The Arty Semite

8 May-December Movies To Make You Re-Think Romance

By Curt Schleier

May-December relationships are a staple not just of the new “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” (read our interview with director Arthur Allen Seidelman here but of many classic movies as well. The recent passing of Mike Nichols has brought one of the best to the fore. Here are 8 that will change how you look at Hollywood romance.

1. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967):

This movie tells the story of an aimless recent college grad, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) who is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Ann Bancroft) and then falls in love with her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross). It’s on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movies of all time and was selected by the National Film Registry for preservation as a culturally significant film. Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson…

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Never Too Old to Dance

By Curt Schleier

The banging you hear in the background? That’s the drumbeat for an Oscar nomination for Gena Rowlands. Rowlands stars in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” a movie about the impact an elderly south Florida widow and a much younger gay dance instructor have on each other’s lives.

Rowlands plays Lilly Harrison, the former wife of a conservative Southern Baptist minister. Cheyenne Jackson is Michael Minetti, a former Broadway hoofer reduced to teaching old ladies to dance.

The film is based on a play by Richard Alfieri and is directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, who also directed the original stage productions in New York and Los Angeles.

Seidelman, who is also an Emmy-wining television director, spoke to the Forward about how he switches from one medium to another, his famous Yiddish uncle, and being held captive in a Lebanese refugee camp.

Curt Schleier: You are a multi-hyphenate director, working in TV, theater and film. Is it easy to switch between various media?

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9 Palestinian Films Everyone Should See

By Anne Joseph

What constitutes a Palestinian film is a matter of huge debate. Some argue it is determined by the identity of the filmmaker, or by the film’s narrative. Others suggest it is production-led, and therefore depends on the financial institutions or individuals that back it.

Palestinian national cinema is a relatively young cinema, and it is unique in that it exists in the absence of statehood. This issue has led to controversy, as the Academy Award nominated film, “Divine Intervention” (see below) demonstrates. Here are 9 Palestinian films that can help you get up to speed on the best of the still-young tradition.

1. Wedding in Galilee (Michel Khleifi, 1987)

This was the first major Palestinian feature film made by an “insider,” and helped demonstrate the possibility of a Palestinian national cinema.

Despite being under curfew, a Palestinian mayor wants to celebrate his son’s wedding with a traditional ceremony. The Israeli military governor who rules the Palestinian village initially refuses, as he fears a political demonstration. Eventually he permits the celebration on condition he be allowed to attend.

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Can a Palestinian Movie Take Israeli Money?

By Anne Joseph

“The war against Gaza finished and the war against me finished,” said Suha Arraf, referring to the controversy that had taken place during the summer over her directorial debut film, “Villa Touma.”

At the Venice Film Festival, the Haifa-based Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker and screenwriter had categorized her film as Palestinian — not an issue per se — but the fact that a significant portion of the film’s production budget had come from Israeli public funds made it a matter for debate.

Arraf’s decision provoked considerable dispute among members of the Israeli film industry as well as from Limor Livnat, Israel’s Minister of Culture.

Although Arraf had put in her own money and additional investment had come from Germany, other Israeli state institutions, including Mifal HaPayis (Israel’s national lottery) and the Ministry of Economy, had also provided funds.

In November, an Israeli Economy Ministry committee ruled that she would have to return the funding she had received from the ministry.

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'Requiem for the 20th Century' at Carnegie Hall

By Raphael Mostel

Any music-lover in the New York area should run, not walk, to Carnegie Hall on December 10. Why? Only the New York premiere of one of the most influential and iconic compositions of the late 20th century: “Requiem” by holocaust survivor György Ligeti, scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano, double chorus and large orchestra.

Ligeti was unquestionably one of the greatest composers of the past century, the best known Hungarian composer since Bartók, and this is one of his most famous major works. The music is, simply put, astonishing.

Ligeti’s “Requiem” became known world-wide when excerpts were used (without the composer’s approval) as part of the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s classic futuristic film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” One of the most moving performances of last season was the playing of those excerpts by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic as they accompanied the showing of the Kubrick film live. But they left the honor of the much-belated New York premiere of the complete 1965 composition to the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Festival Chorale, directed respectively by Leon Botstein and James Bagwell.

