There’s Johnny Rotten laughing that he doesn’t remember the words while the rhythm kicks and drives. The bass is muddled but insistent, louder with every measure, angry that no one’s joined in. Johnny yells to stop so that someone can feed him his lines. The volume drops, but the band never does. Suddenly this song, a cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” — which I’ve always heard as a song about being young and excited and about the thrill that comes when life is yet to be discovered — suddenly this song is about the drum and bass and power and about playing whatever you want to play, because this is your band too, and who cares if the lead singer knows the words?
Eventually Paul [Cook, the drummer] shouts the first sounds: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!”
He waits for Johnny to pick it up, but he doesn’t, so Paul adds “Roadrunner roadrunner!” and the band runs, or really they just keep going like they did before, pounding even more intensely. Johnny Rotten sings the way anyone would if they were forced to perform what they half-remembered. He mumbles random syllables [actual transcription: uhlalalalala] and shouts what words he knows: “Going faster miles an hour!” “With the radio on!” Somehow he remembers that there’s a verse about Stop & Shop, maybe because “Stop ‘N Shop” sounds vaguely exotic.
It’s impossible to call the cover better. I’m not even sure that I would call the cover good if I weren’t so deeply in love with the original. But there’s something enervating about the way the Sex Pistols, an ocean away, dive into a song that screams “I’m in love with Massachusetts,” and which celebrates neon lights in the cold, the AM radio, and route 128 (when it’s dark outside). It’s exhilarating to hear the song explode with a kinetic energy so different from the tight, organ-propelled original.
In the late 1980s, South Africa experienced a period of violence leading up to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and to the abolishment of the apartheid government.
Sara Blecher, granddaughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, was in the midst of it, working as a journalist. She later realized that the complex intra-black conflicts, which the white government fomented, were still often neglected in the country’s narrative of its history. This inspired her to direct and produce her first feature film, “Otelo Burning,” which had its digital release January 14. The script is based on an amalgamation of true stories about this time, recorded during workshops with inhabitants of the township Lamontville near Durban, where the story is set.
It starts off like a feel-good coming-of-age story set against the startling beauty of the South African coast: Otelo and New Year are two teenagers growing up in the township in the late 1980s. When they meet Mandla, who is an experienced bodysurfer, they are introduced to this new sport, an activity practiced predominantly by white people.
The boys escape from the erupting violence between the two rivaling black parties in the township, the ANC and Inkatha, by going to the beach and improving on their surfing — until events take a tragic turn.
Blecher, 46, grew up in Johannesburg. She attended high school and college in New York City and returned to her home country afterward. In March she will start shooting her second feature, “Andani and the Mechanic,” the story of a young female entrepreneur dealing with the death of her father and with unspoken love.
Blecher spoke to the Forward’s Anna Goldenberg about what stories dealing with the Holocaust have in common with those about apartheid.
(Reuters) — The complexities and contradictions of the Middle East conflict come into play in both the real-life production story and fictional plot of “Omar,” Palestine’s contender for a best foreign language film Oscar.
The movie’s director and lead actors are Israeli Arabs who identify as Palestinian. And while it depicts lovers literally walled-off by Israel’s West Bank barrier, and a hero brutalized by Israeli secret police, the $2 million drama was filmed mostly in Nazareth, northern Israel, without hindrance.
“Whatever we wanted, we could shoot. And this is a great attitude. I think they (Israeli authorities) were smart to do that, because every journalist will ask me, ‘How was your shoot?’ and I have no stories to tell,” writer-director Hany Abu-Assad said in a telephone interview.
Such a conciliatory spirit is absent from “Omar,” however — as elusive as actual Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which world powers hope will emerge from peace talks with Israel.
The film looks at the grind of life under Israeli military occupation: A young Palestinian lethally lashes out at the army and is punished with pressure to spy on his own side or end up in prison with no prospects of marrying the woman he loves.
Betrayal, and the mistaken perception of betrayal, follow, with bleak and bloody consequences — a plot which Abu-Assad says was inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello.”
On January 21, at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, the Forward caught up with Ronald Krauss, writer and director of “Gimme Shelter,” which opened in theaters January 24. The movie stars Vanessa Hudgens as Apple Bailey, a desperate pregnant teenager who runs away from a cruel drug-addicted mother (Rosario Dawson). Apple tries to connect to her wealthy dad (Brendan Fraser), but things keep looking bleaker until she meets Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones). He introduces her to Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd), who runs a shelter.
