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In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - VoxClamantis - 08-19-2014



From the Jewish Telegraph Agency:



Showbiz meets shtetl: Helping Hollywood get Hasidim right
By Miriam MosterAugust 17, 2014 2:38pm



Luzer Twersky, right, consulted on and plays a Hasidic character in the forthcoming film “Felix and Meira.” (Julie Landreville)

NEW YORK (JTA) — When it comes to Hasidic characters in movies, film consultant Elli Meyer believes that the real deal trumps a random actor in costume.

But that approach isn’t without its challenges.

Meyer, a New York-based Lubavitcher Hasid, recounted one occasion when he was hired to cast extras for a film but refused upon learning that shooting would take place on Yom Kippur.

“Who told you to hire Jews?” one of the producers said, according to Meyer, though ultimately the shooting was postponed.

Vox Wrote:Of course shooting was postponed!

Meyer is among a handful of Jews from haredi Orthodox backgrounds who have carved out an unusual niche in show business as occasional consultants on films and TV shows aiming to authentically depict Hasidic life.

These consultants often find themselves having to dispel misconceptions about Hasidim as they advise on language, costuming and plot, sometimes even stepping into rabbinic roles as explainers of Jewish law.

Vox Wrote:Must  be nice, eh? Can you imagine if Catholics were afforded such respect?  Wouldn't it be loverly to say -- and be heard and respected when saying -- "Um, no, you've had 12 out of the last 12 priests in this series depicted as drunken pedophiles. That's not really accurate."  or "Ya know, the 'progressive,' pro-abortion sisters you're portraying wouldn't be caught dead wearing habits." or "Ya know, I think you might be confusing Catholics with some other group in this scene in which the 'Christians' are shown bombing gay bars..." I mean, nevermind the language and costuming and basics of the liturgy, right? Just some basic freakin' respect would be as refreshing as York Peppermint Patties are shown to be in their commercials.

Meyer, 59, has been doing this kind of work for a decade. In 2014 alone he has acted in, consulted on or done casting work for more than half a dozen TV shows or movies.

He said he was motivated to get into the consulting business because he was appalled by the sloppiness of many depictions of Hasidic Jews.

“They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid,” he said of directors and producers in general.

Vox Wrote:You're lucky. To get a "Catholic," they come up with a psychopath serial killer character and slap a Rosary in his fist once in a while.

Isaac Schonfeld, a graduate of Yeshiva Shaar Hatorah high school in Queens and an Orthodox Jew, has consulted on several independent films.

Vox Wrote:And I bet he didn't even have to approach them. They probably came to him.

Most recently, Schonfeld consulted for the 2013 comedy “Fading Gigolo” directed by John Turturro, who stars as a novice prostitute being pimped out to female clients by a friend played by Woody Allen. One of the major plot lines focuses on a budding romance that develops between Turturro’s character and a lonely Hasidic widow who hires him as a masseur.

Schonfeld brought Turturro and several crew members to a regular social gathering he runs in New York called Chulent that is popular among many former Hasidim and others on the margins of the haredi world.

Other acquaintances of Schonfeld also helped with the film. One, Malky Lipshitz, contributed religious artwork and consulted with Vanessa Paradis, the French actress who played the Hasidic woman in the film. Others submitted voice recordings for actor Liev Schreiber to use to practice his inflection in his role as a member of a Hasidic community patrol vying for the widow’s affections.

Schonfeld pointed to one significant change that resulted from his advice. He said that Turturro had planned to name the Hasidic widow after a friend’s wife named Avital, wrongly believing it to be an authentic-sounding Hasidic name. Schonfeld noted that some people have a tendency to believe that Israeli and haredi names are interchangeable.

Vox Wrote:Wow, down to that level of detail -- while we Catholics are just trying to not be portrayed as sex-hating, schizophrenic, psychopathic,  hysterical (in the Victorian sense, if a religious woman), or a drunken pedo (if a priest).

Schonfeld recommended similar alternatives that would be more plausibly Hasidic but would still accommodate Turturro’s attachments and artistic considerations. In the end Avital was named Avigal.