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POEM: 'Shabbat'

By Hank Lazer

this morning

i am

at rest

hidden

beneath

a prayer

shawl

draped

over my

head

i am

chanting

your

name

the un

pronounceable

one

something

indistinct

whispering

through

my lips

ruach

the breath

you

gave me


8 Best (and Worst) Mel Brooks Movies

By Michael Kaminer

Melvin James Kaminsky is finally getting the tribute he deserves.

A monthlong retrospective at the Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival, is honoring the director better known as Mel Brooks.

“It’s Good to Be the King” salutes the 88-year-old’s “triumphant bad taste and transcendently-awful-cum-pricelessly-hilarious jokery,” according to program notes.

Though Brooks hasn’t directed a film since 1995’s “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” he’s hardly been taking it easy; this year alone, he’s voiced characters in animated hits like “Dora the Explorer” and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.”
But for many fans, Brooks’s 1960s and ‘70s will always represent the heyday of his work.

With that in mind, and to celebrate “It’s Good to Be the King,” here is our ranking of Mel Brooks movies, going from worst to best.

8. Spaceballs (1987)

“May the Schwartz be with you”? Not funny. A diminutive sage called “Yogurt”? Less funny. John Candy as “Barf”? Sad, actually. This drove home the feeling Brooks the director had run out of gas.

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Times Names Best Jewish Books of Year

By Julie Wiener

Photo: Martyna Starosta

(JTA) — The New York Times Book Review published its “100 Notable Books of 2014” on its website Tuesday and, not surprisingly, given the whole People of the Book moniker, a number of the fiction and nonfiction books highlighted this year are of Jewish interest. (The number of Jewish authors on general topics was too numerous to count, so we didn’t.)

In particular, books by and about Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union made a strong showing on this year’s list: Anya Ulinich’s “Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel,” Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s “Panic in a Suitcase,” Boris Fishman’s “A Replacement Life” and Gary Shteyngart’s “Little Failure.”

Also on the list is another immigrant-themed book — Zachary Lazar’s “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” — a novel that features Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky and an Israeli poet’s murder.

Books about Nazis and the Holocaust feature prominently as well: The protagonist of Francine Prose’s novel, “Lovers at the Chameleon Club,” is a cross-dressing Nazi collaborator, while two nonfiction picks, “Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood” and “Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer,” also address the subject.

Those interested in more cheerful topics like aging parents and the Israeli-Arab conflict, can turn to Roz Chast’s graphic novel, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David.”

Or, of course, you could give up on the whole book thing and just tune in to Lifetime’s “The Red Tent,” based on the best-selling biblical novel by Anita Diamant.

Drawing The Last Chapter from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.


'Zero Motivation' and 7 IDF Movies You Should See

By Curt Schleier

“Zero Motivation,” which won the best narrative feature award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is an IDF version of “M* A* S* H.” Apparently, not everyone in the Israeli military is a gung-ho paratrooper. They also serve who push pencils around in boring circles.

In this film, two women stationed at a military base are in danger of dying — of boredom. They work in the personnel office and spend their days playing computer games and occasionally teaching a newcomer how to shred papers.

The movie, which opens in New York December 3, is hilarious and also a bit worrisome. It is also just one in a long line of films centered on the IDF. Here are 7 more all Israeli film buffs will want to see.

1. Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, 2007)

This critically acclaimed film is about an IDF unit stationed at Beaufort, a Crusader fort in southern Lebanon around the time of the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. A coming-of-age story, the movie shows the absurdities of war through the eyes of the young men fighting it.

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Hasidic Musician Lazer Lloyd Sings Black Hat Blues

By Anthony Weiss

Photo: Yocheved Seidman

(JTA) — If it hadn’t been for Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Lazer Lloyd thinks he would’ve been famous by now. On the other hand, he figures that by now, he’d probably also be dead.

Back in 1994, Lloyd was a rising young blues musician with a deal at Atlantic Records when he met the famed songwriter and spiritualist, who invited him to join a musical tour in Israel.

“I was a really crazy blues rock’n’roller,” he recalls. “I had a lot of light, but my personality was like fire. I would go into a bar to play a show, and I could light the whole place up, but it would never end.”

Instead, his tour with Carlebach set him on a journey that led him to embrace Hasidism and move to Israel. It also brought him to the green room of The Mint, a small music club in Los Angeles where he is about to close out a West Coast tour that ran from November 15 to November 24. A well-established blues guitarist in Israel, Lloyd, 48, has been actively touring in Europe and the United States for the past year and a half, trying to build an audience. He mixes gigs at synagogues and Jewish community centers with shows at mainstream music clubs, like the Mint.