Krauss, 43, has been writing, producing and directing movies since his first short film in 1988, “Puppies for Sale,” which starred Jack Lemmon. The seed for “Gimme Shelter” came when Krauss’s previous movie, “Amexica,” a drama about human trafficking, was screened at the United Nations. There he was introduced to Kathy DiFiore, a woman being honored at the U.N. for her 30-plus years of work with homeless teenage mothers. Krauss arranged to visit one of her shelters and thought he’d found the perfect subject for a documentary. He stayed a year and recorded 200 hours of interviews. “The shelter began to seem like holy ground,” said Krauss, “and the research launched my screenplay.”
Dorri Olds: What inspired the main character, Apple?
Ron Krauss: Exactly four years ago today, I saw a young girl standing outside the shelter. She had no jacket and it was freezing. I brought her inside. Her name was Darlisha Dozier and when I told her there was a bed she hugged me so hard it sent a jolt to my heart.
How did you choose Vanessa Hudgens for Apple?
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
Can you say with certainty that someone sings in an authentic Yiddish style? Fortunately, we have materials to help us figure it out — the records and CDs of folksingers, the recorded compilations from Ruth Rubin, Sofia Magid, Ben Stonehill and others; the recordings in the “Vernadsky Library” in Kiev, and the homemade family recordings that show up from time to time.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that you can’t speak only about one style, or even several. It all depends on the age of the singer, their birthplace and where they grew up.
Even in my family, two singers can sing in completely different styles. My grandmother Lifshe, from the small town Zvinyetshke, sang with a lamenting, sad voice, inviting listeners to sympathize with the suffering she expressed. My mother, from the larger city of Chernowitz, sang with less ornamentation but with a more secure feeling.
In the new recording from Brooklyn resident Herschel Melamed, “A Long Life In Yiddish,” you also hear a folksinger who sings in an authentic folk style. The CD includes 18 songs, and although the project was not undertaken as a commercial enterprise, it looks and sounds professional. In fact, two discs were produced with the same songs: one without musical accompaniment, and the second with the help of musicians Avi Fox-Rosen and Alec Spiegelman.
Herschel Melamed was born in Opalin, Poland and grew up in Luboml, where he worked in his brother Kalman’s shoe shop. At the beginning of the Second World War he became a soldier in the Polish Army and was later sent by the Soviets to a communal farm in the Ural Mountains, where he spent the war. His daughter Myra told me that he might have stayed there, but he learned that his younger brother Laizer had survived, so he left the communal farm and traveled westward to Chernowitz, where he married and where his daughter was born.
“Shtisel,” the Israeli television drama about a Haredi family in Jerusalem, is a breakout hit not only in Israel, but now also internationally.
It was announced this week that foreign broadcast and distribution rights for the series have been acquired by Pretty Pictures in France and Axess TV in Sweden. The deal was carried out on behalf of the Israeli production by Dori Media and Go2Films.
“Shtisel” — which won 10 awards at the 2013 Israeli Television Academy Awards — is being shown this week as part of the 27th annual FIPA International Festival of Audiovisual Programs in Biarritz, France. In March, it will begin a tour of Jewish film festivals, beginning with the Washington Jewish Film Festival in early March.
The series, which portrays Haredi life in great detail, has struck a chord with viewers of all types of religious backgrounds. One secular Jewish viewer told the Forward last year that he was drawn to “Shtisel” because of the universal sensibilities it highlights despite its extremely particular setting. “The Haredim are portrayed as people with all the emotional struggles and difficulties as their secular counterparts,” he said.
This is our second feature of poetry written at KlezKanada Poetry Retreat. See the original feature here.
Ezra Pound once stated that poets are the antennas of the race. At this year’s KlezKanada Poetry Retreat, which I was privileged to co-coordinate with Jake Marmer, poets composed alongside the timbres and textures of Yiddish music. Traveling through the weightiness of language and history, the conflagration of sonoric ecstasies and shadows of meaning, they engaged in playful language experiments, defamiliarizing and connecting with the environment, ritual and radicalism, tradition and translation, all dialectically electric and resonant with the rush of klezmer in the mountains of language.
Here are some of the sparked shards and fragments of light, glinting memories morphed through language and sound created that week. KlezKanada Poetry Retreat 2014 will be held August 18-24. We are accepting applications for next summer now!
