The Catskills, Under a New Lens
For anyone who stood on line, week after week, for the Saturday midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the 1970s, the West Village theater now known as the IFC Center will forever be branded the Waverly. For a time during my teens, going down to that theater with friends to watch the brash and then-shocking floor show and film was the ultimate Saturday night destination.
It was therefore completely surreal to be standing in the back of the IFC Center, watching “Four Seasons Lodge” play to a crowd of hipsters who were as vocal and enthusiastic about this documentary about a Catskills bungalow colony founded by Holocaust survivors as the “Rocky Horror” audience had been three decades earlier.
A new documentary by New York Times reporter Andrew Jacobs, “Four Seasons Lodge” allows the viewer to visit the remarkable summer community built by Shoah survivors in the Catskills mountain town of Ellenville, N.Y. Though it takes place in a bungalow colony, the themes of “Four Seasons Lodge” are about as different as one can get from the two most famous films set in the Catskills: “Dirty Dancing” and “Walk on the Moon.”
While such films focus on youthful sexuality and marital infidelity against the magical backdrop of the Catskills summer – the business of rebuilding after the ashes of the Holocaust informs “Four Seasons Lodge.”
At the risk of sounding like I’m quoting a press release that I might have actually written at some point — full disclosure: I came on board originally to do PR for the film but my role morphed to groupie and informal promoter — this is probably the most important film ever made about Holocaust survivors and their ability to build new lives after the horror and loss they endured. And it is not inconsequential that the Eden they built is in the Catskills, where Jews of all walks of life have found their personal Nirvana.
I know, not as a child of survivors, but as a bungalow babe, a devotee of summers spent in the bosom of the Catskills, in my case, at a community known as Rosmarin’s in the town of Monroe, N.Y., where I have been a resident for the past 15 summers.
It was as a bungaleer that I first came to see “Four Seasons Lodge” at a screening this past spring at the JCC in Manhattan, where it played to a packed house of friendly filmgoers. At the event, tears flowed easily, laughter was evoked freely but the warm reception was hardly a surprise. After all, the audience was virtually mishpocha. As for me, I sat in a state of joyful recognition as “Four Seasons Lodge” captured the magic of that funny, unfashionable thing I do every summer, that is, pack up my kids, dogs and office equipment and head up to the mountains to spend my summer in a bungalow that is even smaller than my Manhattan apartment.
Since the day I discovered Rosmarin’s — belly swollen with the child who is now a high school freshman, accompanied by my older kids and husband who knew that he would be reciting kaddish for his terminally ill mother once the summer came — I experienced a deep sense of spiritual homecoming. The very air was alive with rebirth; surely, this is what drew the lodgers also, this life-giving force, magic of the mountains.
“Four Seasons Lodge” is about my bungalow experience … but with a twist. For what I come to claim so easily — this quirky summer rural retreat — is a hard-won harbor for the “lodgers,” the residents of “Four Seasons Lodge,” their ultimate revenge against Hitler.
So when the audience at the IFC Center — where, until recently, it was showing; now it’s at the Quad Cinema — arose in an impromptu standing ovation at the end of the opening night screening, tears of tribute to the spirit of the survivors of the Shoah and to the filmmaker, who saw merit in capturing their story streamed down the cheeks of this former “Rocky Horror” devotee turned bungalow babe, born into a post-Holocaust world.
Shira Dicker is a writer and publicist who lives in Manhattan. She writes the blog Bungalow Babe in the City.