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“The Human Resources Manager” is an odd film. That it was recently announced as Israel’s entry into the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language category, after winning five Ophir Awards including Best Feature, says less about the movie itself than it does about the goodwill accrued by director Eran Riklis for more accomplished features such as “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree.” Unfortunately, “The Human Resources Manager” measures up to neither.
Based on A.B. Yehoshua’s novel “A Woman in Jerusalem,” the film attempts to craft a universal fable out of a very historically and culturally specific story, moving wildly through different tones and narrative modes. The movie initially presents itself as a white-knuckle corporate mystery piece, with the titular Human Resources Manager (Mark Ivanir) of Israel’s largest bakery chasing the identity of a former employee after she dies in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. Though her employment with the bakery had been long-terminated, a recent pay stub found on her body links her back to the company, leaving the Human Resources Manager with 24 hours to identify the woman and solve the puzzle of why she remained on the payroll.
Though Yom Kippur has come and gone, minds are still turned to the past year’s wrongdoings, large and small infractions alike. But what happens when you must evaluate your whole life? What do you apologize for? What do you regret? Whom do you forgive?
These are the questions that are asked in Gavin Kostick’s “This Is What We Sang,” which opened this week as part of New York’s third annual 1st Irish theater festival.
Produced by Kabosh, an Irish troupe that specializes in site-specific theater (one of their previous productions took place in a moving taxi), the show takes place at the Synagogue for the Arts in Tribeca.
Tearful laughter, raunchy story telling, and punchy witticisms are not the typical ingredients one expects to find in a tribute to a late literary legend. Then again, Grace Paley and ‘typical’ never met.
Last Tuesday the Center for Jewish History and Jewish Women’s Archive paid homage to the poet, short story writer and political activist, who passed away in her Vermont home in August 2007. The evening consisted of a panel discussion with excerpts from Lilly Rivlin’s new film, “Grace Paley: Collected Shorts.” The film, which premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July, will be shown at a selection of upcoming festivals on the East Coast, including the New York Jewish Film Festival in January.
Inspired by Paley’s vast collection of short stories, Rivlin’s film tells the tale of a woman whom a colleague described as “a very small woman who was a giantess.” Rivlin, a writer and political activist herself, shared her experience creating the film: “The challenge about making a film about Grace Paley is that she was a political animal and I saw her everywhere, and the challenge was to make a film about someone who did it all.”
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
For musicians traveling through Eastern Europe in search of the authentic Gypsy experience, all roads lead to Bob Cohen in Budapest. A fiddler, scholar and gracious host, Cohen could tell you in which Transylvanian town you can still find an old-time band, or just a lone fiddler. Heck, he could tell you where a fiddler used to live 50 years ago.
This week Cohen arrived in New York to participate in the annual New York World Festival, whose the theme this year was “Music Around the Black Sea,” featuring artists from Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, as well as immigrant musicians from those ethnic communities.
On Monday, Cohen spoke at the Center for Jewish History about “The Hidden Musical Treasures of Romania,‟ and on September 25 he will introduce a band that he cannot stop raving about at the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant — “Tecsoi Banda,‟ which is making its U.S. debut. The group is a family band from Tyaciv, Ukraine, in the Carpathians, and plays a diverse range of East European folk music, including Jewish music.
Chess has sometimes been termed “the Jewish National Game” due to the extraordinary number of great Jewish grandmasters. One such was Wilhelm Steinitz, who ranked as first undisputed world chess champion and who is the subject of “The Steinitz Papers: Letters and Documents of the First World Chess Champion” newly available from McFarland & Co. Publishers.