A few months ago, thanks in part to The Forward, I became aware of a controversy at Theater J. An organization housed within the Washington DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), the theater had announced its 2013-2014 season, which was to include a production of “The Admission” by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner.
Key to this play are contrasting and layered Israeli and Palestinian narratives about what happened in an Arab village during the 1948 war for Israeli independence. Arguing that by staging this play Theater J, the DCJCC, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington were “promoting a discredited and defamatory lie against Israel,” a committee called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA) implemented an energetic and public campaign against it.
I confess that the merest hint of anti-Israel sentiment can set me on edge, even (perhaps especially) when that sentiment appears to come from my coreligionists. In this instance, my immediate reaction was to sympathize with COPMA’s argument that Federation (or other Jewish community-sourced) funds should not go to disparaging, demonizing, or delegitimizing the Jewish state. But without having read or seen “The Admission” for myself, I couldn’t be certain that the play was guilty as COPMA had charged it.
(Reuters) — A year after Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, a new documentary brings to light the young computer prodigy’s earnest battle to bring online freedom of access to information for everyone.
“The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and director Brian Knappenberger was joined by Swartz’s father Robert and two brothers, Noah and Ben, all of whom received a standing ovation.
“It’s unbelievably hard for us, but Aaron is dead, there’s nothing we can do about that,” Swartz’s father told the audience, saying he hoped the film would raise awareness of Aaron’s activism and encourage others to fight on his behalf.
Swartz died aged 26 in his Brooklyn, New York apartment on January 11, 2013, after facing felony charges brought by a federal grand jury that included theft, wire fraud and computer fraud.
The federal indictment said Swartz, a fellow at Harvard University, had downloaded millions of articles and journals from digital archive JSTOR through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology servers. Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.
In the film, which is a contender in Sundance’s U.S. documentary competition, Knappenberger focuses on Swartz’s intellect and growing political ambitions, with interviews that shed insight into his personality from Swartz’s family, friends and colleagues.
In “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich,” shown recently at the New York Jewish Film Festival, Austrian writer and director Antonin Svoboda presents us with a sobering but odd theatrical feature about the controversial analyst and sex philosopher Wilhelm Reich.
Reich, a Jewish refugee from Nazism who came to the United States in 1939, had worked with Freud in the 1920s and was a respected professional with a Marxist bent and a progressive attitude toward such fraught issues as adolescent sexuality, birth control, abortion, and women’s economic independence.
Svoboda’s film concentrates on the latter years of Reich’s life in the United States, in the mid-1950s, when his increasingly iconoclastic methods and theories — especially his belief in an unscientifically defined “cosmic energy” which he called “orgone” and his promotion of “orgone boxes” in which his patients sat alone for presumed health benefits — led to investigations by journalists and agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Yet what the film presents, in the person of actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, who has aged into a stout bear of a man with wispy blond hair and jowls, is a man committed to eccentric theories he knows make him both target and taboo.
At the same time, holed up with a devoted second wife who works by his side in a remote wooded retreat, and with a staff of young lab enthusiasts and acolytes, we see a figure of considerable personal charm and warmth. Reich seeks to help a local farmer suffering drought conditions with an invention to harness the weather, at the same time intruding into the man’s life by helping his wife overcome misdiagnosed infertility. Reich tenderly ministers to own adolescent son who sees his father as a hero; he welcomes the return of the adult daughter from his first marriage whose accent and manners set her slightly apart. In the fullness of her father’s embrace, despite years of estrangement, she becomes a colleague and his closest supporter.
(JTA) — “Wish I Was Here,” Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-funded film, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday night. Fans eagerly awaiting the “Garden State” follow up—especially the 46,520 who helped pay for it to be made—will be glad to know it was warmly received. The screening ended with a standing ovation, certain critics had nice things to say, and most importantly, the movie was ultimately bought by Focus Features.
Also notable: It sounds pretty Jew-y. In “Wish I Was Here,” Braff makes his directorial debut and stars as Aiden Bloom, a struggling actor living in suburban LA with his wife (Kate Hudson) and their two kids. Aiden is forced to pull the children from Jewish day school after his dad, played Mandy Patinkin, announces he is suffering from cancer and will no longer be able to pay tuition. Unwilling to send them to the local public school, Aiden decides to home school. This new role leads Aiden on a spiritual journey, complete with a visit to a rabbi.
Braff, who wrote the script with his brother Adam, explains that the pair drew inspiration from their childhood. “It was kind of a combination of both of our lives,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We did have a very strong conservative/Orthodox upbringing … Themes are in there around our shared experiences but it’s mostly fiction.”
