jewin' the fat


Beck, Banksy & ‘Beatrice and Virgil’
April 13, 2010, 12:21 PM
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Today’s post is brought to you by the letter B and the number 3 – ah! ah! ah!   

Photo: Muppet Wiki

Beck:  

The only thing that would make doing the ironing with a glass of pinot gris on a crisp autumn night in a terry towel nightgown sexier would be the hottest postmodern half-Jew in pop music, Bek David Campbell. His outrageous 1999 single Debra is dripping in smooth and smokin’ falsetto funk, and brought sexy back years before JT. Musical arrangements are fast and loose, structured and slippery, with just enough sleaze to get the housewives hot under the collar – like Beck’s coitus contemporaries Bowie and Prince. Lyrics that oscillate between self-effacing comedic genius (I said Lady, Step inside my Hyundai) and quasi-orgasmic sensuousness (like fruit that’s ripe for the picking) are packed with irony which borrows heavily from the same musical mastery as Flight of the Concords. If the last orgiastic breath of “Jenny” doesn’t make your loins quiver with excitement, you aren’t human. Take a listen here

Banksy:  

Every hipster worth his salty, unwashed, über-chic hair knows the pop-cultural importance of Banksy. What we don’t know, is who the hell this guy really is. Exit through the Gift Shop is the latest offer of an answer. It premiered at Sundance in January, and is about to hit US cinemas. Narrated by Rhys Ifans, the film tells the story of Mr. Brainwash, a French-born designer/entrepreneur Thierry Guetta, and his artistic enlightenment thanks to the Banksy himself. But like most great docos, soon the camera turns on its subject, and gazes not at the attempts of Guetta to replicate Banksy’s graffiti glory, but the man behind the mystery. Check out the trailer:  

   

Beatrice and Virgil:   

“If history doesn’t become story,” he says, “it dies to everyone except the historian. Art is the suitcase of history, carrying the essentials. Art is the life buoy of history.”  

— Henry, Beatrice and Virgil  

Props to Yann Martel – Life of Pi, which won the Man Booker Prize has been followed up with one of the smartest of literature’s handling of the Holocaust since Otto Frank published Anne’s diary. In an absurdist philosophical discussion between two stuffed animals in a taxidermy shop, Martel manages to capture the madness of the 20th Century’s greatest tragedy of human innovation and ignorance. As the author justifies his use of Animal Farm story-telling apparatus:  

“People are cynical about people, but less so about wild animals. A rhinoceros dentist elicits less skepticism, in some ways, than a German dentist.  But this animal-as-canvas quality is useful for a storyteller. It means that an animal that people feel kindly towards becomes a character that readers feel kindly towards.”  

Beatrice and Virgil is out this week. Check out all good booksellers, or here.



Explosive!
March 22, 2010, 10:15 AM
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I can’t wait to see this in Cinemas. Four Lions is the name of a movie released in the UK in May about a group of hapless terrorists plotting an attack on London. Director Chris Morris describes the film as a ‘farce’ exposing the ‘Dad’s Army side to terrorism’. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and was short-listed for the festival’s World Cinema Narrative prize. Take a look at the trailer:



Israel Apartheid Week – Wrap up
March 12, 2010, 12:22 PM
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Well, as Israel Apartheid Week draws to a close, we thank those ballsy fellows for their patronage, and wish them good luck until next year.

During the meantime, here are some interesting, some relevant, and some gratuitous links to keep you …er, occupied.

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A sharp beginner’s guide to the Israel Apartheid Week phenomenon. Author Jon Hollander is a Columbia University Senior, Majoring in Economics.

Alive in Joberg (Neil Blomkamp – Director, District 9) – This short film was the impetus for the feature film, which deals succinctly with the injustice and ultimate fallibility of the Apartheid (Afrikaans for Separate) system in South Africa. Check out the District 9 trailer here.

The Australiasian Union of Jewish Students represents at the Melbourne university Israel Apartheid Forum, handing out material to attendees and donning sweet vests. Check out the IAW trailer here. Sick beats.

The counter: First Annual Israel Peace Week, active across US and Australian campuses.

The new kid on the US lobby block, J Street comments on IAW, and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, calling for “Invest, don’t Divest” activities to promote investment in Palestinian state-building.  Find out more about J Street here.