Lounging in jeans, a purple shirt and a black felt hat, sporting glasses and a bushy brown beard edged with gray, Lloyd (born Lloyd Paul Blumen) makes the merger of Hasidism and the blues sound perfectly natural. For him, it all came down to the flat five.

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Of Latkes and 7 Things About (Jewish) Idaho

By Forward Staff

Getty Images
Spud Land: Idaho produces one-third of the nation’s potatoes.

1) 1,525 Jews live in Idaho.

2) Idaho’s first congregation, Beth Israel, was founded in 1895.

3) Idaho’s first Jewish residents worked in mining camps.

4) The Falk family started Falk’s Wholesale Company in the early part of the 20th Century. It was later sold to Sears.

5) Moses Alexander was elected mayor of Boise in 1897. In 1914, he was elected governor of Idaho. He was only the second Jewish governor of an American state (the first was Montgomery Bartlett of California).

6) Idaho’s annual Jewish cultural festival is held in June in Boise.

7) This year, author and scholar Dr. Federica Francesconi was named The College of Idaho’s newly established Howard Berger-Ray Neilsen Chair in Judaic Studies.

8) Idaho produces one-third of the nation’s potatoes. The state harvests nearly 12 billion pounds of the spuds annually. Which makes for a lot of latkes.


The Broadway Composer Critics Love To Hate

By Curt Schleier

Frank Wildhorn will be appearing at 54 Below this week.

For those who don’t know, 54 Below is a supper club located essentially underneath what was Studio 54 (where all the action used to take place).

For those who don’t know Frank Wildhorn, he wrote “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” a number one international hit for Whitney Houston.

He also is the most successful contemporary writer of musicals on Broadway. In 1999, he had three shows on the Great White Way simultaneously: “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War.” His musicals are hits all over the world.

When we spoke, he had just returned from Tokyo and Seoul, where he celebrated openings and re-openings of his work. In fact, it’s estimated that some 40,000 people attend a Wildhorn musical every day of the year. Everyone, it seems, loves Wildhorn’s work.

Except the Broadway critics. Wildhorn spoke to the Forward about the lack of love he gets from them, the Jewish project he promised his dad, and how he taught himself to play an instrument.

Curt Schleier: Critics don’t like you, do they?

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A Lost World in an Old Box of Film

By Jill Werman Harris

In 2009, writer Glenn Kurtz was sifting through a closet in his parent’s Florida home when he discovered a reel of 16mm Kodachrome color film in a musty cardboard box that had belonged to his grandparents, David and Liza Kurtz.

As prosperous Jewish American tourists, the Kurtz’s decided to take a six-week summer vacation through Europe in July 1938. With three friends they visited several European countries where they stayed in five star hotels, shopped, strolled and explored landmarks and art galleries. Traveling across France, Belgium, Switzerland, England and passing through Germany, they made a side trip to Poland, where David’s family originated.

Like many travelers, the Kurtz’s brought along their film camera but used it for only a fraction—in this case a scant 14 minutes—of the trip. The couple recorded scenes of their ocean crossing on the Nieuw Amsterdam, from Hoboken to Plymouth, England, and David filmed Liza and friends in the Grand Place in Brussels, taking in the sun in Cannes and feeding pigeons in Paris. But what captured their grandson’s attention was the brief three minutes of their visit to Poland that momentarily but critically documented Jewish life circa 1938 in David’s hometown of Nasielsk.

Kurtz initially worked to restore the film and then began a four-year journey to find out about the town and the people in it. After donating it to the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), he discovered that his grandparents unwittingly provided history with the only surviving film of Nasielsk, whose Jewish inhabitants numbered 3,000 before the war but plunged to just 80 afterward.

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Yiddish Pop Star Claire Barry Dies at 94

By Michael Kaminer

Claire Barry, with her sister, Merna, on the cover of their 1961 album ‘Side by Side.’

Claire Barry, who crossed over from the world of Yiddish entertainment to global pop stardom as half of The Barry Sisters, died Monday in Aventura, Florida. She was 94.

At the height of their popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s, Claire and her sister Merna conquered television as regulars on the Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar shows.

Claire Barry’s last performance for an audience was in 2009. “I was there,” Corey Breier, a close friend of Barry’s and the longtime president of the Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors Club, told the Forward from his home in Aventura. “She was being honored by the Footlighters’ Club, which is Florida’s version of Friar’s club. She sang ‘My Yiddishe Mama.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was the last time she sang publicly.”

