It’s a staple of Hollywood and European cinema, and now a Holocaust movie is being shot in China.
Xinhua, the country’s official news agency, reports that production will soon begin on “The Melanie Violin,” a drama about a Jewish musician who flees Europe for Shanghai and falls for a local love interest. The film will be backed by “Schindler’s List” producer Branko Lustig, and will be scripted by Chinese-American writer He Ning.
An Auschwitz survivor, Lustig announced the new film Friday during a visit to Shanghai, where some 30,000 Jewish refugees found shelter during the war.
A Chinese-American co-production, the movie has a budget of between $30 and $45 million, and should be completed by the end of the year.
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.
In the aftermath of Israel’s victory over Egypt and Syria — key Soviet allies — in the 1967 Six Day War, the Soviet Politburo, which had already barred Jews from positions in the Communist Party, seized on the war as a way to weaken Poland’s opposition movement and purge what they labeled the Jewish “fifth column.” As a result, many Poles — regardless of whether or not they were Jews — were branded as Zionists and stripped of citizenship. “Little Rose,” a film set in Warsaw in the days leading up to 1968’s student riots, tells the story of one of them.
The film, which won the top award at this year’s Polish Film Festival, and screens on November 14 as the closing film at the Boston Jewish Film Festival, is based loosely on the life of the Polish writer Paweł Jasienica. After Jasienica’s death, it emerged that his wife had been an agent of the security services and had informed on her husband for years, to the point of reporting on his funeral. In “Little Rose,” director Jan Kidawa-Błonski turns his focus to the informant herself. Like the 2006 German film “The Lives of Others,” “Little Rose” is a compelling portrait of Soviet repression and its insidious perversion of love.
Daniel F. Levin is a playwright, composer and lyricist living in Brooklyn. His newest play, “Hee-Haw: It’s a Wonderful Li_e,” was called a “delightful surprise” by the New York Times; his musical, “To Paint the Earth,” about resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, won the Richard Rogers Development Award. This is the second in a series of four posts about his summer directing “Fiddler on the Roof,” crossposted from Frontier Psychiatrist. Read the first post here.
The truth is, when I learned I’d be directing “Fiddler on the Roof,” I wasn’t that upset. Wasn’t I going to camp to relax? To reconnect with the stars, have food prepared for me, swim, joke and find my peaceful mojo, away from the clatter of New York City? I didn’t need to reinvent Jewish summer camp theater with a production of “Godspell.” This didn’t have to be my Wagnerian Ring Cycle! I could phone it in. Yes, they were honored to have me back at camp, but I could live up to that by directing a decent “Fiddler,” right? I even promised myself not to care too much about the show. Caring leads to anxiety and disappointment. In Spielbergian terms, this was going to be my “Raiders,” not my “Schindler’s List.” Huzzah for an easy show!
Anyone observing the past century of Russian music may wonder why, in spite of all discouragements, so many Jewish overachievers managed to compose and perform immortal music? This basic question is masterfully addressed in a forthcoming book, out today from Yale University Press, “The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire.”
Written by James Loeffler, a University of Virginia history professor who studied with Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi at Columbia University, this new study deftly negotiates such facts as how shortly before World War I, when Jews made up less than 5 percent of Russia’s population, over half of the violin students in the St. Petersburg Conservatory, including greats like Mischa Elman and Efrem Zimbalist, were Jews.
A central figure in “The Most Musical Nation” is the composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, who, after the notorious 1880s pogroms, told a journalist: “I never felt so close to Jews as I did then, when such a terrible storm burst out against us…In proportion to how much I grew older, my sympathy for my fellow tribe members grew even more.”
“Do you have to be handsome to play the role of a Nazi commander?”
That was a question that actor Ralph Fiennes was asked during a January 9 discussion, titled “The Power of Film and the Holocaust” at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Fiennes didn’t have a clear answer.
The British actor, whose role as Amon Göth, SS commander of Plaszow concentration camp in “Schindler’s List” was described by director Steven Spielberg as “sexual evil,” did not rule out the part aesthetics played in the Nazi propaganda machine. He recalled his first fitting of the SS uniform in his trailer on the Krakow, Poland set of “Schindler’s List.” “The uniform is designed to have an impact,” he said.
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