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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘movie’

New York Times Bestseller List Bad News For Obama?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Do book sales reflect the general mood of the American electorate? If so, the current New York Times bestseller list does not carry good news for President Obama.

Three books critical of the president topped the list, while only one book praising Obama made the non-extended list, coming in at #15.

At number 2 is Dinesh D’Souza’s Obama’s America, which argues that “Obama’s goal to downsize America is in plain sight but ignored by everyone.”

The book is the namesake of D’Souza’s wildly popular movie “2016: Obama’s America,” which will expand from 1,000 to 1725 screens across the country this weekend. The movie reportedly earned $6.3 million in just 1091 screens last weekend, bringing its total earnings to over $9.2 million.

Taking the number 3 spot on the Times’ bestseller list is Ed Klein’s The Amateur, which has graced the bestseller list for weeks. The book advertises that it pulls back the curtain on “one of the most secretive White Houses in history.”

And coming in at number 8 this week is Fool Me Twice: Obama’s Shocking Plans for the Next Four Years Exposed. The book, by radio host and Jewish Press columnist Aaron Klein and Brenda J. Elliott, details specific policy prescriptions Obama will attempt to enact if he is reelected in November. It has been featured on the New York Times bestseller list since its release earlier this month.

The Lion of Judah Rises

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Many Jewish people, including myself, avoid Holocaust movies because it is far too painful to watch the dehumanization of those we love. Still, facing what is painful is an important part of life. “Lion of Judah” is not an easy film to watch, but for the next generation it will be a valuable resource for educating children in a world without survivors. More importantly, it is centered on the incredible, Leo Zisman, the Lion of Judah.

An unsinkable man with a zest for life, Leo shares the most intimate details of his life in the Kovno Ghetto and more than one concentration camp. It’s shocking to hear stories of incredible brutality told by this rather gentle and humorous man to young listeners on a March of the Living trip.

Although the film would have been magnificent with Leo just sitting in the comfort of his home and telling his story, the movie also features the perspective of the group of students. One student had recently discovered she was actually Jewish, others knew they were, but had no idea what it meant. There were also non-Jews in the film crew. It was a very diverse group of people who journeyed back to Eastern Europe to follow Leo’s life path through a manmade hell.

Many of the students are truly stunned with what they found. Without giving too much away, the group encounters truly virulent Anti-Semitism, and finds themselves face to face with the images of genocide. One tragic scene shows “man on the street” interviews in Poland about Jews. Most of the young Polish interviewees seem resentful of Jews and try to minimize the nation’s collective guilt over the genocide. While a few express and show sympathy, most are tired of the subject. In contrast, the Jewish group members seem to be genuinely shocked at how little they knew about the Holocaust and are desperate to understand.

A strange connection is made for one participant when he actually finds a bone fragment scattered in the dirt making it clear that the verdant fields around him are graveyards. Leo is disgusted with the cleanliness and sterility of the camps turned museum, and reminds them how filthy it was when in use.

One of the most powerful ways the movie helps move the journey along is interjecting actual footage of the Holocaust, highlighting Leo’s descriptions in a way that truly chills the heart. Although the moviemakers insist they took the least graphic clips, the scenes are heartrending and parental discretion should be advised as some of the scenes will bring an adult to tears. Yet, few moments can compare to when Leo breaks down and describes how a “German take(s) a baby, maybe a month old, and rip it up like a chicken…” Quite a few in the audience, including myself started to cry, as Leo tries to wrap his mind around how a man could do that to such an innocent.

Although the question is never answered, it is clear that the students take the message. When they came back home, each seemed to have formed a deeper connection to what it means to be Jewish. Instead of wallowing in sadness, the movie ends optimistically and with the message that in spite of the horrors found in it, the world is a beautiful place. When one hears Leo still able to joke after all he has seen, one can have hope for the future.

Leo’s story is so incredible that I recommend not only seeing the movie, but getting a copy of Mr. Zisman’s book, Ani Ma’amin. The story of his survival is so miraculous, Leo has to actually count the ways in which he cheated death. Although every story is incredible, my personal favorite is how Leo rallied his fellow children to march into Auschwitz in formation, singing Ani Ma’amin as a show of defiance. An angel must have put it into his head, because not only was it a way to keep up morale among the Jewish students, it also impressed the Germans enough to allow them to live. I will remember that story for the rest of my life, and sang Ani Ma’amin to myself the entire way home.

The movie has its flaws; the score is overly dramatic and should have made better use of silence. I applaud the producers for not going the traditional Klezmer route and trying to use something more original. At its best, there is actual street music from Poland to highlight the culture, but at dramatic scenes, the music is heavy thudded sounds that scream, “here is a dramatic scene.” Considering the film is showing a gas chamber, there is little need to add to the effect.

