Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest--Day 3

Only two more films Sunday. I guess I'm taking it easy this year.

First up, the award winning documentary IN HEAVEN UNDERGROUND: THE WEISSENSEE JEWISH CEMETERY. Let me start with the obligatory statement: of course you wouldn't think a documentary about a cemetery would be at all interesting--but you'd be wrong. It's really about a peaceful, beautiful park that happens to have dead people buried there. And it's about the extraordinary history--the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, it sits in East Berlin, near the Polish border, and it has been constantly tended by the local Jewish community for 130 years. Yes, even during the Holocaust, it was allowed to operate. And most of all, it's about the site's relationship with the living--the caretakers, the landmark preservationists who restore the (sometimes gaudy) mausoleums, the family that lives in the old caretaker's apartment (I couldn't help but think they'll be screwed in the zombie apocalypse), and the families of the dearly departed. Really, when the dead are mentioned it's almost always in the context of 'Why should I find it creepy? They're dead, what can they do?' So it all adds up to a pleasantly surprising and surprisingly pleasant stroll through the beautiful, peaceful, wooded park--with dead people. And I'd be remiss if I didn't especially mention the music. It would be so easy to play funeral dirges, but the music was constantly peaceful, pastoral, but pleasant and life-affirming. Very nice.

Then, we had a special gala for the Freedom of Expression award, given this year to Issur Danielovitch, better known as Kirk Douglas. Actor, humanitarian, Jew, and blacklist-breaker (with his insistence on giving screenplay credit on SPARTACUS to Dalton Trumbo), he was there to say a few words. Of course, his voice is not completely back from his stroke, but he's actually very spry for a 94 year old, bounding up the steps and blowing kisses to the crowd (and getting three standing ovations). Some of the highlights:

About Freedom of Expression: It's the most important part of democracy, it's what all the people in the middle east are fighting for.
About humor: If it wasn't for laughter, we Jews wouldn't have survived.
About pronouncing Ahmedinijad: My speech therapist would be so proud!
About insisting on giving Dalton Trumbo screenwriting credit for SPARTACUS: Everyone agreed all the other scripts sucked. Dalton thanked me for giving him his name back.
Final words: I'd love to stay, but I've already seen the picture. It's good, you'll love it!

And boy was he right! I'm going to assume you don't need me to tell you about SPARTACUS and how great it is. I will say it was my first time seeing it on the big screen after many times on video, and it was event more awesome on the Castro's screen. And I had forgotten both how funny and how political it was. And I had never noticed how many times Spartacus asks people their names. Especially after the interview, it was striking how important names are in the movie. And, of course, the scene where everyone stands up to be recognized as Spartacus can still bring a tear to my eye, not to mention Varinia (Jean Simmons) showing the crucified Spartacus his free baby son. They don't make 'em like that anymore, and they might have never made 'em like that before. Truly a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

And let me end with a joke Kirk Douglas told us (I apologize if I got the details wrong, I think this is what he said): Abraham and Sarah were walking down the street when they saw a Catholic church with a sign offering $50 to convert. Sarah says, "wait here Abraham, I'm going to check this out" and she goes inside. About a half hour later she comes out and Abraham asks, "Did you get the $50?" And Sarah replies, "What, don't you Jews ever think about anything besides money?"

And that's that. I skipped CRIME AFTER CRIME because I saw it at SFIFF (if you haven't seen it, it's excellent, look for it to come to a theater near you). And I missed Eytan Fox's MARY LOU to see our homegrown drag musical, the Thrillpeddlers' Vice Palace. But that's another story...

Total Running Time: 285 minutes
My Total Minutes: 244,567

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