But the naming of characters was a minor challenge compared to another conundrum: finding a word for “pimp” in Yiddish to be used in a scene before a rabbinic court where Allen’s character is accused of providing a male prostitute for a Hasidic woman. Finding the one word, “alfons,” rarely if ever used in contemporary Hasidic parlance, required a significant amount of research on Schonfeld’s part.

When it comes to meticulousness, “Fading Gigolo” does not stand alone. “Felix and Meira,” a forthcoming independent Canadian film that follows a Hasidic woman from Montreal who engages in an extramarital affair with a non-Jewish man, also required significant research, consultation and visits to the haredi community.

Several former Hasidim consulted for the film in varying capacities. Rivka Katz, formerly a Lubavitcher Hasid, consulted on the script, while Luzer Twersky and Melissa Weisz, who attended Satmar Hasidic schools growing up, both acted and consulted. Twersky plays the protagonist’s husband and Weisz has the part of a Hasidic woman, a minor character in the film.

They pointed to the verisimilitude of a scene set during a Shabbat meal.

“The shtreimel [fur Hasidic hat] was real, the bekeshe [frock coat] was real, the chicken soup was real,” Twersky said of the scene.

Even though it was not shot on the actual Sabbath, the scene seemed so authentic that Weisz, who acted in the scene, said that on a visceral level it felt wrong to be engaging in un-Shabbat-like activity like filmmaking.

Afterward, when conversation turned to the movie, “I got mad,” Weisz recalled, “because they shouldn’t be talking about that on Shabbos.”

Vox Wrote:Wouldn't you love to see a movie showing a big, happy, Catholic family having Sunday supper -- complete with prayers and talk of that morning's Mass -- on nice, white linen, in a room with lots of wood, lighted with "Godfather lighting" (that warm, golden light), and everyone's basically happy in spite of problems and the world, etc., and so forth?

But film consultants do not always agree with one another on what makes for the most authentic depiction of Hasidim.

On Twitter, Twersky had criticized the 2010 movie “Holy Rollers,” starring Jesse Eisenberg as a drug-running yeshiva student, for its costuming choices and other issues. He tweeted: “guys with peyos don’t wear short suits and fedora hats.”

Meyer, who worked on the film, says he advises a “mish-mosh look,” piecing together the hat from one Hasidic sect and the side curls of another, unless the director has a particular sect in mind.

To Twersky, that was one of several of the film’s failings.

But he acknowledges that departures from authentic portrayals of Hasidic life are not always such a bad thing.

“We need to get over the fact that we don’t own the story of Hasidic Jews,” Twersky said.

He noted that artistic considerations often result in departures from reality.

“Nobody wants to see regular people doing regular things,” Twersky said. “That’s not a movie.”




Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - MiriamB - 08-19-2014

It's admirable that the Hasidim hope to mitigate the inaccurate portrayals. Yet he summed up the Hollywood mindset quite well when he said:
Quote:He noted that artistic considerations often result in departures from reality.
“Nobody wants to see regular people doing regular things,” Twersky said. “That’s not a movie.”

Hollywood wants big box office $$ and that greed will propel any story they tell into fiction and misrepresentation to draw an audience.

I for one, am glad to see Christian groups start their own cinema productions. Films such as October Baby http://octoberbabymovie.net/ with a strong pro-life message and Courageous http://www.courageousthemovie.com/themovie which speaks to having a strong moral center are making inroads with families who want wholesome and uplifting entertainment as well as a positive message for their children. The Catholic Church would do well to enter the cinematic media as a means of evangelisation.


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - VoxClamantis - 08-19-2014

(08-19-2014, 12:44 PM)MiriamB Wrote: It's admirable that the Hasidim hope to mitigate the inaccurate portrayals. Yet he summed up the Hollywood mindset quite well when he said:
Quote:He noted that artistic considerations often result in departures from reality.
“Nobody wants to see regular people doing regular things,” Twersky said. “That’s not a movie.”

Hollywood wants big box office $$ and that greed will propel any story they tell into fiction and misrepresentation to draw an audience.

