Depending on where you are, it’s either fall or supposed to be. (New York has had a week of balmy temperatures, with turning leaves the only hint of autumn.) Oscar-contending films are being released, television shows are embarking on new seasons, and as evenings descend earlier, books are beckoning from the shelves. What better time to launch the Forward’s new weekly column on the best things to watch, read, and see? Every Wednesday, check this space; we’ll have new recommendations ready and waiting for you.
1)Watch the Season 2 Premiere of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
The CW’s hit musical comedy, brainchild of star Rachel Bloom, returns for what looks to be an extravagantly imaginative second season this Friday, October 21, at 9 pm EST. The trailer promises ping-pong, punches, and Bloom clad in a bedazzled full-body cactus suit – what more could you want?
2) Watch PBS’s “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You.”
Decades before Bloom first got noticed as a YouTube star, Norman Lear was creating one of the first great American sitcoms: “All in the Family.” Lear, who came from a Jewish Connecticut family, went on to create a number of other successful sitcoms, including “The Jeffersons,” “Maude,” and “Sanford and Son.” Tuesday, October 25th, the writer and producer becomes the subject of a PBS American Masters episode. The segment will air on PBS at 9 pm EST, and will be available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital HD the same day.
3) See “American Pastoral.”
Ewan MacGregor’s film adaptation of the acclaimed Philip Roth novel hits theaters on Friday. The novel, which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, tells the story of the downfall of a Jewish New Jersey businessman who, at one point, appears to be living the American dream.
4) Read David Remnick’s New Yorker Profile of Leonard Cohen at 82
In depicting the 82-year-old Cohen, whose dense lyrics and husky voice have been musical mainstays for half a century, Remnick begins with an evocative portrait of the singer as a young man. Barely scraping by as a poet in London, Remnick quotes a letter Cohen wrote his publisher about wishing to appeal to “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.” It’s quite the pitch, and quite the opening to a profile that lends quiet, deft insight into a complex cultural luminary.
5) Read Francine Prose’s “Mister Monkey.”
Prose’s “Mister Monkey” concerns a disastrous production of a disastrously bad musical called, you guessed it, “Mister Monkey.” The novel takes a compassionate look at the lives of people affiliated with the production, from the boy playing the titular monkey to a grandfather watching one of the show’s performances with his beloved grandson. Cathleen Schine, reviewing the book for The New York Times, called it “Chekhovian.” “It’s that good,” she wrote. “It’s that funny. It’s that sad. It’s that deceptive and deep.”
6) Read Armando Lucas Correa’s “The German Girl”
“The German Girl” is the first novel from Correa, a Cuban-born journalist. The author told the Miami Herald’s Ana Veciana-Suarez that the seeds for the novel, which he wrote in Spanish, were planted the day his grandmother told him about Cuba’s refusal to accept 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who, traveling on the SS St. Louis, attempted to enter the country in 1939. “The German Girl” takes place partly on that fateful voyage, and partly in New York and Cuba seven decades later. Veciana-Suarez called the book “a chilling, heartbreaking story about one of modern history’s most shameful moments.”
7) Check Out the East Coast Premiere of the Oldest LGBT Film, Newly Restored
Co-written by the Jewish German sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, “Different From the Others,” first released in 1919, is the oldest still-existing LGBT film. The film took a compassionate look at the difficulties of LGBT life in Germany under Paragraph 175, a law criminalizing homosexuality. Friday, October 21st, the newly restored film will screen at Manhattan’s SVA Theater with a live piano accompaniment as part of NewFest, New York’s LGBT Film Festival. A panel on the importance of “Different From the Others” in the canon of queer film will follow the screening.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
This month Anne reads “The Conversion of the Jews,” by Philip Roth
In 1959, Philip Roth published a novella and five stories. The collection was called “Goodbye, Columbus,” and it won that year’s National Book Award. Everybody was talking about the new young writer who had a brash, unconventional, authentic voice and a thumb-in-your-eye spirit. The author was 26 years old. The stories were sometimes bratty, sometimes brave, honest in ways that everyone didn’t appreciate, but everyone knew that something amazing had sprung from Jewish Newark, in New Jersey, from the postwar generation, a new clarion call to do battle with values and customs and hypocrisy.