Born in Prague in 1836, Steinitz was champion from 1886 until he lost that title to Emanuel Lasker, another great Jewish player, in 1894. Steinitz attributed the mastery of Jews at chess to:
patience, pure breeding, and good nature. Having been the most persecuted race in the world, [Jews] have had the least power to do harm, and have become the best natured of all peoples.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, clarinetist Joel Rubin writes about “Vos vet zayn?” (What Will Happen?), a song performed by Rabbi Eli Silberstein of Ithaca, New York. Rubin writes:
Rabbi Eli Silberstein (first name pronounced to rhyme with “deli”) has been the charismatic leader of the Roitman Chabad Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York for over twenty-five years. Silberstein comes from a long line of Hasidic scholars from Russia and can also trace his lineage to the Vilna Gaon, one of the foremost rabbis and scholars of the 18th century. He possesses a large repertoire of nigunim that he had learned as a child in Antwerp, Belgium, where he grew up in a community comprising Hasidim from a number of different dynasties, as a Yeshiva student in Israel and France, and in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York, the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidim.
Earlier this month, the Israel Museum and the Shpilman Art and Culture Foundation awarded the first Shpilman International Prize for Excellence in Photography to Michal Heiman, recognizing her not only as a pre-eminent photographer, but also as an artist whose work consistently tests the boundaries between visual art and other means of human expression.
Heiman is perhaps best known for the “Michal Heiman Test (MHT)” — a work arranged along the lines of the Thematic Apperception Test, a psychological diagnostic tool — and “Attacks on Linking,” a series of photographs and videos that draws inspiration from the pioneering work of the British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion.
If Chromeo has proven anything, it’s that they’re “leg men.” The cover art of the Montreal-based electro-pop duo’s breakout album, “Fancy Footwork” (2007), reveals David “Dave 1” Macklovitch and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel playing keyboards perched atop legs straight out of a Robert Palmer video.
Their third and latest album, “Business Casual,” released last week, continues the trend. A woman in black stockings, sky-high heels and a tight miniskirt looms above a Xerox machine while a pile of headshots spits out onto the floor. The guys in the photos — both scruffy and cool in a way that’s meant to look effortless (but isn’t) — are Dave 1 and P-Thugg, the self-professed “only successful Arab/Jew partnership since the dawn of human culture.” The cover art reminds us that this is a world where sex is expected and Chromeo rules.
This Monday, September 27, the Forward is proud to sponsor “Jazz Talmud,” a “conceptual, multi-genre art performance,” by Forward (and Arty Semite) contributor Jake Marmer. Jake writes:
I wrote a sequence of “Talmudic” poems that imitate the rhetoric and turn of phrase of the Talmud but are about other things — dreams, crisis, jazz, the whole post-modern Jewish condition. I will be performing these poems with two horn players: Grammy-winning Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London and another klez legend, Greg Wall: They will be acting as Rashi and Tosafot — spontaneous interpreters of the text. Fifteen-piece jazz-klezmer group Ayn Sof Arkestra will also participate on a few compositions, as the “acharonim” — the interpreters of the interpreters. Then Ayn Sof will play their own set.
As the regular baseball season comes to a close, pressure is intensifying on those players still competing for a World Series ring. Players, coaches and agents are all taking their own steps to combat the mental challenges that this pressure causes, including visiting sports psychologists.
Reports earlier this summer stated that baseball agent Scott Boras wanted his client, Mets pitcher Oliver Perez, to consult the sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. Regularly cited in sports media as counseling superstars on Boras’s roster like Alex Rodriguez (until recently), Mike Pelfrey, and others, Dorfman has written pioneering manuals such as “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” “Coaching the Mental Game” and “The Mental Keys to Hitting.”
Yet Dorfman, who was born in the Bronx in 1935, has also published recent “anecdotal memoirs” which detail the Jewish inspiration in his successful career: “Each Branch, Each Needle,” “Copying It Down,” and “Persuasion of My Days.”
Daniel F. Levin is a playwright, composer and lyricist living in Brooklyn. His newest play, “Hee-Haw: It’s a Wonderful Li_e,” was called a “delightful surprise” by the New York Times; his musical, “To Paint the Earth,” about resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, won the Richard Rogers Development Award. This is the second in a series of four posts about his summer directing “Fiddler on the Roof,” crossposted from Frontier Psychiatrist. Read the first post here.