Born in the Bronx to Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Kiev, Clara and Minnie Bagelman first performed as the Bagelman Sisters on a New York children’s Yiddish radio program in the 1930s.

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'The Jews Are Coming!' (After a Yearlong Controversy)

By Esther D. Kustanowitz

Last year, a single promo clip — a total of 19 seconds in length — provoked a controversy over the content of the show it had been created to promote. What followed was a yearlong saga of politics, professional restructuring and grassroots marketing, as the show — an Israeli sketch comedy show called “HaYehudim Ba’im” (“The Jews Are Coming”) — languished in TV purgatory.

After the controversial promo launched online, Channel 1, the public station, had a problem. The show had already been produced, using taxpayer money; despite the controversy, it represented an investment of public funding that couldn’t be easily discarded. Channel 1 was undergoing restructuring, and the Knesset had to approve the network’s programming slate before it could air. With all these obstacles, it seemed that “The Jews Are Coming” show would never get to live up to its name.

The promo also provoked MK Ayelet Shaked (from the religious Habayit Hayehudi party) to speak out against “HaYehudim Ba’im,” pressuring Channel 1 to air a right-wing satire (a show called “Latma”) to balance it, show co-creator and writer Natalie Marcus recalls. “The presence of a satire can’t balance the presence of another satire; satire balances reality,” she said.

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Harlem, Self-Help and Hollywood

By Dorri Olds

Sylvester Stallone as gossip blogger Gerald in ‘Reach Me.’ Image courtesy Millenium Entertainment

Emmy Award-winning writer and director John Herzfeld wrote and directed the comedy drama, “Reach Me.” It’s about a neurotic widower, Teddy Raymond (Tom Berenger), who wrote an anonymous motivational book which becomes a phenomenon that attracts devoted fans including a rapper (Nelly), a fire-starter ex-con (Kyra Sedgwick), a trigger-happy undercover detective (Thomas Jane), his hard-drinking priest (Danny Aiello), and a golf-loving gangster (Tom Sizemore).

Sylvester Stallone plays Gerald, a goateed gossip blogger who wears funny hats and paints like Jackson Pollock.

The story begins when Gerald sends reporter Roger (Kevin Connolly) to blow Teddy’s anonymity. During the mission Roger falls for Kate (Lauren Cohan from TV’s “The Walking Dead”). Meanwhile, Danny Trejo plays a hit man and Kelsey Grammer does a cameo as a stone-cold scary guy.

The Forward caught up with Herzfeld to talk about actors, moviemaking and World War II:

Dorri Olds: What inspired you to write “Reach Me”?

The book that is the granddaddy of all motivational literature, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill from 1937. It’s not really about accomplishing wealth, though. It’s about training the mind and the laws of attraction. Napoleon Hill interviewed Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, F.W. Woolworth and William Rigley. He interviewed these great entrepreneurs, and asked, “How did you overcome the odds?” He became an advisor to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Weirdest Concert of Bob Dylan's Career Happened Yesterday

By Forward Staff

Getty Images
Concert For One: Bob Dylan performed two shows yesterday at the Philadelphia Academy of Music.

In what was undoubtedly the least-attended but most-memorable concert of his career, Bob Dylan performed a four-song afternoon set for one person yesterday at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Yes, you read that correct. One person. And it was not a CEO or aristocrat. Not even, God forbid, a music journalist.

As reported by Rolling Stone, the concert’s only spectator was Fredrik Wikingsson. Wikingsson is one half of the “Filip and Fredrik podcast,” who attended as part of a Swedish film series, “Experiment Alone,” in which individuals are filmed at events that are normally reserved for a great many more people.

According to Relix, the set was comprised of cover versions, including Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.” Wikingsson, who said he didn’t know how much Dylan had been paid for the private performance, told Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene, “”I thought some asshole would walk onstage and just laugh at me. I just couldn’t fathom that Dylan would actually do this.”

Or, as Mr. Wikingsson put it more succinctly on Twitter, “Damn!”

In the evening, Dylan went on to play a more traditional show at the same venue. No reports have come in on the exact attendance of that concert, but it seems fair to say that it attracted a better crowd than the afternoon gig.


