Todd Haynes’ films are about shape-shifters, people whose identities are in flux, frequently concealed, even from themselves. You could say that this is the essence of the Jewish experience in the diaspora, and Haynes, whose mother is Jewish, would undoubtedly agree. At any rate, it is the perfect description of the man at the center of Haynes’ new film, “I’m Not There,” which opens on Nov. 21.
There is nothing in the arts as evanescent as live theater. After the curtain goes down it vanishes, to borrow a metaphor from Dashiell Hammett, “like a fist when you open your hand.” And all you are left with is memories.
Aleksander Ford was a Jewish-Polish filmmaker whose career summed up the bloody 20th century. He enjoyed one of the rare happy endings, thanks to a mixture of luck and foresight, but it is clear from his best film, “Border Street” (1949), that he knew all too well how rare his good fortune was. “Border Street,” which will have a rare U.S. showing on Nov. 18, was the first fiction feature to attempt to portray the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and Ford undoubtedly knew many of the men and women who had perished in the flames that engulfed the ghetto.
There have been Jews in Ireland since at least 1079, when the Annals of Innisfallen records the arrival of five, probably merchants from Rouen, on the island. As recently as the late 1940s there were over 5,000 Jews living in Ireland, but that number has dropped steadily since then and the Jewish population is now slightly more than a 1,000. Yet Ireland’s Jews have been, for the most part, a welcome part of their communities, successful in business and, above all, in politics; Jews have served repeatedly as Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork.
Jack Polak states the situation quite succinctly at the outset of Michele Ohayon’s new documentary, “Steal a Pencil for Me.” The engaging nonagenarian, who is one of the film’s central figures, smiles slyly at the camera and says, “I’m a very special Holocaust survivor. I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend and, believe me, it wasn’t easy.”
Most of us need to be reminded — frequently — that only 80 percent of the population of Israel consists of Jews. The other 20 percent is defined collectively as Arab Citizens of Israel. Most of them are Muslim or Christian, and they come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds such as Druze and Bedouin. Their voices are not heard very often here in the United States, but, as The Other Israel Film Festival powerfully affirms, they bring a lot to the cultural table.
Imagine yourself onstage with a hard-rocking, all-star klezmer ensemble. You’re singing Yiddish classics with great voices like Adrienne Cooper, Basya Schechter and Debbie Friedman, and 500 people are cheering.
Sounds exhilarating, nu? Or maybe a little scary?
Would it help if the 500 people were singing along with you?
“Well, a conservative estimate would say that between 60 and 70 percent of the people were singing,” says Zalmen Mlotek.
In the cultural history of the second half of the 20th century, few figures — and no Jews — are more influential or pivotal than Bob Dylan.
No other artist bestrides so many trends and streams of Americana; Dylan merges folk, blues, gospel, country, rock and modernist poetry (with strong ties to the Symbolists and Surrealists). And in his relentless shape-shifting and self-reinvention he is an archetype for the age of mass communications.
It is a commonplace notion that historical fictions are not about the period in which they are set but, rather, the period in which they are created. Elie Chouraqui’s new film, “O Jerusalem,” which opens Oct. 17, is a case in point.