Win or Lose – It’s how you play the system

Another year, another conflated Oscars ceremony. Thanks to the ACT government, and their nifty Canberra Day Public holiday, I watched the Oscars broadcast with the same breathless excitement I watched Channel Nine stumble through Eddie Maguire’s homophobic ramblings to broadcast the Montreal Winter Olympics.

At least the Olympics highlight package, that is.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the Oscars are 8% bad jokes, 18% bad dresses, 30% drunk after party photos, and 40% politics. This year, my political favourites included The Hurt Locker‘s Katherine Bigalow getting even with her ex-husband James Cameron, Sandra Bullock proving that a bad dye-job and a southern drawl can make or break a career, and of course, Christoph Waltz’s ability to turn incorrect syntax into Oscar gold!

Israel has a proud history of quality filmmaking. Recent titles which have touched the hearts and minds of international audiences include Beaufort, Eyes Wide Open, Waltz with Bashir, Yossi & Jagger, The Bubble, Someone to Run With$9.99, and most  recently, the 2010 nominee for Best Foreign Feature Film Ajami.

Yaron Shani and Skandar Copti, Co-Directors of the Academy Award nominated film, 'Ajami'

Telling uniquely Israeli stories of the cultures, foods, rituals, languages, loves and lives of citizens of the State of Israel, it’s acclaimed offerings have been touted at film festivals and award ceremonies for decades.

And while none have achieved Oscar glory yet, Ajami was a firm favourite in the lead up to the big night.

Alack, in an interview with Israeli TV aired on the eve of the award ceremony, the film’s co-director, Skandar Copti effectively spat in the face of the government film fund which bankrolled his tale of the mean streets of Jaffa, and in the face of his Jewish-Israeli co-director Yaron Shani and stars (Arab-Muslim, Arab-Christian and Jewish alike), who were visibly disappointed that their hard work had not been rewarded. Though some sent celebratory text messages after the announcement that Argentinian nominee “El secreto de sus ojos” (The Secret in their Eyes) had taken out the category, many involved in the joint Arab-Jewish production saw betrayal in the remarks of Copti.

Israel Film Fund Director Katiel Schory was a little more considered in his approach. “Everything is okay, it’s perfectly alright,” he said. “[Copti] is entitled to his view. I’m very happy with the film and we stand behind it. In Israel, there are many narratives and this is one of those narratives.”

“The film represents Israel exactly,” said Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall. “It touches on almost all of the issues we face in Israeli society and it shows how broad the public debate is; that someone who is from Israel can negate his very connection to the state shows how wonderfully strong and alive our political culture is.”

The political fallout from Copti’s remarks clearly registered with the mostly Arab-Israeli cast, who were notably divided from the rest of the X Bar after-party guests, a shin dig hosted by the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.

In Copti’s Channel 2 interview, he did say that though the film is “technically” Israeli, it did not represent him, and proffered “I cannot represent a country that does not represent me”.

So what is this “technicality”? The citizenship of the players, crew and cast alike? The location of filming – in the internationally recognised Israeli municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa? The languages spoken in the film (Hebrew and Arabic, two of Israel’s official national languages)? Or how about the people who paid, through the auspices of the Israel Film Fund, for part of the film’s production – the tax payers of Israel – Jew, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Baha’i, Bedouin and Armenian, amongst others?

It is not enough to say that because one’s government doesn’t represent one’s personal perspective, that one cannot represent one’s nation on an international stage, as Copti protests. It’s an unfortunate symptom of the open, democratic society that many perspectives and opinions are offered equal footing in public space, sure, and that sometimes our issues are marginalised, but guess what?

If there was one message Ajami offered the Academy and viewing public, it was an insight into the pluralist, multi-ethnic, unique character and chaos of Jaffa. It was about the individual’s fight to survive in a world that is non-homogenous, and often unfair.  And that in a free-market of individual agendas, sometimes, some one has to lose.

In this case, it was Copti. Technically, of course.



