IT'S WHAT JEWS
By Greg Klymkiw
FILM. IT'S WHAT JEWS DO BEST.
When I first saw this brilliant tagline for the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF), I let out a huge guffaw of recognition and appreciation. In fact, whenever those delightful words dance across my memory banks, they bring a warm smile to my face.
IT'S SO TRUE!!! (Apologies to any Jews who deign NOT to make movies, though the exception to this rule are those Jews who make and/or purvey deli.)
And while there are plenty of Goyim who can spin a great yarn cinematically, we must never forget that Hollywood and the entire notion of the "American Dream" were both invented by Jews. (If you don't know this, you need to read Neal Gabler's Hollywoodism or see Simcha Jacobovici's film version.)
The aformentioned TJFF tag almost goes without saying, but SAY, WE MUST!!!
This year's 21st edition of the festival (running April 11-21) has a fine mix of Jewish pictures in every genre and I urge Jew and Goy alike to smuggle in some Centre Street Deli smoked meat (heavy fat, of course) & plenty of Nortown kishka to nosh while over-indulging in more cinematic Jewish treats than you can shake a stick at.
Here are two highlights:
THE JAZZ SINGER dir. Ralph Nelson (1959) ****
Samson Raphaelson's classic tale of a young man who chooses show business over following in his father's footsteps as a cantor has always been best represented by the truly great Al Jolson film version that launched "talkies." (And whilst I LOVE Neil Diamond's stab at the tale, Jolson is, was and will, forevermore, be untouchable in the role.)
That changes now.
During television's "Golden Age", Jerry Lewis starred in this adaptation for the variety series "Startime" on NBC. Given straight-forward treatment by stalwart camera jockey Ralph Nelson, this might be my favourite hot tip for the entire TJFF. For me, the medium of television has NEVER been better than this magical age and Startime's production of The Jazz Singer is a solid example of why.
I always loved Lewis and ALWAYS thought of him as a great actor - period. Too many people singled him out as a "mere" comedian which frankly, is unfair and disparaging to the art of acting and the genre of comedy. One look at Lewis in his best comedies - The Nutty Professor, for example - and you bear witness to one of cinema's most astounding talents.
The Jazz Singer was recently discovered and restored to its original pristine and historic colour version (as opposed to the black and white kinescope uaed mainly for re-broadcast purposes). The film not only opens a window upon another age of entertainment styles, but allows us to see Lewis in what should have been the role of a lifetime, but had sadly been ignored and/or forgotten. He will delight, amuse and move you to tears.
The supporting cast includes fine performances from Eduard Franz, Alan Reed, Anna Maria Alberghetti and MOLLY PICON!!! MOLLY PICON, ladies and gentleman!!! (Apologies for these superlatives, but MOLLY PICON always deserves superlatives.)
This is a must-see! How can you go wrong? It stars Jerry Lewis in a rarely seen production and features Molly Picon.
Does it get any better than this?
But. of course.
Admission is FREE!!!
CowJews and Indians dir. Marc Halberstadt (2012) ***
If you're able to ignore the clunky filmmaking (dull shooting, rudimentary cutting), the subject matter of this strange hybrid of personal documentary and activist cinema will keep you glued to the screen.
Try to avoid reading any reviews (except mine) and program notes BEFORE you see this one. The title should be enough to lure you. The movie is best experienced knowing as little in advance as possible.
In a nutshell, you'll experience a fascinating journey that involves reparations for a Jew and Aboriginal Americans - working together in tandem to address wrongs they both share. It will inform, educate, surprise and delight.
It probably could ONLY have been made by Halberstadt, but I do wish he'd been able to present his tale with a first-rate creative producer at the helm.
For tickets and more information on the Toronto Jewish Film Festival click HERE