In “The Conversion of the Jews,” Roth speaks through the voice of Ozzie, a student in Rabbi Binder’s class of young boys. Ozzie gets into a fight with the rabbi over the issue of immaculate conception. Ozzie’s argument is that if God can do anything, He is able to make a woman pregnant without human male participation. Jesus Christ could in fact be the son of God. The rabbi is furious. He demands to see Ozzie’s mother. When Ozzie tells his mother what he had said to the rabbi she hits him. This is his beloved widowed mother. The next day, Ozzie does not back down. The confrontation in the classroom ends with Rabbi Binder hitting Ozzie and causing his nose to bleed. Ozzie runs to the roof, locking the hatch behind him, and there he threatens to jump. The Fire Department is called and spreads a net below. Ozzie’s mother is among the crowd that gathers. She pleads with her son to come down. The other kids in Ozzie’s class including his friend Itzie, start to chant, “Jump, jump.”
Ozzie, at the edge of the roof, forces the rabbi and his mother to admit that if God could create the world in seven days He could do anything, including creating Jesus without the help of a human father.
Ozzie calls down to the crowd after the alarmed adults kneel before him and admit he was right: “You should never ever hit anyone about God. ”
This is a short, short story. But it contains, oddly enough, the role that Roth would play in the Jewish community for years to come. He dares to say the un-sayable. He dares to challenge the communal views. He dares to shout his opinions from the metaphorical rooftop. He puts up with no alibis or cover-ups. He speaks not for what is but what should be, and his moral sense, not exactly everyone’s, takes on a great power because of all this shouting from the rooftop, because of the depth of his feeling and the actual logic of his words.
No one really has ever loved a prophet, the one who tells truth to the king and his court. Prophets are an irritating and difficult bunch. They don’t go along to get along. They challenge and shout and make everyone uncomfortable, and in this sense, Ozzie, the alter ego of the young Roth, is a prophet: one that is calling for a human moral reasonableness in the place of obedience to religious edict.
That seems about right for a kid born in America whose religious values are already mingling with democratic, universalist ones. The shtetl walls are down. Any kid with a mind can wander about.
Like Amos, and Elijah, and Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ozzie separates himself from his community to say what needs to be said. The story was written about 15 years after the gates of Auschwitz were opened and the world learned something so horrible that we are still responding and living in its aftermath. So Ozzie was saying to his rabbi and his mother and his classmates that violence over differences of religious belief or nonbelief is no longer acceptable. Something has to change. Ozzie is the prophet of assimilation in the sense of tolerance, and in understanding that there may be more than one right vision of human life on this planet.
Today that view seems rather ordinary in most Jewish circles, and it is hardly the most sophisticated analysis of the history we share, but it does get right to the point. Don’t hit anyone over God, and don’t assume that your belief system, your group, is the only correct one.
Another important thing about Ozzie is his lack of respect for authority. He is a kid, after all, and he should just accept what the adult world is telling him. But this Ozzie, who is surely Philip Roth’s alter ego, is not without his own moral sense — highly developed, in fact better than his rabbi’s, at least in this telling.
As the Jews of America moved into the postwar world with fewer barriers to success, academic achievements, financial rewards, suburban life and all its comforts, there was also a seduction toward the universal, and a fascination with the gentile neighbor. There are no non-Jews in this story, but Ozzie speaks for them. They are not false, they are different. Ozzie is not afraid of the gentile, or at least he does not want to be.
All that is not in this story explicitly but follows logically and emotionally from the moment of Ozzie on the edge of the roof to the moment of Portnoy’s not so successful days on the couch and on to a lifetime of books considering Jew and gentile, friend and foe, lover and anti-lover.