I for one, am glad to see Christian groups start their own cinema productions. Films such as October Baby http://octoberbabymovie.net/ with a strong pro-life message and Courageous http://www.courageousthemovie.com/themovie which speaks to having a strong moral center are making inroads with families who want wholesome and uplifting entertainment as well as a positive message for their children. The Catholic Church would do well to enter the cinematic media as a means of evangelisation.

Not sure what he means by "regular people," but unless you're doing some natural disaster/natural evil kind of movie, evil pretty much has to be portrayed in order for there to be any drama at all. And even in a natural disaster kind of movie, a sub-plot revolving around human evil would make the movie that much better. Without evil, there is no drama. Even the story of the birth of Jesus has King Herod in it. Make a movie about St. Gerard, you have to include the woman who falsely accused him; without her, it'd just be a guy praying a lot and what have you. Not good filmmaking. There has to be tension, a battle between something and something else (even if it's a man against himself). Even a movie like good ole Benji (one of Hitchcock's favorites, BTW and interestingly enough LOL) had bad guys in it doing bad things. Fairy tales have the wicked witches or trolls, etc.

I believe know that all sorts of evils can be portrayed -- murder, rape, adultery, thievery, whatever -- while still keeping a movie or other work of art moral. I'd go further and say that movies and literature that don't deal with such things wouldn't be worth watching. They'd be exceedingly boring.

I think one mistake some Christian artists make is to focus on BIG MESSAGE! instead of the art that's necessary to make that happen. Another mistake is to think that depicting sin is to endorse it, or that far-too-prevalent conflation of ignorance with innocence. Another problem is that they're often psychologically shallow. And another problem is that they're too often sexless (by which I do NOT mean prurient, but that sex and eros are things that just don't exist in those movie worlds). Capra made some pretty "Christian movies" that were great movies (with great talent acting in them, like Stanwyck and Jimmy Stewart, etc.), not all "in your face," and had some great romantic tension. If a movie isn't entertaining and/or doesn't speak to the real human condition, it's not going to convert anyone because no one will go see it.

I love the idea of the movies you point out and I so, SO hope they're good movie-making, but when it comes to "Christian movies" and "Christian music" and what not, so much of it is full of cheese (all the Christians all smiley, all the time, for ex., and never sinning unless the entire plot of the movie revolves around overcoming that sin. They're the type of people who'd stub their toes and say "oh, my goodness!" with that Shirley Temple*** expression on their faces instead of reacting how real people -- Christians included -- do), too heavy-handed, lacking in grit and realism, lacking in technical prowess, or just too "Protestant" in terms of aesthetics and in their view of the world. Or all of the above. I really hope this changes (or that it has changed and I haven't picked up on it yet!).

 
*** Mind you, I LOVE me some Shirley Temple! I love watching her old movies. That likely makes me weird, but I enjoy them. I find them very "cozy-warmy," and she was such a little talent.




Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - MiriamB - 08-19-2014

I've seen those two Christian movies I just mentioned and the plots and acting both are far more excellent than the schlock coming out of Hollywood these days.

I'm not going to send any more of my money to Hollywood's deviancy and greed machine. There's no excuse for the rubbish they put out and call "entertainment".

I'll wait for more worthy fare which has been coming out steadily for the past 5 years. Now there's a movie in the works about the Gosnell abortion monstrosity and condemning abortions. I'll keep an eye out for that.


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - nmoerbeek - 08-20-2014

(08-19-2014, 02:00 PM)Vox Clamantis Wrote: I believe know that all sorts of evils can be portrayed -- murder, rape, adultery, thievery, whatever -- while still keeping a movie or other work of art moral. I'd go further and say that movies and literature that don't deal with such things wouldn't be worth watching. They'd be exceedingly boring.

I think one mistake some Christian artists make is to focus on BIG MESSAGE! instead of the art that's necessary to make that happen. Another mistake is to think that depicting sin is to endorse it, or that far-too-prevalent conflation of ignorance with innocence. Another problem is that they're often psychologically shallow.