Everything is Fake Now: The Virtual Reality of Politics

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away,” Philip K. Dick said, when asked to define what reality is. Dick was a Science Fiction writer and that seems appropriate enough we are living in a Science Fiction world where there is no reality anymore, because the real goes away, but the unreal does not.

Virtual reality, it turned out, was not some complicated gizmo that made you look like a blind skier and allowed you to enter into another world, instead it was an unreal world being comprehensively overlaid on top of our own. The lines between the real and the unreal haven’t blurred because the unreal has gotten so much more sophisticated. The unreal is more fake than ever, but discerning that has become more difficult now that the real has gone away.

As we watch the news covering a story, what we are actually watching is the media making up a story and then telling that story incessantly and embedding it in every nook and cranny of their coverage. This blurring of the lines between the real and the fake is not happening thanks to the magic of technology, but the prosaic methods of complete insincerity.

The fake is being overlaid on the real, like men fighting on top of a board with a movie of a train passing by in the background to give the impression that they are fighting on top of it. Such cheap trickery defines our media environment where reporters barge into events and badger the participants into playing along with their movie. Or they just play the clip of actual events and frame them so that everyone hears their version of what is going on.

There’s Godzilla and we know he’s real because we can see Tokyo in the background. There’s the latest media narrative and we know it’s real, because we can see Tampa in the background as some blow-dried buffoon does breathing exercises before commencing to tell us that the Republican Party, which supports things that would have made Ike and Ron have coronaries, has gone so far to the right that it might as well be a Godzilla of reactionary running dog capitalism.

This is our shoddy virtual reality with a CNN or MSNBC logo planted on top. There is you still sitting on your same old couch, watching Chris Matthews yelling himself hoarse about racism, because racism is our virtual reality. It is the world that we are supposed to live in and Chris’ job, for which he receives some 5 million a year, is to convince us that we are living in it.

“Racism,” Chris yells at the screen, like the idiot shaman of some stone age tribe, and those dull-witted enough to believe him nod knowingly, because it makes them feel as if they know something. And in a world where nothing is real, knowing something makes them feel a little less confused. They don’t understand why the prices are suddenly so high and the bank won’t give them a loan– but they can understand that Republicans are bad people and somehow responsible for it.

Some 70 percent of Barack Obama’s Twitter followers may be fake, but why quibble at such numbers. The people who decided to make Obama popular did so through constant repetition that translated into the peer pressure of the trend. Obama became a trending topic and everyone followed along because in an unreal world, you follow the unreal leader.

Obama is fake, his popularity is fake, but it’s also real, because fake is now the ultimate reality. The purveyors of fakeness have demonstrated their ability to transform the unreal into the real through manufactured consensus. By insisting that something unpopular was popular often enough, they made it popular. And by insisting that something popular is really unpopular, they did the opposite.

The Solomon Asch study showed that people will change their correct answers to conform with the wrong answers that are being given by others. The false consensus has operated on that same paradigm, convincing people of two lies. The first lie is that the wrong answer is the right answer. And the second lie that everyone else has already agreed that the wrong answer is correct.

2016: Effective, Well Done, a Caveat or Two

Monday, August 27th, 2012

I was surprised to discover that Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America opened in my little town on Friday. I wasn’t expecting that, given the limited release and our off-the-beaten-track charm. But there it was, so I went to the very first showing at 12:30 PM.

The effectiveness of 2016 comes from its use of imagery to overlay the narrative. It’s one thing to read D’Souza’s thesis on Barack Obama (Jr. and Sr.). It’s another thing to see images conveying its elements.

D’Souza starts the narrative with himself, which is a questionable composition choice. I know one of his chief themes is contrasting Obama’s biography with his, since they were born in the same year and both came from a background steeped in anti-colonialism. But it might have been more powerful to begin by painting Obama, and then bring in the contrast with D’Souza.

The sequence comes off like D’Souza presenting his life as the ordinary standard from which Obama, Jr. deviates. I believe what he means to convey is that it is possible – and in fact better – to overcome your philosophical roots in anti-colonialism: look what Dinesh D’Souza did, as opposed to Obama, Jr. That’s a valid point, but it could be made more explicitly. The passage with the brown hands – D’Souza observing that he and Obama, Jr. are the same color – comes off unfortunately like a cheap, throw-away impression. If it had been paired with an outright statement that “brown people” don’t have to obsess over race and a history of colonialism that is now 50 years in the rearview mirror, it would, for me, have been more effective.

D’Souza’s thesis is basically the narrow one that Obama, Jr. is an anti-colonialist like Obama, Sr.:  that that is the “dream” from the president’s father, and it animates whatever Obama, Jr. does in politics. The film is very good at putting the viewer in the milieu of Jakarta or Nairobi, which continue to feel “different” enough to engage the American viewer’s sense of distance and wonder. Conveying the difference of Obama, Jr.’s childhood and his idea of cultural roots – the difference from American life – is the movie’s most effective accomplishment.