Roth has written over his lifetime about his mother, about mothers, and he is very touching and moving about his love for his own mother in fiction and nonfiction, even as he seems less fond of Jewish girls as mates and sexual partners. He speaks of wishing to curl up in the pocket of his mother’s fur coat. He speaks with admiration of his mother’s work for the family, and there is no doubt that he loves her. Of course he also reminds us in “Portnoy’s Complaint” that mothers can be dominating, and can point a knife at you with, no less, if I remember right, peas on it.
In this story Ozzie’s father has died and he has his mother all to himself. He knows how hard she works and how difficult it must be for her. Nevertheless, a boy must be true to his thoughts, true to his own emerging moral sense ,even if it means offending his mother.
Ozzie’s classmates call to him “Jump.” They are excited at the idea of the violence that might be coming. It is true we hear of crowds calling to a potential jumper to leap to his or her death, but here in this story it is surprising. I wonder if this moment came to Roth as he considered the hostility toward him that would rise if he said everything he wanted to say about the Jewish world. He did do that in the longer story, “Goodbye, Columbus,” and the Jewish community did try to banish him, to silence him, to make him seem like a traitor. Rabbis across America denounced Roth from their pulpits. Perhaps when he wrote “The Conversion of the Jews.” he was aware of his own potential Jewish martyrdom and the backlash that would soon rise against him from certain parts of the Jewish community.
Rabbi Binder is trying to create walls between his young students and their gentile neighbors. It can’t quite be done. America was in those days a melting pot, not a collection of well-defended forts. This small story can be read as a blueprint for Roth’s writing life; his anger; his sometimes irritating righteousness; his desire to leave the Jewish world, countered by his inability to do so as his Jewish body, complete with Jewish brain, comes with him, stays in every book, animates him in novel after novel. He has bones to pick with rigid, repressive orthodoxies. He picks them until they are picked clean.
Ozzie is and remains the honest voice of clarity in the midst of religious hysterias of all sorts. In the end we say with Hillel, “Do unto others, etc.” No one had to teach Ozzie that.
After the rabbi and Ozzie’s mother kneel before Ozzie on his perch at the edge of the roof and say what he requires them to say, Ozzie jumps. We, the readers, assume he is jumping into the net. I certainly hope so. And from an appreciative reader’s point of view it is a good thing that Ozzie wasn’t smashed on the pavement in front of the Hebrew school. We needed him to go on shouting from the nearest rooftop for the next 56 years. In those 56 years the Jewish world has taken a bold and mostly successful stance against the forces that would wash Jewish life clean of meaning, break down all separations between Jews and others. On the other hand, those on the Philip Roth side of the battle have also won. We are in America, not as tentative guests but as a permanent part of the place, with our voices raised, shouting out what we think is true from as many rooftops as we can reach. Hey, Ozzie, I’m a Jewish girl. Even so, would you be my boyfriend in the world to come if there is a world to come?
Anne Roiphe, the author of 18 books of fiction and nonfiction, has also worked as a journalist and columnist on political and Jewish issues.
No one does dystopia quite like the Jews. We claim no monopoly but, after Hitler (and to paraphrase Walter Pater), all dystopias all aspire to the condition of Jewish tragedy.
And it seems that the official anthem for dystopias is 1982’s “Mad World,” by Tears for Fears.
It’s not always used for obvious sadness. Here is a version that would surely have tickled and bemused Ralph Baer, creator of the video game, Pong. In this montage for BoingBoing, players lose their lives in a variety of different iconic early video games to an 8-bit cover of “Mad World.”
But it comes as little surprise that Jewish tragic genius and Tears for Fears’s lugubrious melancholy have intersected at the highest level of popular culture — the trailer of Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral.” (for full trailer see bottom of article)
There’s certainly something vulnerable about the original and, as illustrated by Lorde’s cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” for the “Hunger Games” franchise, emo music of the 1980s seems particularly suited to breathless female singers of the twenty teens.
Ewan McGregor (born the week after me, but whom I have never yet met) — here in his directorial debut — has chosen to use one of the favorite songs of our shared British childhood to evoke a perfect world gone wrong. But, in keeping with contemporary aesthetics, he has chosen Jasmine Thompson’s version to express dreamlike corruption. (H/t Karst de Jong for ID)
Amazon also clearly enjoyed the hopeless, deadly quality of the song when they used the song for the trailer for their television version of Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle.” They used historical sequences intercut with singer Ilana Tarutina walking and singing as if her face were frozen into a passionless rictus.
