Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Opening Night

Okay, technically it's called the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival but I like highlighting that here in the Bay Area we actually have three different Jewish Film Festivals (and I think that's awesome!) which I call Jewfest North, Jewfest South, and Jewfest East (which I've never made it to because it always conflicts with Cinequest. The life of a Bay Area film fest maniac is hard.)

Anyway, we kicked off the festival this year not with a film, but with an outstanding on-stage interview and retrospective of the work of the original one-named star, Topol. Upon hearing that, you might have had the same reaction I (and a good many people I told about it)--"Topol? He's still alive?" For those who've forgotten, Topol is most famous as Tevye in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--both on stage and the movie. And Tevye is already an older character, with 3 daughters of marrying age. Well, here's the secret--he was only 35 when he made the movie (so when he and Golde are talking about being married for 25 years, that means they were married when he was 10?) Which if you do the math means...well, he's 78 now. And a very spry, healthy-looking 78. Heck, he hopped up the stairs onto the stage faster than I would have.

Then we got into a retrospective of his life and acting career. Some highlights from the interview and clip show:

  • He originally wanted to be either a labor organizer or a kibbutznik. It was only in performing (first in the IDF and then on the kibbutz) that it became clear that was his calling.
  • He met his wife Galia (who was also in attendance, along with their children and grandchildren) when they served together in the IDF. They then went back to different kibbutzes. When she wrote him a letter saying how lonely she was in her kibbutz, he took the hint and asked the kibbutz officials when the next wedding opportunity was scheduled. They booked the date before he had even proposed to her. They had barely a month, and when he couldn't reach her on the phone he called her mother and asked her to call Galia and tell her they were getting married. Of course, they're still together today.
  • Before he was Tevye, he gained international acclaim and was a household name in Israel for starring in the title role in SALLAH SHABATI, the first Israeli film to be nominated for an Oscar. His first film festival award was at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It is still shown about 50 times a year on Israeli TV. The clip they showed from it was pretty hilarious, and I resolved right then that I must see it. 
  • Sallah started as skits he did on stage. With both Sallah and Tevye, he spoke about how rare and wonderful it was to get to rehearse so much and really get to know the character before making the movie. That's a nice counterpoint to actors who complain about getting tired of playing the same role over and over.
  • He initially turned down the role of Tevye in the Israeli production of Fiddler on the Roof. He saw a matinee starring Zero Mostel (who originated the role) and thought the humor was overly broad. He later saw Mostel in an evening show and he said it was brilliant (and has praised Mostel over and over again.) It was fortune that the actor (who was a friend of his) playing Tevye fell ill and so they started sharing the role. So when he auditioned for London's West End production, he already knew the role, he got it, and the rest is history.
  • As the interview was running long, they proposed skipping over the clips of him in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and FLASH GORDON. But at the suggestion, there was a groan from the audience and so they (quickly) showed those clips without much comment. For how much film fest audiences can be a little snobbish and opinionated (especially Jewish film fest audiences), I love the fact that we're still fans of James Bond and Flash Gordon. And heck, he was still awesome in those flicks.
  • At the end, he was asked to sing us a song--anything he wanted. I'm sure the audience was expecting something from Fiddler, but instead he chose to sing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" And it was brilliant--my eyes welled up with tears a little. And it fits nicely with the politics of his original dream of being a labor organizer. And it's appropriate for the times today. And it sucks that a depression-era anthem is so appropriate for the times today.
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