The truth is, when I learned I’d be directing “Fiddler on the Roof,” I wasn’t that upset. Wasn’t I going to camp to relax? To reconnect with the stars, have food prepared for me, swim, joke and find my peaceful mojo, away from the clatter of New York City? I didn’t need to reinvent Jewish summer camp theater with a production of “Godspell.” This didn’t have to be my Wagnerian Ring Cycle! I could phone it in. Yes, they were honored to have me back at camp, but I could live up to that by directing a decent “Fiddler,” right? I even promised myself not to care too much about the show. Caring leads to anxiety and disappointment. In Spielbergian terms, this was going to be my “Raiders,” not my “Schindler’s List.” Huzzah for an easy show!
The Romain Gary French Cultural Center on Kikar Safra in West Jerusalem is named in honor of the French Jewish author, born Roman Kacew in Vilnius in 1914. His multi-faceted literary exploits have been explored in his own memoirs, in Ralph Schoolcraft’s astute 2002 study “Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold His Shadow” from University of Pennsylvania Press and in a new biography, “Romain Gary: A Tall Story” by David Bellos due out this December from Random House Canada.
Moving to Nice, France, as a teenager with his family, Gary ended up writing under a variety of different pen-names but is best remembered for his novel “The Life Before Us,” about an orphan Arab boy’s devotion to a terminally ill Auschwitz survivor and ex-prostitute. Filmed in 1977 by Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi as “Madame Rosa,” starring Simone Signoret, this affecting book remains in print from New Directions Publishers, as does Gary’s memoir of his youth, “Promise at Dawn,” itself filmed by Jules Dassin, a director of Russian Jewish ancestry, starring Assi Dayan as the 25-year-old Gary/Kacew.
Before Jack Abramoff was an American super-lobbyist, half-successful restaurateur, and convicted con man, he was a movie producer, known for bankrolling the 1989 Dolph Lundgren actioner “Red Scorpion” (part of Cold War cinema’s deconstructionist, though still violently anti-Soviet phase). It’s appropriate then, that George Hickenlooper’s Abramoff biopic, “Casino Jack,” which premiered last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, should evince such an obvious love of cinema.
The film’s opening scene — which is difficult to place in its larger chronology — shows Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey) staring down his reflection in a bathroom mirror, fortifying his ego against the onslaught of Washington Post reporters, IRS bean counters, and Indian Affairs commissioners encircling him. It’s a scene that instantly recalls Robert DeNiro’s backstage monologue in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,“ which itself references Marlon Brando’s famous “I could have been a contender” bit in Elia Kazan’s “On The Waterfront.” But it also recalls another, earlier, DeNiro monologue delivered as the maladjusted Vietnam discharge Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver.” Just like Bickle, Abramoff (or at least Hickenlooper and Spacey’s Abramoff) has come to regard himself as God’s lonely man.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here. Translated by Ezra Glinter.
Before immigrating to Israel, I worked for over 25 years at a Vilna newspaper called Czerwony Sztandar, or The Red Flag, which was not only the sole original Polish-language newspaper in Vilna, but also in the entire Soviet Union.
Looking back through the pages of the paper, I once came across an item from the Polish press of around 100 years ago, which interested me on account of its Jewish theme. When I left Vilna for Israel I took a copy of the paper with me, and even acquired from my Vilna editorial office the illustration that accompanied the article — a picture of the last Jewish bookseller on the streets of Vilna, Shevel Kinkulkin.
“Howl!,” the Allen Ginsberg biopic starring James Franco, comes out this week. Jake Marmer takes a look at Ginsberg’s literary afterlife in print, film and comic form.
On Rosh Hashanah we eat fish heads — architect Frank Ghery made fish lamps instead. Gavriel Rosenfeld tells us why.
On Yom Kippur we wish each other a “good seal.” Philologos recalls the days when a seal was an indispensable personal accessory.