Eyes Wide Shut
March 8, 2010, 9:11 AM
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A note. Martin Scorsese’s long overdue, much over-hyped lastest film, Shutter Island is probably enjoyed by many punters looking for a “don’t worry baby, I’ll protect you” little film to take their sweetheart to on a Saturday night. Unfortunately, it is about as organically thrilling as organic lentil soup. From the tired opening credits, to the over-worked score, which basically asks the audience to countdown to the OMFG! moment, Rocky Horror Picture Show Style, to the supremely ominous sweeping camera angles and disjointed, unoriginal dream sequences, it smelled predictable.
In fact, the big reveal moment was so much of a let down that the audience in my cinema were completely unperturbed. Complete silence, and more of the “really? That’s IT?!” variety than the hoped-for “Wow, what masterful storytelling”.
In fact, the vibe throughout the whole LONG 2 hours+ saga was unfortunately of incredulity and hyper-awareness of the construction of this elaborate plot, which, amongst other things, included mental asylums, dead wives, firebugs, psychotics, lucky strike cigarettes, and just for a little historical relevance, a few dead Nazis, some moral quandaries on the role of perpetrator/victim, House Un-American Activities Committee, and fedoras. Wow. What imaginative story telling.
Though maybe I just don’t like Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ll admit, his “Watch me Act” bit is a little tired, and even in his emotional scenes, all I could think about through out the film was “How does he keep that little band aid on his face through all that rain and hurricane? What on earth is it stuck with, Superglue?” Less than riveting, let me tell you.

2 mehs out of 5.

(Post Script: Props to Dendy Cinemas, however. My screening was captioned for the hearing impaired – and let me tell you, they don’t miss a thing. From fire crackling to creaking gates, every last indicator is mentioned. Except that stupid score. Good thing probably, they didn’t miss out on much.)



Older and/or Wiser

First things first – Happy New Year y’all. Here’s hoping that resolutions were made and broken, champagne glasses emptied and dignity lost in the fun and fury. It’s 2010, and we are officially living in a sci-fi novel – Brave New World indeed.

Secondly, an apology – I have let life, love and living get in the way of blogging. Especially because, if you weren’t aware, I’ve been Mid-East side for the past month or so. And in among all the crazy, I have let slide this little venture. … Mostly because I didn’t want to spill Jameson on my lap top. And despite being in the thick of it, with a million and one things to write reams and reams about, to put it simply, I’m on holiday, and cbf. So Sorry.

But then again, it has been a fairly decent while in cyber-terms, so here’s my resolution. I will make a concerted effort to not be a lazy ass, and get back on the blogging-bandwagon. Starting now.

2009 was a memorable year. It taught us the value of money, once we lost it, and the stupidity of trusting financial institutions. It also taught us that hiding $1 million in a mattress can backfire. It began with a bang that shook Gaza, and is still shaking the world, and ended with a silence on Darfur that is deafening.

 2009 was brought to you by the colour Green, and Twitter became (and still is) the protest medium of choice for thousands of young Iranians. 2009 was the year Australian politics got (mildly) interesting – and the first year an Abbott and a Bishop ruled the Liberal Party. It was also the year that his Honour, the Honorable Honorary Jew himself, Malcolm Turnbull, found himself out on his ass (but still with that amazing BRW Richest 200 fortune to fall back on), Nathan Rees locked us out of parliament, and the year Kristina Keneally found the spare set of keys.

Melbourne trains got an overhaul, Brendan Fevola got pissed and lost his shit at the Brownlows, and Nate Myles got pissed and actually took a shit in a hotel corridor. The British Supreme Court ruling against the Jewish Free School told us how to be Jewish, and John Safran’s Race Relations showed us how to be crude – ish.

Settlements, Satire, Sexting and Sagging – we remember 2009. Another year older, but not necessarily wiser. Except for Ron Weiser. That guy is a champion.



Ennui-tainment (Part 2)

The stubborn refusal to give tragedy the final say

There seems to be a distinctly anti-Generation-Y movement which undercuts the question of Shoah re-commemoration.

See, for years there has been a very stable, highly enforced method of interacting with the history of Holocaust, and an especially enforced standard of commemoration of that history. It included extreme reverence, highly emotive triggers, and a heaviness of the soul that most Jewish youth associate with any Holocaust-related public conversation.

Then, after upwards of 50 years of silent, sombre and most sincere reflection, young  Jewish people began to do with the Holocaust what young Jewish people have done with Shabbat, Zionism and other sacred cows – they turned it on its head.Cyanide and Happiness 

Which is not to say that young Jews today don’t appreciate the gravity of the Holocaust. Rather, they over-appreciate it. They are saturated in understanding. Like the children of Holocaust survivors who were drowning in the silence of their parents, these third-generation Jews are likewise drowning in the over-exposure their parents are kindly facilitating.  