Insofar as he makes his own point about Obama, Jr. and anti-colonialism, D’Souza does it well. I think it would have been useful to develop the idea of “anti-colonialism” more, so that it was clearer how it relates to the president’s current policies. An important point is also begging to be made, and isn’t in the movie: that anti-colonialism is a dead idea, like all the others Obama and his advisors work from. It is an antique, like Marxism, with its spirit gone and nothing left but a deformed death mask: suitable for museums but not for modern use.

Not only was anti-colonialism never usefully descriptive of reality – it doesn’t even matter anymore. The fight against colonialism was won half a century ago, and two generations have emerged that never knew it. As with the themes about “war on women” and “racism” and other rhetorical campaigns waged by Team Obama in the language of 1960s radicalism, anti-colonialism is a dead letter. It is pathetic and sad to think that policy for America today might be made on the premise of it.

Imagine carrying the elaborate grudge inside yourself for 40-odd years, as reality forges ahead around you, making it ridiculous. Obama is surrounded by practitioners who have made a set of outdated grudges their life’s work, and they are still battering on the people with their financially costly themes of anger and vengeance – none of them updated from ca. 1968.

The film predicts, in broad strokes, what America will look like in 2016 if Obama is reelected. The pattern of “grudge-holding battening” will simply drive up the national debt. 2016 suggests a figure of $20 trillion, which is perfectly reasonable. The film makes the point that if America’s monetary solvency collapses, there is nowhere else in the world to go: no refuge from the chaos. That’s true, and it’s why even our enemies are sticking with the dollar and waiting to position themselves better for the aftermath.

D’Souza’s other major prediction is that a “United States of Islam” will emerge across North Africa and the Middle East by 2016. With this, I do not agree. The emerging Islamist governments of Egypt, Turkey, and Iran will continue to compete with each other for primacy. Saudi Arabia will remain on her path of sclerotic “leadership.” Other Muslim nations will coalesce around them and loose “blocs” will form and fall apart. The prominent Islamist nations will profess friendship and unity on a regular basis, but that won’t be the governing dynamic at the deck-plate level. To unite a caliphate, you need a caliph, and there won’t be one by 2016.  There will still be several aspiring to the job.

Invaders from Outer Space

Monday, July 30th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/invaders-from-outer-space.html

New York City has been invaded, its buildings blown up and its citizens slaughtered hundreds of times. The invaders come every summer, descending from the sky and under the earth. Sometimes they aliens or gods or monsters. They are, however, never Muslims.

Every summer, for 10 dollars you can see a fantasy version of September 11 reenacted with invading enemies who deserve no mercy and receive none. They come in swarms, buildings fall, people run for cover and then they are beaten back and banished. And then, as summer fades, we pause for that obligatory week in which attention must be paid to commemorating the attacks of September 11 while seeing no connection between the discharges of tension through fictional victories used as an escape mechanism from a war that we dare not fight.

The Dark Knight, the previous Batman film, contained an elaborate analogy to the War on Terror, a shadow version of the real war fought out by men in costumes proving that it was possible to release a big-budget movie supportive of the War on Terror so long as it was dressed up in the right costume.

Since then, and before, New York City has been attacked by meteors, ice ages, mythical skeletons, more costumed criminals, the year 2012, and every possible imaginary scenario that can be dreamed up. It just hasn’t been attacked by Muslims because that’s something that doesn’t happen in movies. Only in real life.

The actual enemy rarely shows up in movies. There have been more movies made attacking the War on Terror than movies showing American soldiers and law enforcement officers fighting terrorists. After ten years of war there have hardly been any movies made about the war in Afghanistan and the most watched movie about the War in Iraq began with an anti-war quote, just so no one made any mistakes about where everyone involved stood. And all of these are a drop in the bucket.

Our cinematic world is a relentless barrage of anxieties; week after week, movie theater screens light up with depictions of civilization collapsing into chaos, overrun by hordes of zombies and monsters, our cities torn down, buildings burning, police and military forces helpless in the face of the enemy. These collective anxieties are packaged up and exported to audiences at home and around the world who sit watching our unacknowledged fears of invasion and collapse play out in movie theaters.

A culture’s art, no matter how tawdry it may seem, is also its dreams. They are the stories we tell, and they are full of conscious and unconscious meanings. Legends are created by a culture to battle its unspoken fears. Its great hunters and warriors, whether born of a god, risen from the sea or wearing a cape take a society’s terrors and defeat them in a story that is reenacted over and over again to bring courage to the people and remind that all obstacles may be overcome with a strong spirit.