I’ve been spending the morning pacing around the house singing Kol Nidre while my two-year-old son Jacob toddles about playing with his toys. Just like every year, it seems, the High Holidays arrive to find my life in a startling upheaval of activity, with the world swinging back into movement after the sultry months of summer. And it seems that every year I wait until the day before erev Yom Kippur to practice Kol Nidre. I have just a few hours before I will be singing it again for the expectant Jews, their viscera open in that particular way that Yom Kipur operates on the Jewish psyche.
For me, my morning wandering about the house while my little boy plays, enjoying the sound of the Kol Nidre melody and pleasurably flexing the muscles of my voice, is a richer experience than I will have tonight, davening in front of the congregation. The human experience is so infinitely variable and fragile. Once you bring a room full of people into the mix it even the most nostalgic and intimate experience can become vulgarized and frail.
In his last posts, Forward staff writer Gal Beckerman wrote about barbecuing with hijackers and his other baby. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” will be available September 23. His blog posts are being featured 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:
There is a strange irony in having worked on a history of the Soviet Jewry movement at a moment when Israel often sees those who most cherish the upholding of human rights and international law as its enemies. The recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza happened while I was researching and writing the book, conflicts that were followed by allegations that Israel had committed war crimes, and then by Israel’s defenders fiercely denouncing the NGOs and other international bodies who made those claims.
The conceit behind “Blow Up,” the latest group show at The Society of Illustrators, is somewhat overblown, if you will. The show, billed as “an open window onto the visual melting pot of contemporary image making,” presents work by Tomer Hanuka, Yuko Shimizu and Sam Weber, three artists with different backgrounds who meet “at the crossroads of a distinct American esthetic.”
Nevermind that all three artists attended the School of Visual Arts (where Shimizu and Hanuka are professors), make their home in New York City, and work for many of the same clients. Or that the Society has “blown up” several works from each artist to a single size and pinned them to the wall, deliberately eliding differences in scale and material.
Nevertheless, the show, on now until October 16, offers fruitful comparisons and highlights the theme the artists share: fantasy and childhood, shot through with subtle violence and menace.
Watch a slideshow of images from ‘Blow Up’:
In the 1960s, Hannah Wilke caught the attention of the New York art scene and shocked the public with her frank and sexual sculptures, which forced viewers to confront the body as a site of pleasure and eroticism, death and decay. Wilke is now best known for her “vulva sculptures,” (a body of work readers can explore on their own) but in all of the media that she worked in — drawing, photography, performance, and perhaps most famously, chewing gum — Wilke offered up the naked body as a challenge, directing the shame that’s often associated with it toward the embarrassed spectator.
The political charge of Wilke’s career isn’t immediately apparent from the work in “Early Drawings,” an exhibit on view until October 30 at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, but it is present. (Several of Wilke’s pieces are also included in the “Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism” exhibit, currently on view at the Jewish Museum.) Viewers entering the show, which highlights Wilke’s drawing from the 1960s and ‘70s, are met with several walls of collage work and line drawings — muted geometric designs that emanate from cutout pictures of puppies and saints. Some of these are clearly tongue-in-cheek; in one series, canvases are carved up into light pastel patterns set against retro imagery. Others, like “Stanley Landsman,” a photo homage to the light and glass sculptor, and “This Was Once My Mother’s Plate,” a simple ghostly tracing, quietly incorporate Wilke’s personal history.
For 70 years, fans of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” now widely available on DVD, have marveled at the prescience of the comedian’s anti-Nazi satire. Filmed before America actually entered World War II, when some Hollywood movie moguls still soft-pedaled critiques of Hitler, “The Great Dictator” continues to fascinate today.
Recently published by Les éditions Capricci in Nantes, France, “Why Hairdressers? Timely Notes about ‘The Great Dictator,’” by film critic Jean Narboni, makes some new and cogent observations about Chaplin’s film. Narboni, a veteran journalist for the Cahiers du cinéma, compares the nonsense German-like doublespeak used by Chaplin as the dictator Hynkel (see video below) with the Nazi’s “constant corruption of the German language” as noted by the philologist Victor Klemperer.
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