Is visiting a death camp at 16 an age-appropriate experience? Indeed, can one ask an 11-year-old to comprehend or relate to the number 1 000 000, let alone light a candle to remember 1 000 000 children killed in the Shoah? How do you explain hatred for hatred’s sake, without condescending, or killing for ethnicity’s sake, without terrifying?

Would it surprise you that even our nightmares are Shoah related? I challenge any Jewish person to deny that they have had at least one, if not lifelong Holocaust-themed dreams. Mine involved abbatoir-style slaughter-houses, with loved ones forced like cattle through the turnstiles, awaiting their death, with nothing to be done. And for a long time, there was nothing to be done but tread water in the overwhelming tide that threatened to overpower our connection to our history altogether.

As time separated the generations from the immediacy of the tragedy, and threatened to disconnect them from its meaning, humour became the bridge which allowed Jews to take back the power, and stubbornly refused to submit to the magnitude of victimhood. Suddenly there was a means to process this massive influence in our lives – a method to understand the madness. What started with the Ghetto reinterpretations of Hitler’s masterpiece Mein Krampft (My Cramp) and the naming of dogs and pigs ‘Adolf’, became a critical communal and coping mechanism for those affected by Nazi policies. Survivor and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said in Mans Search for Meaning,

“We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays!”

Half a century on this tradition continues, to the chagrin and horror of the PC police and inflated egos that cannot understand that Heeb Magazine’s mockery of Holocaust memoirs stems from a moral disgust that the once noble premise of documenting history has become a money-making industry – so why not write your own Holocaust memoir? And if we want to truly destroy the power of Hitler, how better than to belittle his memory and mock his self-righteousness character with a series of YouTube videos here, here and here? And here. And there. And here too.

People like Rosanne Barr hit the nail on the head – Sure it’s sick and twisted to don a moustache and bake Burnt Jew Cookies in an oven, but what are we so blinded by our pride and self-importance that we cannot see the irony and power of the inversion? When someone like Barr suggests such a photo shoot, a woman whose life has been dedicated to offending as many people as possible with her brand of take-no-prisoners humour, everything is fair game. As she herself told Heeb:

“He killed my whole family, it is true, but he is also dead, and I, a Jewish woman am still alive to make fun of him, and I will continue to make fun of the little runt for the rest of my life! He, and his ideas need to be laughed at even more these days, picked apart and analyzed up and down, as there are more and more people denying his crimes, and more and more despots trying to copy them.”

This peculiar cultural revenge is replicated again and again, in the infamous character actor Sascha Baron Cohen playing an anti-Semitic Kazakh in Borat, or in the faux-terror of Seinfeld‘s dreaded ‘Soup Nazi’ – turning the stereotype on its head, and in doing, fulfilling the hopes of the millions of victims encapsulated in the Talmudic verse: “The best revenge is to live”.

Call it revenge porn, but Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds could be regarded as the best antidote to the evils of the Nazi regime since Chaplin’s The Dictator. Tellingly, after the screening of Tarantino’s film, I bumped into a Jewish couple in their mid-sixties who could not fathom how such a film was even produced, let alone enjoyed – such was their disgust for the film’s subversion of the traditional power-relationship of the Shoah.

Where younger viewers whooped and heckled as Nazi’s were gunned down, and the image of a young Jewish woman laughed, rising in flames as the harbinger of death and destruction upon a Nazi crowd, wreaking her luscious revenge … it was a sweet moment for this generation.

2009_inglorious_bastards_002

Still from Inglorious Basterds

This tale of Jews taking back their honour and their lives from the Nazi regime which had tried and failed to destroy them was a “once upon a time” fable that reverberated in cinemas across the world, re-forming those Shoah nightmares into Shoah fantasies, littered with scalps and bullets and relief. Far from offensive, Inglorious Basterds gave young Jews the chance to divert the course of their people’s tragic history, even if it was only for a couple of hours, in a recliner seat in a theatre in Sydney or Toronto or London. And sure it’s just a movie – but in telling this story, Tarantino validated this generation’s fantasy, and went some way to understanding the foundations of the cultural architecture of 70 years of suffering.

So rather than mis-reading young Jewish attempts to re-imagine, re-define and re-tell the story of the Holocaust as out-of-touch, inappropriate, disrespectful or ignorant – perhaps it is time to step out of the stranglehold of ‘traditional’ Holocaust commemoration, and recognise that the light of satire does not diminish any of the truth of history. Rather, it can light the way to a better understanding, and clearer picture of what the Holocaust means for Jews today.