A tale of adult children discovering the romantic mysteries of their parents’ past hardly presents new thematic territory. These discoveries are made after death thanks to the documentary evidence a parent leaves behind: letters, photographs, school reports, and war-related transcripts. Don’t a son and daughter in a sleepy farming community discover their mother’s hot and heavy affair with a passing photographer in “Bridges of Madison County”?
But this snooping around into the past has the benefit of additional historical weight in the hands of Diane Kurys, whose “For a Woman,” a fictionalized family memoir screening January 19 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, traces her Ukrainian Jewish parents’ early marriage after the war as they establish themselves as new French citizens in the city of Lyon. The narrative conceit of the film has two daughters in 1980 rummaging through their recently deceased mother’s effects, the younger one — a stand-in for Kurys — taking on the task of resolving the enigma of their parents’ long-ago divorce.
Suddenly, it is 1947. Michel and Léna set up house in the apartment above the tailoring shop Michel establishes, when the sudden reappearance of Jean, the younger brother Michel has been separated from since the boy’s youth, sets in motion a personal drama with political dimensions.
Remember New York in the 80’s? Than you can imagine what certain parts of Berlin look like today. Here you can still see entire neighborhoods serving as battlegrounds for graffiti writers and street artists.
PBS this spring will air “The Story of the Jews” with Simon Schama, a five-part documentary that examines the impact Jewish culture has made on the world.
Schama, an historian and award-winning writer, visits Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, Israel and Spain for the series, which was broadcast last year on the BBC to rave reviews.
Along the way, he meets with scholars and refugees and discusses everything from newly discovered archeological findings of the biblical period to the music of Felix Mendelssohn.
“If you were to remove from our collective history the contributions Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable,” Schama said. “There would be no monotheism, no written bible, and our sense of modernity would be completely different. So the history of the Jews is everyone’s history, too, and what I hope people will take away from the series is that sense of connection: a weave of cultural strands over the millennia, some brilliant, some dark, but resolving into a fabric of thrilling, sometimes tragic, often exalted creativity.”
The first two hours airs Tuesday, March 25, with the final three episodes on April 1.
(JTA) — The Palestinian film ‘Omar,” directed by Hany Abu-Assad, has just been nominated for an Academy Award in the Foreign Language Film category.
It’s the second nomination for Abu-Assad, whose “Paradise Now” was up for the prize in 2005. It’s also the second time a Palestinian film has been nominated, according to Haaretz.
“Omar,” shot in Nazareth and the West Bank, is a romantic thriller about a baker arrested and beaten by Israeli intelligence agents following the murder of an Israeli soldier. He is then forced to become a double agent for Israeli intelligence.
Nazareth-born Abu-Assad has Israeli citizenship but identifies as a Palestinian, The Times of Israel reports. Apparently the film itself has a similar slippery identity. Local media has questioned whether it should be labeled a Palestinian film, as it was filmed in the Israeli town of Nazareth and features several Israeli Arab actors. Abu-Assad, who made the film with an entirely Palestinian crew and had mostly Palestinian funding, says there’s no debating the fact that it is an entirely Palestinian film.
“Omar” earned the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
See the trailer here:
Made as a film for the French-German television network, Arté, “The Jewish Cardinal,” screening January 20 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, nevertheless has the scope and sobriety of a feature film.
Without much of the bloat of the standard biopic, its focus is the period of French prelate Jean-Marie Aron Lustiger’s elevation through Church ranks, from being named Archbishop of Orléans in 1979, to his elevation as Archbishop of Paris in 1981 and Cardinal in 1983, all under the guidance of the new Polish Pope, Jean Paul II. But the screenplay, co-written by director Ilan Duran Cohen and Chantal Derudder, has more than career chronology on its mind.
Lustiger was born a French Jew of Polish immigrant stock, willingly converted to Christianity in the shelter of a Christian family during the war, and was quoted at the time of his elevation to Archbishop: “I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”
Duran Cohen and Derudder attempt the difficult task of presenting both the emotional toll his conversion had on his family — for this rely on several familial scenes and flashbacks — and the philosophical conundrum of maintaining a dual identity as Christian and Jew, relying here on several encounters with members of the Church hierarchy and the French Jewish community.