‘Bodies’ of the Persecuted

By Sam Rosenthal

Wikimedia Commons

Extensive evidence suggests that both of the popular “Bodies: The Exhibition” and “Body Worlds” exhibits, which tour major cities across the world, have displayed and may continue to display the plastinated remains of Chinese practitioners of the Falun Gong, a spiritual belief rooted in Buddhism. In 1999, the Chinese government arrested and imprisoned Falun Gong believers by the thousands.

Masha Savitz’s debut documentary, “Red Reign,” chronicles the efforts of David Matas, a Jewish-Canadian human rights lawyer who has fought to expose the Chinese government’s systematic imprisonment, slaughter and for-profit organ harvesting of these prisoners. In 2010 Matas was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his investigation of the Falun Gong imprisonment.

With a rabbi for a father and an artist for a mother, Savitz spent her formative years in Parsippany, New Jersey. A Boston University graduate, she taught at religious schools to earn a living before attaining a Masters in Rabbinic Studies from American Jewish University. With her background in journalism as a writer for The Epoch Times, Savitz grew interested in filmmaking, and became an important advocate for the community of spiritual practitioners who have suffered human rights abuses of the worst kind.

Courtesy of Masha Savitz

Savitz, 49, currently heads the Early Childhood and Arts programs at a Conservative synagogue, Kehillat Ma’arav in Santa Monica, California. She spoke with the Forward’s Sam Rosenthal about the role Judaism played in rallying her around this cause, why she feels that helping the Falun Gong is so important and what it was like making her first film about such a painful topic.

Sam Rosenthal: Did your Jewish identity have anything to do with your desire to make this film?

Masha Savitz: Very much. My first impulse was the connection to the Holocaust. I think my being brought up Jewish gave me an immediate and visceral response to this — I really felt it in my body. Someone needs to stand up for these people, who can’t really do it for themselves.

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POEM: 'Return From Elsewhere'

By Linda Zisquit

Don’t yell at me,
whisper: try to stop

I let him drink from me
I let him speed us up to the end

to extremes I couldn’t imagine—

(these are words
that cannot be written)

At the 7th Avenue station

drained and soiled
I forgot

what any child knows by heart

I couldn’t read the signs
it was late

I panicked

Where do you live, lady?

from the subway tunnel
a deep voice spoke to me

through the bars

dark, in shadows,

it should have scared me

but only an angel could have known
I was lost

I needed a ticket
he needed some change

(or was he there for another reason)

he swiped his card
guided me through the turnstile

I thanked him,
almost forgot to pay him

turned and went in the wrong direction

Where do you live, lady?

he shook his head, pointed up the stairs, across
and down—

he watched as I walked away

waited till I was safe
on the other side

and waved.

From “Return From Elsewhere” (Outriders Poetry Project, 2014)


Alan Dershowitz Talks Hamas, Terror and Abraham

By Curt Schleier

Alan Dershowitz spent 50 years on the Harvard University law faculty, including the last 20 as the Felix Frankfurter professor of law. In all that time, he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, too, representing a number of frequently unpopular clients — Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow — in frequently landmark civil rights and civil liberties cases.

He has also been a voluble defender of the State of Israel and Jews worldwide, most recently with his new book, “Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas,” his 31st tome to accompany dozens upon dozens of articles and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines the world over.

Dershowitz spoke to the Forward about Operation Protective Edge, the terror attacks and murders at a Jerusalem synagogue, and a recent client who has yet to pay his bill.

Curt Schleier: What is the case for Israel’s war on Hamas?

Alan Dershowitz: I was in Israel in mid-June and it was arranged for me to see one of the tunnels. It was recently discovered very close to a kibbutz kindergarden with 57 Israeli children. When I saw the tunnel and how sophisticated it was, with electricity and rails, it became crystal clear to me that we would have to send the troops in. A few days later, I had dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I could see how reluctant he was to send in ground troops. But when Hamas used the tunnels and killed israelis he had no choice.

In the book I raised the issue: President Obama, [British Labor Leader] Ed Miliband [both of whom criticized Israel’s response], what would you have done with the tunnels? I make the case that under the law and standards of morality, Israel did the right thing. And I have some pretty strong people on my side. Gen. [Martin E.] Dempsey [chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] said Obama was wrong. Israel did everything it could to protect civilians. And Gen. Dempsey sent American troops to Israel to learn how to fight terrorists in civilian areas. President Obama ought to reconsider his views, particularly since we’re fighting ISIS using those tactics. I just wrote an article in the London Times challenging Miliband on what he would have done under the same circumstances. It’s easy to criticize. Much harder to come up with policy.

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