The Arty Semite

Forward Fives: 2012 in Film

By Forward Staff

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite films of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

COURTESY OF ALISON KLAYMAN

Alison Klayman, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

Informed by the sensibility of its director Alison Klayman, who is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, this moving, informative, and visually arresting documentary tells of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

With a visual beauty that suggests the best work of Terence Malick without the attendant pretension or self-consciously wide-eyed innocence, first-time director Benh Zeitlin (whose father is the Jewish folklorist Steve Zeitlin) offers this eerily prescient and unforgettable, fantastical journey into a 6-year-old’s struggle to survive catastrophic circumstances.

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Forward Fives: 2012 in Fiction

By Forward Staff

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite works of fiction of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

MICHAEL SHARKEY

Jami Attenberg, “The Middlesteins”

Deeply sympathetic yet bitterly unforgiving, Attenberg’s suburban Chicago family saga suggests more than a passing familiarity with Saul Bellow as it presents the reader with the story of Edie Middlestein née Herzen, a woman slowly yet inexorably tumbling towards self-destruction.

Nathan Englander, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank”

Bouncing back from the mannered and self-consciously erudite prose of his first novel, “The Ministry of Special Cases,” Englander returns with this stunning collection that, particularly in the title story, shows the author to be a master of both empathy and ventriloquism.

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Forward Fives: 2012 in Non-Fiction

By Forward Staff

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite works of non-fiction of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

Joy Ladin, “Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders”

With “Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders,” Ladin, who holds the David and Ruth Guttesman Chair in English at Stern College, has luminously expressed her situation and has become an advocate of transgender rights and issues in the Jewish world. In it, she describes in sometimes heart-wrenching detail her transition from Jay, the male English literature professor at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, to Joy, the first ever openly transgender person to teach at an Orthodox Jewish institution.

Peter Beinart, “The Crisis of Zionism”

It’s not often that the publication of a book is preceded by months of debate about its central argument. But that was the fate of Peter Beinart’s “The Crisis of Zionism,” for which defenses and denunciations stretch back to 2010. For those inclined to his views, Beinart’s book made a brave argument that the Israeli government, in its treatment of the Palestinians, was quickly losing the support of the traditionally liberal American Jewish community.

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Forward Fives: 2012 in Poetry

By Jake Marmer

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite works of poetry of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

URI NEVO

This year, among the Forward’s five notable poetry books, there are two memorable retrospective collections by Alicia Ostriker and Michael Heller, as well as three books of brand new poetry from Adeena Karasick, Hank Lazer and Rachel Tzvia Back.

It is particularly curious to juxtapose Lazer’s “N18” and Karasick’s “This Poem,” as both books engage with the timely question of the poetic medium: What does poetry look like, and how might it be read in a time when the very process of reading — and the existence of a book — is a blinking question mark. Lazer’s hand-written “shape poems” move against the current of the reflowable text trend, hearkening to poetry’s hand-written past, and also pointing to what might become a hallmark of poetry’s future — multiple points of entry into the non-linear ocean of text. Karasick’s book, however, speeds right along with the media overload, incorporating its methods and lingo, laughing with and at it, both critiquing and poeticizing. Please note that the books are arranged in alphabetic order, based on authors’ last names.

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Forward Fives: 2012 in Exhibitions

By Forward Staff

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of the most important Jewish exhibits of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

The Jewish Museum: “Kehinde Wiley / The World Stage: Israel”

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley’s paintings of young, urban black men in the poses, and sometimes trappings, of famous European history paintings boldly challenge the art historical canon. For his recent exhibit, “The World Stage: Israel,” at Jewish Museum in New York, he traveled to Israel to find and photograph his models, young men he met in the streets and nightclubs, whose ethnicities range from Ethiopian to Arab Israeli.

Fowler Museum: “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews”

At a time when Iran is ever-present in the American consciousness a major exhibition about the Jews of Iran, which originated at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, opened at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” traces the 3,000 year-long history Iranian Jewry with more than 100 objects ranging from archeological artifacts to intricately made Judaica to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary photographs and art installations.

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Forward Fives: 2012 in Performance

By Forward Staff

Philip Glass, “Einstein on the Beach”

LUCIE JANSCH

Tickets to performances of a stellar revival Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music were among New York’s most coveted this September as the monumental four-and-a-half-hour conceptual opera, which originally premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976, concluded a year-long tour in honor of the composer’s 75th birthday. Perhaps more than any other piece, “Einstein” proves that the term “minimalist” doesn’t offer an especially apt description of much of Glass’s work: In it, he applied his signature techniques of repetition and subtle variation on a truly massive scale. The result is a sprawling work that evokes a vision of the end of days as it seems to distort the passage of time itself; 36 years on, it remains as disorienting as it is exhilarating.

Dan Fishback, “The Material World”

What’s your socialist bubbe got to do with the Queen of Pop? That’s the question at the heart of Dan Fishback’s musical “The Material World.” The setting for the show is a dream-world 1920s Bronx boarding house where a family of Russian Jewish socialists lives with Madonna, Britney Spears and a gay teenager plotting a Facebook revolution. Even if Kabbalah and communism aren’t your cup of tea, the show had plenty to recommend it, including Fishback’s songwriting talents.

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Forward Fives: 2012 in Music

By Forward Staff

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite Jewish music releases of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

Sarah Aroeste, “Gracia”

Courtesy Sarah Aroeste

The term “cross-over artist” usually has negative connotations, referring to a classical or jazz musician pandering to popular tastes. But when it comes to Sarah Aroeste, the designation is high praise. For her latest album, “Gracia,” the Ladino songstress developed a style that borrows liberally from genres ranging from dream-pop to gothic metal.

The Other Europeans, “Splendor”

Before World War II it was common for Jewish and Roma musicians to play together, and to combine both klezmer and lautar music. Sadly, those collaborations were never recorded, but The Other Europeans project, headed by pianist, accordionist and scholar Alan Bern, imagines what they might have sounded like. On their live album, “Splendor,” the Jewish and Roma musicians created historically precise interpretations while bringing them into the living present.

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