Diana Groó’s “poetic documentary” “Regina,” screening January 15 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, is constructed out of meager visual evidence. There is, after all, only one surviving photo of her subject, the Berlin-born Regina Jonas (1902-1944), who became the first ordained female rabbi. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then Groó’s method is to create a lyrical meditation on a life whose contours were barely known or remembered until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. The subsequent reunification of Germany allowed a rush of researchers and scholars to fill in important historical lacunae from musty archives.
Although Groó’s documentary does not detail the manner of recovery of this extraordinary female figure in modern Jewish history, a 2004 article in Haaretz credits the archival work of Dr. Katharina von Kellenbach, “a researcher and lecturer in the department of philosophy and theology at … a small Christian college” who discovered in a “remote archive in East Berlin” an envelope containing a teaching certificate awarded to Jonas from the prestigious Berlin institute that “trained teachers of Judaic studies and Liberal rabbis.” Given to Jonas in 1930, it only certified that she could teach Judaic studies and Hebrew in the city’s Jewish community schools. Eventually, Von Kellenbach would also discover documents in the archive of the Theresienstadt ghetto that would enlarge and deepen the picture.
With merely the one formal portrait of Jonas in rabbinical robes, Groó nevertheless fashions a visual meditation on Jonas’s life and times. She uses old film footage panned over at hauntingly slow speeds. We see as in a dream the lively street life of the Berlin metropolis complemented by stills and clips of Berlin’s Jewish ghetto, its Jewish community schools and institutions, and Weimar-era nightlife.
The National Jewish Book Council has announced the winners of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards.
The Award, now in its 63rd year, is given in 17 categories including fiction, history, poetry, scholarship and the Everett Family Foundation Award for Jewish Book of the Year.
Honorees this year include Yossi Klein Halevi for “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation”; Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman for “FDR and the Jews”; Ari Shavit for “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” and Amos Oz for “Between Friends.”
The prizes will be awarded March 5 at a ceremony at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Read a complete list of winners and finalists here, and an excerpt from ‘Like Dreamers’ in the Forward, here.
British pop-culture monthly Uncut excited music fans this month with its review of what may be the world’s first Finnish-Jewish blues trio. Trouble was, the magazine got it wrong. Talmud Beach may have a Jewish name, but none of its players are members of the tribe. The band’s moniker, though, bears a Semitic connection. Bearded, hat-wearing guitarist Aleksi Lukander nearly got beaten for his “Jewish” looks, “and the experience led to the phrase Talmud Beach,” says their label’s website.
The band also draws on Jewish inspirations for its stripped-down, nearly sepulchral tunes; Lukander cites sources as far-flung as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Saul Bellow and Woody Allen for Talmud Beach’s textures and colors. The band got its start in 2006 on Mannerheimintie — one of Helsinki’s main drags, and a hub for buskers — where Lukander and drummer Petri Alanko both lived and played. Bassist Milko Siltanen joined in 2011. The Forward talked to Lukander by email from Helsinki about mistaken identity, the musical potential of the Talmud, and a pointed Jewish response to the band’s name.
Michael Kaminer: You adopted the name Talmud Beach after a few scary incidents where you were mistaken for a Jew — and violence ensued. Can you explain?
Aleksi Lukander: Me and the drummer Petri were traveling around Eastern Europe and playing on the streets a few years back. For the first time I had grown a long dark beard. I’d bought a black hat for the trip, because all the old bluesmen wore hats. At the time I usually wore a black blouse and black pants — so I was wearing black pants, black blouse, black hat and I had long dark beard. I didn’t realize it myself, at first I was stunned, why do people think I’m jewish? Then my friend took a photo of me and it was only then, when I saw the connection.
There’s never been any kind of publicity author Gary Shteyngart hasn’t liked, but it seems the same cannot be said about Canadian fiction.
The Russian-American writer, currently making the rounds on a book tour for his new memoir, “Little Failure,” managed to dis the oeuvre of writers north of the border while being interviewed by Vulture in New York.
In response to a question about whether literary creativity should be financially subsidized, Shteyngart replied, “Let me say this. I was the judge of a Canadian prize, and it’s subsidized, they all get grants. Out of a million entries, we found four or five really good ones, but people just don’t take the same damn risks! Maybe they want to please the Ontario Arts Council, or whatever it is.”
Canadians, earnest as they are, took this off-the-cuff insinuation that Canadian fiction is well, boring, far too much to heart. The National Post ran a piece on January 9 titled, “Canadian fiction dull? Blame government: Grants creating ‘a lack of funny in this country.’”