The Jewish Journal here in Los Angeles is one of the most easily read papers as it seems to be everywhere, sitting there on a rack, offered up for free. An Oscar contenders and the Jews story appeared in the latest issue, written by Naomi Pfefferman cites three films up for Oscars this year and how they have each been praised, and criticized for their depiction of Jewish people. An Education, Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man.
The piece is definitely worth a read, and you can pretty much guarantee that this story would have been read, or talked about, among voting Academy members. We can’t ever know this for certain, but we can make general assumptions based on rumor and innuendo. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
Bits about the films after the cut.
At a recent party feting nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards ‚Äî which will air March 5, two days before the Oscars ‚Äî Nick Hornby, the award-winning screenwriter for ‚ÄúAn Education,‚Äù and producer Finola Dwyer stepped away from the throng offering congratulations at Boa Steakhouse on Sunset to discuss Jewish questions raised by their film. ‚ÄúOf course I was taken aback by some of the criticisms,‚Äù said Hornby, who is best known for the movie adaptations of his novels, ‚ÄúHigh Fidelity‚Äù and ‚ÄúAbout a Boy.‚Äù ‚ÄúIf people are taking offense, clearly there has been a miscommunication, where I‚Äôm the person supposed to be doing the communicating.‚Äù
But then again, Dwyer pointed out, the film is based on a true story, loosely adapted from Lynn Barber‚Äôs tell-all essay about her teenaged affair with a man who was, in fact, Jewish ‚Äî a former kibbutznik and associate of the notorious London slumlord, Peter Rachman. In her 10-page essay in the magazine Granta, Barber describes both herself and her beau in far more disparaging terms than portrayed in the film; in fact, when she first meets her much-older suitor, who literally picks her up in his flashy car at a bus stop, she is surprised to learn he is Jewish because he doesn‚Äôt look like a hook-nosed Shylock.
One can almost see the Coens shrug when they talk about these kinds of criticisms in a phone conversation. They say they enjoyed recreating their childhood Jewish community circa 1967, the year Joel became bar mitzvah; the portrayal ‚Äúinvolves a mix of affection and not,‚Äù Joel said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just kinda where we‚Äôre from,‚Äù Ethan added.
What would they say to people who believe the film is anti-Semitic? ‚ÄúToo bad, you big crybaby ‚Äî that‚Äôs what David Mamet would say,‚Äù Ethan said.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt really care, because it‚Äôs just a given, when you get specific about a religion or even a region, somebody‚Äôs going to get offended,‚Äù Joel added. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to happen no matter what you do, unless the story is so nonspecific and vanilla as to be ridiculously uninteresting.‚Äù
The brothers did call on a rabbi, Dan Sklar of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., as a consultant and to help them come up with Hebrew letters for a made-up parable in the film, titled ‚ÄúThe Goy‚Äôs Teeth.‚Äù Sklar lauds the film as a modern-day Job tale.
Unfortunately the movie‚Äôs artists got one of the Hebrew letters wrong on the teeth. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt tell the goyim,‚Äù Ethan said.
Quentin Tarantino cited the desire to create unexpected kinds of characters when asked about the Nazi-scalping Jews of ‚ÄúInglourious Basterds.‚Äù ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt kiss a‚Äîor curry favor,‚Äù he said of critiques to his approach. Instead, he aimed to put a new spin on an old genre, the ‚Äúmen-on-a-mission‚Äù movie: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not like I‚Äôm saying ‚ÄòI‚Äôm cool and those other directors are not,‚Äô‚Äù the ebullient filmmaker said. ‚ÄúBut when I throw my hat into a genre, I want to expand and go beyond it.‚Äù
Tarantino meant his ‚Äúkiller Jews‚Äù to wreak psychological havoc on the Germans; they also serve as a dramatic counterpoint to ‚ÄúThe Jew Hunter,‚Äù Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, who won a best supporting actor Golden Globe for the role and is expected to earn an Oscar nomination), who is as suave and restrained as he is murderous. In the movie‚Äôs opening sequence, Landa toys with a French dairy farmer, who has hidden a Jewish family beneath the very floorboards where the Nazi is enjoying a glass of fresh milk. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs as if there is a gigantic act of theater going on, with the farmer as his audience,‚Äù Tarantino said. But Landa also allows one of the Jewish family members (M√©lanie Laurent) ‚Äî an ‚Äúenemy of the state‚Äù ‚Äî to flee: ‚ÄúHe says that the state is quite safe,‚Äù Tarantino said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs as if he‚Äôs proud of her in a way.‚Äù