A wall comes to life. Arms appear in what had seemed like empty black suits hanging on them. The seven actors in the company, in evening dress, whom we’ve seen singing, playing with pieces of paper, join hands with the arms. Together the actors and the limbs on the wall do a kind of Hora. Later, a 17-foot high puppet of a babushka embraces, and menaces, a little clown. The clown is composer Dmitry Shostakovich. It’s like something from Dr. Seuss. It’s like a dream.
Though there are words in Dmitry Krymov’s “Opus No. 7,” both in the first part, titled “Genealogy,” and in the second act titled “Shostakovich,” much of the work’s punch lands through other kinds of theatrical language. Even the title evokes a piece of classical music, and the abstraction of painting.
The number 7 also refers to the seven members of the cast: Maxim Maminov, Mikhail Umanets, Sergey Melkonyan, Arkady Krichenko, Natalia Gorchakova, Maria Gulik and Varvara Voetskova. Krymov said in an email that it is also his favorite number. It is also Krymov’s seventh work. Another notable 7 is that Shostakovich’s seventh symphony was about war, Krymove pointed out.
Saul Austerlitz is the author of “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy.” His blog posts are appearing this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series please visit:
Being on tour for a book is simultaneously an exhilarating and a terrifying experience. Exhilarating because, after toiling so lengthily in the mines of authorial solitude, it is a pleasure of no small import to emerge to the surface, book in hand, and talk about it with friends, family, and total strangers. Terrifying because, as all authors who have ever done a book tour can attest to, the midnight panic that occasionally bubbles up, convinced you’ll give a reading and no one — literally not a single person — will show up.
Thankfully, that did not happen to me during my tour for my new book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I occasionally broke out into a cold sweat at the prospect of.
Last August, during President Obama’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, a protest erupted over a T-shirt being sold at the SunStations shop in Oak Bluffs that portrayed Obama as Moe, Vice President Joe Biden as Larry, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Curly. The caption read: “The REAL Stooges.”
The storeowner said no malice was intended, and pointed to other shirts in the shop that praise the President. For us, however, there was no need to explain, as we see the comparison as complimentary. After all, the Three Stooges, who are being honored on December 13 at the Three Stooges Film Festival in Albany, as well as in a forthcoming Three Stooges Movie, were pioneering geniuses of comedy.
Casting has begun for an Israeli version of Sex and the City.
At ZEEK, Louis Greenspan re-discovers Jewish philosopher Salomon Maimon.
The New York Times discovers KlezKamp.
Ingrid Pitt, a British horror movie star and Holocaust survivor, has died.
Comedy, explained Aristotle, has a vague history, because at first no one took it seriously. We cannot know for certain if Aristotle was deadpanning, but his observation would amuse Saul Austerlitz. According to Austerlitz, American film comedy has not been taken seriously, either. In fact, the author quips, it is American film’s “bastard stepchild.” With his latest book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” Austerlitz gives us a broad survey of the genre, hoping to spark debate.
There were few Jewish comedians in Aristotle’s day, but in American comedy, Austerlitz notes, Jews are “the only minority group overrepresented.” The title of his book is taken from a catch phrase by the gentile comic geniuses Laurel and Hardy, but on the cover of the book, it is Jewish comedians, The Marx Brothers, who are making a mess. For Austerlitz, the Marx Brothers are the embodiment of Jewish humor — “anarchic, absurdist, and ebullient” — existing in the face of a hostile or dismissive power structure.
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.
On February 7, at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, a new publication from New York University Press, “Is Diss A System? A Milt Gross Comic Reader” edited by Ari Y. Kelman, will be presented. Gross (born in 1895) of Russian Jewish ancestry, drew comic strips of wild slapstick energy, following in the violence-for-laughs tradition of “The Katzenjammer Kids.” A self-consciously low comedian, Gross drew racist images of black people and was not all that flattering about Jews either.
Gross’s defiantly insensitive gift for visual anarchy got him jobs in Hollywood writing and directing short films like “Izzy Able the Detective” (1921) and “Jitterbug Follies” (1939; see below). Gross was even reportedly hired by Charlie Chaplin to invent sight gags for the silent film “The Circus.”
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