stops in Atlanta, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, is just one facet of Serotta’s work. Centropa, the organization he founded and which is based in Vienna, bills itself as an “interactive database of Jewish memory.” Its primary focus is educational, drawing on its collection of 1,200 transcribed interviews with elderly Jews in 15 countries, as well as 22,000 digitized family photographs.
View a sideshow from ‘Jewish Witness to a Polish Century’:
J.D. Salinger was a fan of Burger King, according to letters by the deceased author released today.
Forward contributor Sarah Wildman writes in Slate about the “Hitler and the Germans” exhibit at the German Historical Museum in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Google has partnered with Yad Vashem to provide access to the museum’s documents and allow the public to fill in missing information.
Anne Applebaum writes about “The Way Back,” the first Hollywood film about the Soviet Gulag.
The Denver Museum of Contemporary Art is exhibiting a collection of Russian avant-garde paintings discovered in an “unclaimed shipping container in German customs.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
In what appears to be an astounding coincidence, ceremonies took place at exactly the same time on exactly the same evening in adjacent halls in the Tel Aviv Museum. One was the launch of the Israeli architecture archive, and the other was a fundraising event for the establishment of a museum of contemporary Palestinian art in Umm al-Fahm, including an archive that would document its history, the first of its kind in Israel’s Arab community.
The two events are essentially two sides of the same coin. On one side is the archive in Tel Aviv, which aims to save and preserve architecture in Israel for the Jewish citizens of the state, and on the other, the museum in Umm al-Fahm, which aims to collect evidence of a legacy of Palestinian art and culture that was destroyed at the establishment of the state of Israel, and to gather up the pieces that are left.
New York music lovers need hardly wait for Purim to feel the springtime party mood. From February 3rd to 6th, a City Center Encores! production of Kurt Weill’s 1949 musical “Lost in the Stars” can be seen in New York. A prescient argument against South African apartheid, Weill composed his score after studying Zulu music, which infused his music with what he called a “Biblical tone that we hope the public will like.”
A different kind of spirituality can be heard in “Rothko Chapel” by modern American Jewish composer Morton Feldman, performed at Alice Tully Hall on February 24 by Jeffrey Milarsky’s Axiom chamber ensemble. Composer Dániel Biró has aptly pointed to Feldman and the painter Mark Rothko, apart from being friends, sharing European Jewish heritage, a need for abstraction, and a will to “discover the mystery of perception within art.” Also performed at the same concert will be works by the great Hungarian Jewish modernist György Kurtág.
“Public Enemies,” far from being the “duel” suggested by the book’s subtitle, is in fact an act of mutual masturbation by two of France’s leading luminaries, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq (pronounced Wellbeck). In the book-length series of letters, the friends encourage each other to indulge in self-reflection. They talk about their fathers. They spar over Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. But mostly they trade notes on celebrity and use the opportunity to solidify their images.
Lévy aggrandizes his commitment to being an “engaged” intellectual. Houllebecq explains his indifference to injustice and persecution. He is, he implies, not interested. We do learn some things: Judaism — at least Lévy’s idealized and intellectualized version of it — is central to Lévy’s thinking. He likens himself to Albert Cohen’s protagonist, Solal, and says he is a “positive Jew” as opposed to Sartre’s ““negative Jew,” who is only Jewish in so far as others regard him as such. Houellebecq, in his most sympathetic moment, describes his own spiritual journey. He ultimately walked away from the Church but plainly retains sympathy and respect for the faithful.
Crossposted from Haaretz
A legal issue to be arbitrated in the Tel Aviv District Court this May raises a philosophical-artistic question that exceeds both the narrow boundaries of law books and the broader limits of the stage. Y., the victim of a gang rape on Kibbutz Shomrat in 1988 when she was 14, is suing playwright Edna Mazya, author of the play “Games in the Backyard,” with the claim that the work violates her legal right to privacy. Mazya’s play, which deals with the gang rape of a teenage girl in an unspecified community, was written in 1993 and mounted since at the Haifa Theater and dozens of theaters around the world. For the past three years, it has been performed again at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.
This specific case is the focus of a legal battle, and a thorny one at that because — aside from the clash between an individual’s right to own her life story and an artist’s right to freedom of expression — the matter of rape is also at issue. In this case there are precedents for protecting a victim’s privacy, as evidenced in the release of only part of the recent court decision to convict former President Moshe Katsav of rape in order to shield the victims.