I know it's been a while since I've posted. It's been a while since I've seen a movie. I've been in Alaska to see my darling little sister get married. You can see amateur photographs (courtesy of my big brother) of me in a tuxedo and me scaring small children here.
Anyway, I just got back and went to the SF Jewish Film Festival (henceforth called "Jewfest") in Berkeley. Two movies last Monday, here they are:
First up was "Orthodox Stance". Jewfest is doing a whole series on Jewish boxers this year. Turns out from ~1900-1930 there were something like 27 or 28 Jewish world champion boxers in various weight classes. In fact, in the early 20th century, Jews were the #1 ethnic group in boxing. Who knew? Well, this documentary is about a contemporary Jewish boxer, Dmitriy Salita. Born in Odessa, his parents immigrated to Brooklyn when he was a child. He took up boxing when he was twelve, and won amateur titles in New York. But when the world amateur tournament in Budapest refused to accommodate his demand to not box on the Sabbath, he decided to go pro, and started delivering whuppings--but not until after sundown on Saturdays. In the movie he proves to be an engaging and charismatic subject, as are his boxing trainers and rabbis. In fact, some of the greatest moments are ringside shots of old boxing veterans cheering alongside orthodox rabbis and other assorted Jews (and one sign proclaiming Dmitriy to be the "Greatest Jewish fighter since Samson"). I didn't bother looking up his record before the movie, so although they're all in the past, I didn't know if he won or lost, and the documentary format creates a real sense of anticipation and worry during the fights--it's not like a narrative film where you know the good guy will win, it's a slave to reality. I liked that, although it'd be very easy to look up his record and now how he's going to do in advance. The director was in attendance, but I stayed for the second movie rather than seeing his Q&A. Unfortunately, Dmitriy couldn't be here for this screening because he's back in New York training for another fight (he was there for the San Francisco showing last week).
The second movie was a documentary more in keeping with the stereotype of Jews. "The Chosen Ones" is about young Jewish musicians in New York (mostly, it branches out to Germany and Israel late in the movie). Okay, Jews and musical ability is a pretty common stereotype, but these are a little different. These are the young, out there, orthodox but edgy music. There's a black convert who raps in Hebrew , a rabbi who plays humorous non-PC folk rock (he's my favorite), and others like Blue Fringe and Balkan Beat Box. Director Wendla Nolle is a German Christian woman, so she's often an outsider in the scene (in orthodox communities, it's illegal for a man to hear a woman other than his wife sing, hence no female musicians made it into the movie). However she is a musician, and made this movie to explore the relation between music and spirituality (which is why she chose orthodox Jews instead of any Jewish musician). In that respect, I can't say she was entirely successful. Perhaps because I'm not all that spiritual (or all that musical), but I think also because in the search for more non-stereotypical musicians, they tend to come off as a series of novelty acts. They're still all deeply religious, and incorporate religion into their music, but their stories are more often about resolving apparent conflicts between their spirituality and their choice of musical styles. In any case, I will grant that the visuals are very well done. Wendla Nolle has a great eye for composing shots, and the music is often very entertaining.
And that was Monday, I saw two more movies Tuesday, including a wacky slapstick comedy about Hitler. And I'll be seeing two more tonight. More posts to follow soon.