The Arty Semite

Hanukkah, Festival of Black Lights

By Margaret Eby

Courtesy of Cheryl

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you combined Hanukkah with an electroclash dance party? The Brooklyn art collective CHERYL have, and this year, they’re holding their own version of the festival of lights complete with fake blood, glitter, and, of course, jelly doughnuts. Their part-disco part-performance art project, “CHERYL does CHANUKAH,” will be held at The Jewish Museum tonight, bringing footloose costumed mayhem to New York’s Upper East Side.

At first glance, CHERYL seems like an odd match for a solemn Museum Mile institution. The four member group, comprised of Nick Schiairizzi, Stina Puotinen, Destiny Pierce, and Sarah Van Buren, is best known for their Lady Gaga-level costumes and antic, raging bacchanals, usually held in galleries and warehouses tucked deep in the wilds of North Brooklyn. Their appearance at The Jewish Museum is part of an ongoing series of after hours events called The Wind-Up, aimed at bringing the museum’s collection to a wider, more diverse audience.

“We thought it would be a great way to put a Jewish spin on what CHERYL does already,” explained The Jewish Museum’s Director of Education Nelly Benedek. “They’re fun, they’re unpredictable, and they bring in a younger crowd to the museum.”

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Monday Music: Awesome Tapes From Africa? Yes, Please!

By Margaret Eby

Where do you go if you want to find Tanzanian bongo music? What about Tsongi disco? South African synth-pop? Unless you happen to be an ethnomusicologist or visiting Africa, the answer is likely the website Awesome Tapes from Africa.

Brian Shimkovitz, aka DJ Awesome Tapes from Africa, an ethnomusicology scholar and avid music collector, started the minimalist blog after returning to the U.S. after a year in Ghana. During his time studying the origins of hip-hop in Africa, Shimkovitz — who will be performing August 2 at the 92YTribeca along with Jeremiah Lockwood and The Sway Machinery — accumulated a sizable array of cassettes, still the main medium of most African musicians. “I was picking up things I knew you couldn’t hear at home, some weird stuff and some things that were straight ahead.” Shimkovitz said. “I just knew I wanted to share it.” As Shimkovitz once posted, “Maybe globalization ain’t that bad.”

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Friday Film: Bringing War Criminals to Justice in Sierra Leone

By Margaret Eby

Salone Films LLC
Mongolian peacekeepers protect the Special Court.

In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began a bloody insurgency against the government of Sierra Leone. The resulting conflict lasted 11 years and caused more than a third of the population to flee; thousands more were killed by guerillas or had limbs forcefully amputated by machete. In the wake of the crisis, the U.N. and the re-instated Sierra Leonean government took an unprecedented measure, creating a “Special Court” to seek justice against war criminals in a tribunal that combined international and state law. As a third year law student at Harvard, Rebecca Richman Cohen went to the Special Court on a fellowship to work for the defense. When she returned to the country several years later, she brought a film crew.

The documentary that resulted from Cohen’s three year stay is “War Don Don,” screening next week at the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico, following a short run in New York last fall. Her film traces the trial of RUF leader Issa Sesay, a man directly responsible for many of the war’s worst atrocities, who also protected many civilians from the clashing forces. Wayne Jordash, Issay’s lead defense lawyer, admits at one point that in other circumstances, he would have been friends with Issay. For Cohen, this is part of the central point: War criminals, if not for the war, might not be criminals.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: United Nations, War Don Don, Wayne Jordash, Sierra Leone, Revolutionary United Front, Rebecca Richman Cohen, RUF, Margaret Eby, Film, Issa Sesay, Ambulante Film Festival

Friday Film: Jewish Confederates and Jewish Yankees

By Margaret Eby

Almost 150 years after shots rang out at Fort Sumter, the United States has yet to fully recover from the brutalities of the Civil War. The conflict ripped families apart along regional lines, and pummeled the economy and infrastructure of many Southern cities into such disrepair that many are still working on their reconstruction. When the increasingly bitter fight over slavery and states’ rights developed into full-on war, thousands of men on both sides rushed to volunteer for the armed services, including hundreds of Jewish Americans. And yet, according to the documentary “Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,” screening February 13 and 22 at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Jewish militiamen’s accomplishments have been woefully overlooked.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Reconstruction, Margaret Eby, Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray, Isachar Zacharie, Judah Benjamin, Jefferson Davis, Fort Sumter, Film, Confedracy, Civil War, Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant

Friday Film: Lou Reed's 'Red Sheep'

By Margaret Eby

For those accustomed to seeing Lou Reed as the snarling badass of the New York music scene, his first directorial effort, “Red Shirley,” will come as something of a shock. Far from touching on the trademark obsessions of his Velvet Underground days — sadomasochism and drugs, to be precise — the film is a loving, strenuously respectful portrait of his cousin, Shirley Novick, on the eve of her 100th birthday.

The documentary, which screens January 15 at the New York Jewish Film Festival and clocks in at a mere 28 minutes, is full of awkward angles and random shifts from color to black-and-white. It’s a clumsy effort, technically speaking, full of production flaws that are bizarre to the point of distraction, yet the story that Reed tells is charming enough that you can almost overlook the film’s defects.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Margaret Eby, Red Shirley, Shirley Novick, New York Jewish Film Festival, Lou Reed, Film, The Velvet Underground

Mrs. Goldberg, Media Queen

By Margaret Eby

mollygoldbergfilm.org
Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg, a pioneering sitcom star.

Before Beaver Cleaver introduced television watchers to his suburban boyhood, before Lucy and Desi’s domestic misadventures became ingrained in the consciousness of the American household, and before the world had even heard of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Gertrude Berg was the queen of the American sitcom.

As the head writer, producer and leading actress of the radio show “The Rise of the Goldbergs” and the subsequent sitcom, “The Goldbergs,” Berg pioneered the vocabulary of the modern television comedy show: the squabbling but loving couple and their scrappy, curious youngsters; the nosy neighbors; and the well-meaning but somewhat befuddled uncle.

Above all, the Goldbergs had the indomitable, gossiping, malapropism-spewing matriarch Molly Goldberg, Berg’s singular creation. Molly Goldberg was once a household name, and Berg a media queen on par with Martha Stewart. Today, she and her creator have fallen into television marginalia. Last year, director Aviva Kempner took steps to revive the Goldberg legacy with her documentary “Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg,” released on DVD August 24.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Molly Goldberg, Ozzie Nelson, Margaret Eby, Lucille Ball, Harriet Nelson, Gertrude Berg, Film, Catskills, Blacklist, Beaver Cleaver, Aviva Kempner, Amos 'n' Andy, Television, Tilly Edelstein, Yente Telebende, Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg




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