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The Schmooze

Movie News: Woody Allen Tactless On #MeToo, Why Jews Didn’t Play Jews During Hollywood’s Golden Age

Greetings, movie fans! Last week saw the Forward’s culture desk unusually understaffed, and therefore, a melancholic lack of movie news. This week, to make up for the omission, we have two weeks’s worth of movie news to summarize: The good, the bad, the very strange and more. Read on.

1) Alison Klayman spoke about her new documentary on America’s Adderall complex

Klayman, a documentarian whose previous films include “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” (2012), spoke about her new Netflix documentary “Take Your Pills” with Sam Bromer for the Forward. “This is the country of rugged individualism — you can trace that thread back through the history of the American identity,” she said. “It’s not just a problem at the highest socioeconomic level or the most privileged class. Medication is one tool that’s available to people if they’re trying to make themselves more competitive as an individual.”

2) We looked back in confusion to the era in which Jews rarely played Jewish characters in movies

In 2018, not every Jewish character is played by a Jew; see, for instance, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” in which the non-Jewish Rachel Brosnahan gloriously portrays the extremely Jewish titular heroine. Yet in early Hollywood, it was often not coincidence but policy that led to Jews rarely playing Jewish characters. Carrie Rickey examined that phenomenon for the Forward. “Was casting non-Jews as Jews originally seen as an antidote to the bearded and beak-nosed ‘Jewface’ vaudevillians of the early 20th century?” she writes. “Was it a response to rampant anti-Semitism? In the era of ‘No Jews need apply,’ was hiding their heritage a way for Jewish actors to get work?”

3) The Forverts told the story how the Irish-American actor James Cagney learned Yiddish

Cagney, famous for his portrayals of tough guy characters, grew up in a Lower East Side tenement. The Yiddish he learned there helped him make his way in Hollywood, writes Jordan Kutzik. “When two of the studio’s owners began discussing how to change a clause in Cagney’s contract in Yiddish, their star supposedly shocked his bosses by cursing them out in their native language,” he writes. “In a related alleged incident, one of the Warner (née Wonskolaser) brothers warned a colleague about to meet with Cagney that ‘der goy farshteyt yidish’ — this gentile speaks Yiddish.”

4) Woody Allen said something very tone-deaf

A regrettable consequence of the #MeToo movement is that certain men expect congratulations for not being among the accused — and others expect that only some accusations matter. A case in point is Woody Allen, who, Shira Feder reports, last week gave an interview to an Argentinian television program in which he said he should be “the poster boy for the #MeToo movement.” “I’ve worked with hundreds of actresses and not a single one — big ones, famous ones, ones starting out — have ever ever suggested any kind of impropriety at all. I’ve always had a wonderful record with them,” Allen reportedly said. As Feder justly responded: “Alright, Woody. Take a seat while the women of the universe discuss your candidacy for the face of the #MeToo movement. We’ll get back to you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

5) Han Solo earned what may be an unwanted title

Writing on the newest addition to the “Star Wars” filmography, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Jay Michaelson came right out with it. “In Lenny Bruce’s terms, Han Solo always struck me as the most goyish of the ‘Star Wars’ heroes,” he writes. “And in the new film ‘Solo,’ he seems even more so.” Why? Well, first off, Michaelson writes “Han… represented a kind of macho masculinity that, thinking of Daniel Boyarin’s work here, seemed the opposite of the Jewish-Jedi emphasis of brain over brawn.”

6) Sergei Dovlatov received a fitting tribute

Dovlatov, a Russian-Jewish writer who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, is the subject of Alexey German Jr.’s new film “Dovlatov.” A.J. Goldmann spoke to German for the Forward. “The theme of artistic repression in ‘Dovlatov’ has a particularly personal resonance for the filmmaker,” Goldmann writes. “‘I remember how my father would hide copies of his films under the bed so that they wouldn’t get destroyed,’ German Jr. said at a press conference at the film’s premiere in Berlin.”

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