No matter how degenerate a culture may be, its people still need such legends because they still have fears that need calming. The more troubled the time, the more they have need of such legends and the more they may even escape into them to find comfort against the coming of the long night.

The Islamic invasion is only dealt with through such legends where the enemy is reduced to metaphors, as the Soviet Union and the threat of Communism were in earlier generations. In earlier generations, we saw the Nazi on screen, and he is still a reliable villain, but the Communist is a more elusive fellow and the Islamist is more likely to show up in British movies than in American ones. Instead, the Communist became subsumed in stories of pod people and zombies, in depersonalized bombs falling from the sky and enemies with accents but no ideology. Even brainwashing was distanced as a technological trick in the Manchurian Candidate rather than an ideological practice.

If Communists occasionally showed up in movies, Islamists are as rare as white elephants. There is plenty of work for Muslim actors portraying unjustly accused men being persecuted by bigoted and ignorant law enforcement officers. But there is hardly any work for them portraying terrorists. Much as negative portrayals of Communists was Red-Baiting, negative portrayals of Muslims is Islamophobia. And it is better to be afraid of imaginary things than real ones.

Colorado Gunman Indentified

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Colorado gunman – now identified as James Holmes, 24 – killed at least 12 people and injured 50 in a shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater near Denver overnight.

A Window Into The Past; A Lesson For The Future

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Earlier this month, members of the Toronto Jewish community were given a rare opportunity to be visually transported back in time. The film, filmed in 1922, is called Hungry Hearts, and is based on the short stories of writer Anzia Yezierska, a Jewish woman born in Poland in the 1880s whose family immigrated to New York. Many of her writings are centered on her experiences and those of other immigrants living in the Lower East Side. Like all movies made at that time, it is silent, with dialogue conveyed by cue cards.

The film was shot on location in the Lower East Side, and offered a unique, albeit brief glimpse, into the life of East European Jewish immigrants who had left “die alte heim” – and everything that was familiar to them – to journey to Amerikeh, spurred by the dream of improving their lives and those of their families in the fabled “goldene medina.”

The film, presented by the Toronto Jewish Film Society was screened at the Miles Nadal JCC, located in a part of Toronto that many decades ago, like the Lower East Side, teemed with the colors, smells and hustle and bustle of Jewish immigrants, many of them, like my parent, survivors of the Holocaust.

I had never seen a silent movie in an actual theater (and it had been years since I glimpsed one on TV), and I was intrigued by the idea of experiencing a movie the way people did 100 years ago – with written dialogue and musical accompaniment being utilized to heighten the audience’s awareness of the drama or comedy of the scene. (In this 80-minute film it was provided with great skill and endurance by Jordan Klapman, an accomplished jazz pianist, music director and arranger.)

What made the movie even more appealing to me was that it was atypical, in terms of it being about a Jewish family – with a bearded father and wig-wearing mother (as opposed to the ones I remember where a common theme involves a villain abducting and then tying a hapless female to the railroad tracks, while her hero/love interest desperately tries to reach her before the approaching locomotive does). The household is headed by a rav, who was threatened by the local police for running a cheder (teaching religion was forbidden in Communist Russia). Believing the boastful letter sent by a landsman (local boy) who had significantly embellished the success he has attained in the land of opportunity, the scholarly father uproots his family at the urging of his stoic, practical-minded wife and their shidduch-aged daughter who is imbued with youthful optimism.

Of course, life in America is not the piece of cake they thought it would be – the father preferred sitting with his face in a sefer rather than walking around with a pushcart, but after many trials and tribulations, the family does indeed achieve the American dream – especially when the daughter, Sara, catches the eye of a newly minted lawyer who saves the day when he defends his future mother-in-law in court against the evil landlord, who happens to be his greedy, bully of an uncle. Anticipating an engagement, she takes on back-breaking menial work to afford white paint that will brighten the dreary walls of their tenement, only to have the landlord, who is appalled that his nephew would deign to marry a poor “greena,” double the rent – already barely affordable as it is. In a fit of despair-fuelled rage, she trashes the place.

While the story itself was entertaining, especially when the actors’ facial expressions were somewhat exaggerated, as were their gestures and body language (obviously to compensate for the lack of dialogue) what captivated my attention was the history I was glimpsing; and the sobering awareness that while for me the events had taken place almost a century ago, for the individuals in that film, they were in their “now.”

It was as if a curtain separating today and a far away yesterday, had been momentarily pulled away, inviting us to view a slice of life that once had been someone’s today.

As the story unfolds you see hordes of people going about their daily business on the streets of lower Manhattan in 1922. You are drawn into their reality as you see pushcart peddlers hawking their wares, women picking up various fruits and vegetables with one hand, evaluating their freshness with a practiced eye as their other hand balances a baby on their hip.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/on-our-own/a-window-into-the-past-a-lesson-for-the-future/2012/05/25/

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