November 22, 2007
The light of Jewish culture shines
In an ArcLight theater filled with filmmakers, industry players and others at the American Film Institute's "AFI Fest 2007," I was not alone in my grief. When the Q-and-A session began, no one could speak. After what we had seen, how could words suffice?
Based on the bestselling memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French ELLE magazine, artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel crafted a tender and harrowing portrait of a man in the prime of his life devastated by complete physical paralysis, except for the use of his left eye. Even more grievous, Bauby retained all normal brain function -- clarity of thought, sense of humor, sexual desire -- but the only means by which he could express his inner monologue was by blinking his eye. Surrendering myself to that psychological space the visceral experience a good film inspires, I first considered "What if that was me?," and then I thought about the Jews.
For most of history, Jewish life and culture was relished in the interior of Jewish peoplehood. Barred from many facets of public life, Jews grew their culture and practiced their faith inside their homes and synagogues, among the members of the community and not out in the world. This past week, with Jewish culture flourishing throughout Los Angeles, was a reminder of how times have changed. The irony was not lost on me that Bauby's story was realized by a Jewish filmmaker, or that Mathieu Almaric, a star in Spielberg's "Munich," superbly portrayed this man with "locked-in syndrome." But the real irony was that I entered this story following a week when Jewish culture was cresting at the forefront of mainstream civic life.
American Jewish University's (AJU) "Celebration of Jewish Books" got celebrity authors and a Pulitzer Prize-winner talking about their Judaism: Tony Kushner revealed his rising interest in religious worship, his deeply passionate but challenging views on Israel and his proud identity as a gay Jewish American.
Rabbi David Wolpe's hometown cheerleaders fervently supported him as he debated Sam Harris on the science-or-religion conundrum. Celebrating an association she once avoided, Anita Diamant declared her pride at being labeled a "Jewish author." Although Larry King forgot details about Jerry Seinfeld on a recent airing of his CNN show, at AJU he remembered vividly his visits to Israel.
Michael Chabon wrote "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" so he could learn more about the lost culture of Yiddishkayt. Perhaps more importantly, 5,000 community members ventured to the Celebration to enhance their enjoyment of the Jewish literature that has penetrated mainstream media with Jewish value.
It's hard to imagine anything more suffocating than living lifewithout expression. Yet Bauby's joie de vivre remained intact, probably because he had seen the other side and knew how beautiful it was. As Jews, we have existed inside the darkness, and now we live in the light, shining our own brightness into the world.
As one of Hollywood's favorite Jews and one of the world's most famous filmmakers, Steven Spielberg will be honored at this year's Golden Globe Awards with the Cecile B. DeMille Award for his "outstanding contribution to the entertainment field." Actor and Streisand stepson Josh Brolin made the announcement during a recent press conference. The 65th Annual Golden Globes are scheduled for Jan. 13 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Let's hope the writers' strike has reached its denouement long before then.
Scene and Heard ...
Larry King tells his life story to the crowd in Gindi Auditorium at AJU's book fest.
Kirk Douglas signs copies of his new book "Let's Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning" at AJU's "Celebration of Jewish Books."