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.
The French Jewish film director Jean-Pierre Melville (born Grumbach; 1917–1973), famous for films about crime and France’s wartime Résistance, is being rediscovered by cinema addicts. A remake of Melville’s 1970 heist film “Le Cercle Rouge” is currently in development as “The Red Circle” starring Orlando Bloom while Melville’s equally influential 1967 “Le Samouraï,” about a hit man (played by Alain Delon), has inspired filmmakers from Jim Jarmusch to Hong Kong’s Pang Ho-cheung.
Following the October release of a 7-DVD box set of his films from StudioCanal DVDs, and a retrospective at Paris’s la Cinémathèque française from last November 3 to 22, “Riffs for Melville” (Riffs Pour Melville) a new book from the Belgian publisher Les éditions Yellow Now has appeared.
Of all the stories of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Shoah, there’s one story that rarely gets told: the Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews.
Norman H. Gershman’s photographic exhibition “Besa,” currently showing at the Soho Photo Gallery, redresses this imbalance, focusing exclusively on the unsung Albanian Muslim heroes who hid their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis, as well as thousands of other Jews fleeing across Europe, often at great risk to their lives.
The portraits, which have been published in a book with the same title, were painstakingly taken by Gershman over a seven-year period, in which he tracked down these ordinary Albanian and Kosovar Muslims whose families closely observed the principle of “Besa” to save Jewish lives.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The atmosphere on the set of the film “Lemalei Et Hahalal” (“Filling the Void”) is different, special. In a ground-floor apartment in central Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin area, the monitors, lights and other equipment whirl, surrounded by professionals clothed in cool clothes — some holding ever-present cigars or joints — as well as bearded, black-garbed Orthodox men, and Orthodox women in long dresses with wigs or head coverings. This is a curious mixture of the outright secular and the ultra-Orthodox — both groups united by a common goal: to make a movie directed by a newly pious woman, who prowls around the set with a clear agenda.
“Filling the Void” is the first film written and directed by Rama Burstein for the Israeli mainstream audience. Burstein is an ultra-Orthodox woman who lives with her husband and children in Tel Aviv, a few streets away from the studio; she is a graduate of the second class of students at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, in Jerusalem. Among other things, she studied alongside Tali Shemesh, who directed the acclaimed documentary “Moadon Beit Hakvarot” (“The Cemetery Club”).
I never learned to speak Yiddish. As a child in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was the language of my grandparents, the language that my parents only spoke when they didn’t want me or my brothers to understand what they were talking about (and I don’t think they spoke it when my childhood friend Michael Wex was in the house). And yet, there is something about Yiddish theater and song (and, of course, Yiddish theater songs) that makes me feel very connected to my Jewish heritage.
Adrienne Cooper is one of the Yiddish singers I’ve come to most appreciate over the past 15 years or so. I’ve heard her collaborate with several klezmer bands, and “Ghetto Tango,” her CD of Holocaust-era Yiddish theater and cabaret songs with pianist Zalmen Mlotek, has been a particular favorite.
While “Ghetto Tango” was a masterful look back at a previous era, Cooper’s new album, “Enchanted: A New Generation of Yiddish Song,” is a project that is very much of these times. Newly written songs along with re-imagined versions of older songs are presented in a postmodern variety of seemingly disparate, yet somehow seamless musical styles, including jazz, rock, pop, cabaret, klezmer and folk. It is an album that, on one track, reaches back to Cooper’s mother and grandparents, and, on several others, reaches forward to her daughter’s generation.
Durham, N.C. is not an easy place to be a non-conformist. It is the home of Duke University, notorious for its male lacrosse team’s behaving badly and its “Cameron Crazies,” obsessed basketball fans. Even in January 2011, when the Durham public schools need to make up a snow day, school is scheduled for Saturday, Jewish students notwithstanding.
Yet Durham was, for over 50 years, home to Reynolds Price, who died January 20 at age 77. A revered American writer, Price authored over 20 volumes of novels, poetry, memoirs and translations, as well as the lyrics for two songs with fellow North Carolinian James Taylor. As a teacher at Duke, Price was unafraid to publicly critique the school’s anti-intellectual ambiance in a 1992 lecture. He was also openly gay, though he preferred the term “queer,” and was openly what he called an “outlaw Christian.”
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Di mode” (“Fashion”), a poem by the early Yiddish writer Yitskhok Yoel Linetski, as adapted by his grandmother, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman:
I never thought I would thank Google Books in this blog, but the website has opened up tremendous possibilities for the Yiddish folksong researcher. In addition to having access to song collections, one can type in a search word in Yiddish and find it in dozens or hundreds of works. The Harvard Library and its unique Leo Wiener Collection, which is full of 19th-century Yiddish folk literature, is being made available on the site.
And so I was able to look at Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski‘s work “Der beyzer marshelik” (1869) for the first time in its entirety. One of the poems is called „Di mode‟ (“Fashion”; “mode” has two syllables) and I immediately identified it as the source of a song my grandmother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] sang called „Di mode.”
Linetski (1839–1915) was one of the earliest maskilic (“enlightened”) Yiddish writers, and his novel “Dos Poylishe yingl” (1868) later called “Dos khsidishe yingl‟ was the first bestseller of modern Yiddish literature.
Crossposted from Haaretz
When one is talking about jazz, the word “dissonance” often is heard in reference to avant-garde, cacophonic-sounding music. At the Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival, held over the weekend for the first time (as the new, younger sibling of the veteran Red Sea Jazz Festival, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August), the music was not cacophonic, but a different sort of dissonance hovered over the festivities: climactic dissonance. Watching a jazz festival in Eilat when you are covered in three layers of clothing, and still feel chilled to the bone, is like being in an alternate universe.
Jazz in Eilat during the annual festival in August routinely stirs metaphors of hell, since it is about 38 degrees Celsius in cool years. But last weekend we sat and listened to jazz in Eilat with two pairs of socks on. Guitarist and piano player Egberto Gismonte, whose performance brought the second day of festival events to a close, exclaimed at the start of his show: “It was so cold behind the scenes, that I just had to come here and sit down to play the piano, to get warmer.”
Film Criticism is doing better than ever, according to Roger Ebert.
Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award include novelists David Grossman for “To the End of the Land” and Hans Keilson for “Comedy in a Minor Key”; Christopher Hitchens for his autobiography “Catch 22”; Tom Segev for his biography of Simon Wiesenthal, and Forward contributor Susie Linfield for “Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence.”
Tullia Zevi, a longtime leader of Italian Jewry, has died at age 91.
Young Isrealis just love Berlin, according to Der Spiegel.
Eric A. Goldman shares his discovery of the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me.”
Katherine Preston looks at the similarities between “The King’s Speech” and “Going With the Flow,” a short documentary about speech therapy.
Debra Nussbam Cohen praises the accomplishments of Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow.
Philologos gets out his trunk.