Of course it’s not just women who have covered the song. Adam Lambert hauntingly covered it on “The Voice” in 2009 — albeit at an octave above Lorde’s range. That, along with the 2001 remix by Gary Jules for “Donnie Darko” (starring Jake Gyllenhaal), kept the song in the public eye over the decades.
As with all great songs, there are a myriad covers. My favorites include this ska punk cover by King Tuts Revenge, this drum and bass remix by DJ Yogi and this vintage vaudeville-style cover featuring Puddles Pity Party and Haley Reinhart.
Until the movie itself comes out, I leave you to investigate the other 40 versions of the song you can find at the amazing Aimless Direction list.
Sundance Film Festival, the film industry’s annual takeover of Park City, Utah, kicked off last Thursday, and already three films of particular note have been picked up for distribution.
In May, Sundance Selects will release “Weiner,” filmed primarily during Anthony Weiner’s second bid to become mayor of New York City. The film was supposed to chronicle the politician’s comeback; one of its directors, Josh Kriegman, had been the politician’s chief of staff. Instead, Kriegman, co-director Elyse Steinberg, and their film crew tracked Weiner, his wife, Huma Abedin, and his campaign as he became the center of another sexual scandal, and his campaign turned disastrous. “Weiner” has already stirred up a great deal of controversy, with critics claiming that the filmmakers bowed to pressure from Hillary Clinton’s campaign to alter the role of Abedin, Clinton’s close campaign aide, so as not to damage the presidential candidate’s campaign.
Author: the JT LeRoy Story
JT LeRoy emerged in the American literary scene in the 1990s, causing a stir with a chaotic backstory of vagrancy, prostitution and drug addiction. In 2005, an exposé revealed that LeRoy was in fact the fictional creation of Laura Albert who, among many other accomplishments, is also an occasional contributor to the Forward. The strange tale of Albert, LeRoy and literary persona, directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, has already been picked up for distribution by Amazon.
An adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2008 novel of the same name, “Indignation” tells the story of Marcus Messner, son of a kosher butcher, who leaves New Jersey to attend college in Ohio. Over the course of the film Messner struggles with anti-Semitism, the Korean war and his first foray into love. Featuring performances from Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadot, and Tracy Letts, the film has already become a hot ticket; Lionsgate Summit Entertainment has acquired the film’s North American distribution rights for a rumored $2.5 million.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern.
When the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded, I knew that Philip Roth had not won.
A colleague condescended: “I never liked Roth,” a put-down to me, a Miltonist and teacher of Renaissance literature, who really doesn’t know better. A couple of decades ago, someone would have mentioned the more elegant, supposedly more disciplined and intellectual – and Nobel Prize-winning - Saul Bellow.
Roth, as the story goes, is Bellow’s vulgar counter-part, obsessed, with his body, and when he’s long enough distracted from that, the bodies of women. Woody Allen was a spermatozoa in Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, and Roth – with a nod to Kafka – becomes a 155 pound “breast.” He’s the modern example of the celebratory, sometimes self-despising , Jew, and the Swedish judges, one can speculate, just find him uncouth.
Roth began his career masturbating in Portnoy’s Complaint. And then there is the persistent obsession of what he calls himself in Operation Shylock that “pervasive, engulfing, wearying topic…the Jews.” For the Nobel committee in Stockholm, Roth is undoubtedly not only too vulgar, but too vulgarly Jewish.
But saying that Roth is too Jewish is like saying the Leopold Bloom of James Joyce’s Ulysses is too Irish, or the London depicted in Eliot’s The Waste Land too English. Roth may not be Joyce or Eliot, but if the latter began to question our ideas of narrative and identity, Roth is their natural inheritor, and it’s not only in the boutique part of the college catalogue called “American Jewish Literature.”
For more go to Haaretz
This article has been sent!Close