IF you really want to endure some suck fests watching some of those Ignatius Press movies on the Saints is almost unbearable, I remember watching one where they did not even say the our father right, the one many of them add romances or plot lines totally foreign to the actual saints lives.

However I have scene two very good Christian movies coming out of Eastern Europe that do not suffer from the banalities of most
Ostrov http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0851577/
and
Bless you Prison http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338789/

These movies are definitely not psychologically shallow, and I think you would enjoy them very much.


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - Clare Brigid - 08-20-2014

(08-20-2014, 09:46 AM)nmoerbeek Wrote: However I have seen two very good Christian movies coming out of Eastern Europe that do not suffer from the banalities of most
Ostrov http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0851577/
and
Bless you Prison http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338789/

These movies are definitely not psychologically shallow, and I think you would enjoy them very much.

I've seen both.  You're absolutely correct, Noah.  Very powerful films, each in its own way. 

Favorite scene in Ostrov:  when Fr. Anatoly tells the grieving widow that her husband is still alive, is living in France, and needs her to go to him because he is ill.  Second favorite scene: the one with the abbot in the coal furnace.


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - JubilateDeo83 - 08-20-2014

LOL on the pro abortion sisters wearing habits.  I just finished watching "Orange is the New Black" and the nun in that series was in prison for civil disobedience at a nuclear power plant, and talked about masturbating to a crucifix where the corpus was "really ripped."  it was blasphemous.  Then these liberal nuns all showed up outside the prison wall to protest her hunger strike, and many had habits on.  Also, the bishops "excommunicated" her for her protest work, when in reality, she would have been more likely to be excommunicated if she started criticizing the Novus Ordo.


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - SCG - 08-20-2014

(08-20-2014, 09:46 AM)nmoerbeek Wrote: IF you really want to endure some suck fests watching some of those Ignatius Press movies on the Saints is almost unbearable, I remember watching one where they did not even say the our father right, the one many of them add romances or plot lines totally foreign to the actual saints lives.

Oh I wish you'd give me some examples. I have quite a few of those Ignatius Press movies. One that comes to mind is St. Rita. The film shows her as a young frisky blush-cheeked woman in love with her husband (played by a gorgeous Italian actor), while the traditional hagiography has her forced into a loveless marriage when all she ever wanted to be was a nun. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - MiriamB - 08-20-2014

Preferences in entertainment will vary. I agree there are some excellent options from Ignatius Press. The crux of the matter is whether we will continue to fund Hollywood's values of deviancy, Catholic bashing, and greed; or whether we choose to financially support cinematic efforts that emphasize virtues and good moral decisions.

Every time a movie is selected for viewing you are supporting that choice with money either directly or indirectly. That's Free Will and ultimately our choices will be judged by God.  What will you do?


Re: In Hollywood, Some Religions are More Equal Than Others - nmoerbeek - 08-22-2014

(08-20-2014, 04:03 PM)SCG Wrote:
(08-20-2014, 09:46 AM)nmoerbeek Wrote: IF you really want to endure some suck fests watching some of those Ignatius Press movies on the Saints is almost unbearable, I remember watching one where they did not even say the our father right, the one many of them add romances or plot lines totally foreign to the actual saints lives.

Oh I wish you'd give me some examples. I have quite a few of those Ignatius Press movies. One that comes to mind is St. Rita. The film shows her as a young frisky blush-cheeked woman in love with her husband (played by a gorgeous Italian actor), while the traditional hagiography has her forced into a loveless marriage when all she ever wanted to be was a nun. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

There are some pretty big problems with the movie: It shows her having twins, she didn't, it shows her boys going into a vendetta when they were still children, when in fact they were young men when they did that, they completely changed the circumstances revolving around the death of her husband, from what I can  they invented her becoming hysterical, she left the decision to become a nun or a married women to her parents while in this it shows her as a love struck teen, their family prayers consisted of making a single sign of the cross, she was portrayed (in my opinion) as shrewish and bossy.


I love St Rita, but even if you grant artistic license I do not feel that this film was even faithful to her underlying spirit.  It came across as medieval/renaissance soap opera.