Posted by Danielle Berrin
After blogging about Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s visit yesterday to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to promote her film “In The Land of Blood and Honey”, I couldn’t stop thinking about an Israeli reporter’s persistent question to Jolie. It was embarrassingly unoriginal and didn’t sound serious: Would she make another film about a geopolitical conflict, like say, the one between Israelis and Palestinians?
I’d have expected Gil Tamari, the Washington bureau chief for Channel 10, to do better than that. But then I realized he wasn’t asking in order to get a scoop, or because he didn’t have anything more intelligent to say, he was asking because he actually wants Jolie to do it.
Somewhat coincidentally perhaps, the NYU Skirball’s Intelligence Squared debate series had, the night before, presented the motion: “The U.N. Should Admit Palestine As A Full Member State.”
An audience of voters responded, unsurprisingly I’d say, in the affirmative. Arguing for the motion were Mustafa Barghouthi, former Palestinian National Authority presidential candidate (and relative of Omar, founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), and Daniel Levy, a former Israeli government negotiator who worked under Rabin and Barak and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Against the motion were Dore Gold, the former U.N. Ambassador and an advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Mideast negotiator.
I attended one of these debates last November (the topic: “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion” – also, apparently, the prevailing belief) and the way it works is that before the debate begins, the audience votes their conscience, then a bunch of reputed experts present their views, they spar back and forth, and then the audience votes again for the “winner”.
Prior to the debate, the poll results regarding U.N. recognition of Palestine were 37% in favor; 30% against; and 33% undecided. By its end, 55% were in favor; 7% were against and 8% were undecided.
It is the opinion of the series’ primary benefactor, Robert Rosenkranz, that bringing the world of ideas to a public forum in which the most provocative and topical issues of the day are discussed and debated in front of a live audience serves an important public good.
But do they really change people’s minds? Do they resolve conflicts, or do they fan the flames of discord?
Lively and exciting though it was, the Intelligence Squared experience is probably richer in entertainment than enlightenment. And while I’m certainly not convinced audience opinion reflects the most cogent argument, the debaters they select are each at the top of their fields, which makes for intelligent and persuasive argumentation – and even more exuberant derision. Ultimately, though, the battle becomes less about ideas and more about delivering the cleverest quip.
Real influence flows from good ideas encased in emotional skin. Movies derive their power this way.
One strength of Jolie’s “Blood and Honey” was its uncritical, sympathetic view the Bosnian War. Though the film’s focus is the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims by Christian Serbs in the early 1990s, Jolie alludes to the long and complicated backstory that preceded it. Opinion should not hinge on this one event, she seems to be saying, noting both sides, both stories, illuminating each side’s claim to the truth.
Only, she also seems to be saying that in conflict what matters most is not truth, but moral courage. Kindness and compassion can end violence and mitigate pain, not a debate that determines one side is right and the other wrong.
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January 11, 2012 | 3:36 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Nobody ever accused Israelis of subtlety.
During Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C earlier today to promote Jolie’s directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” Gil Tamari, the Washington bureau chief for Israel’s Channel 10, pressed the most famous movie stars in the world for their two-cents on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Snagging some on-camera time with Jolie, Tamari went right in with his Big Question.
Tamari: I wondered, do you see yourself in the future doing also a story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Jolie: Israel and Palestine; I have not spent time there. I would like to spend more time.
Tamari: Would you like to come and visit and see the situation yourself?
Jolie: Of course, of course. There’s no good reason I haven’t been.
Tamari: Do you have any idea about the current situation and maybe some ideas how to solve the conflict?
Jolie: Do I? Oh my… (she laughs, nervously) I wish I had the perfect answer for you. I wish I knew how to solve it. If I feel that I could help in any way, if I felt like I could be a part of the solution I’d like to help be a part of the solution, not just visit..
Then Tamari asked Pitt what he thought of his “wife’s” movie:
Pitt: I’m really proud of her. It’s difficult subject matter, it’s something I think stands above the normal movie fare.
Tamari: Do you see her doing stories about other conflicts, maybe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Pitt: It’s really her main interest. She works on it everyday, diligently. Yes, absolutely.
Prior to their Holocaust Museum stop, Jolie and Pitt popped by the Oval Office to visit with President Barack Obama.
January 9, 2012 | 3:23 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Pop star Katy Perry’s evangelical preacher father, Keith Hudson, reportedly gave a bizarre sermon in Westlake, Ohio on Sunday in which he played up the age-old stereotype about Jews and money (seriously, get some new material).
“You know how to make the Jew jealous? Have some money, honey.
“You go to LA and they own all the Rolex and diamond places. Walk down a part of LA where we live and it is so rich it smells. You ever smell rich? They are all Jews, hallelujah. Amen.”
I’m not sure where in L.A. Hudson is strolling around smelling “rich” but I suppose this warrants a call to Los Angeles County Street Cleaning: “I appreciate you folks scooping up leaves and wrappers every week, but could you please do something about the wealth?”
According to Hudson’s website (which he shares with his wife and Perry’s mother, Mary), they are partners in a traveling ministry:
Keith and Mary have been ministering together for the past 39 years. They started out pastoring in Santa Barbara, California, in the 80’s and have been traveling for the past ten years. The Hudsons minister throughout the USA and internationally. Mary holds Arise conferences to encourage women to rise up in who they are in Christ, to be bold, trailblazers and think outside the box. The Hudsons base out of Irvine, CA, and are the authors of two books, The Cry and Smart Bombs. Their third book, Joyful Mother, is due out next year.
In addition to the 27-year-old pop star, the Hudson’s are also parents to Angela, 28 and David, 23, according to their Website. They live in Orange County and affiliate with The Sanctuary in Huntington Beach. Hudson describes himself as an “end time messenger” whom “the Lord uses… to expose and dispel spiritual lethargy.” Well, that’s one way to put it.
Their itinerary includes upcoming trips to Panama and Peru.
For the record, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier has issued a statement condemning Hudson’s sermon: “[M]ost people would guess that Hitler or Goebbels was speaking.” Just wondering though: If, by Hudson’s measure, all rich people are Jews, and his daughter is a huge pop star with Billboard hits and a bestselling album who is also, presumably, rich—does this mean Katy Perry is Jewish???
January 9, 2012 | 2:45 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Even in the Bible, love is never frictionless: Brothers betray brothers, sons betray fathers, fathers their sons, and so on. The message being that above all, faith in God is the only true fidelity. But that too, love between God and Israel, can be as turbulent and unpredictable as high seas in a storm.
Love is no less complicated in the modern world. Though, as Brendan Tapley writes in Slate, it is often the reputed domain of women. It was only after suffering his own heartbreak that Tapley realized this, having sought solace in a popular culture that to his chagrin, caters more to the romantic whims of women. Shattered and withdrawn, Tapley’s best available recourse was to re-read “Jane Eyre.”
After saturating himself in English literature, including several Dickensian offerings, Tapley happened upon a recent phenomenon of Anglo culture: the Emmy-winning BBC series “Downton Abbey.” Penned by “Gosford Park’s” Julian Fellowes, ‘Downtown’ serves as a dramatic study into the relationship between 20th century British aristocrats and their servants. It is a world of love, loyalty and war, where social values are the guiding raison d’etre, and social etiquette, the only true religion. It was in this mix of privilege and penury, duty and honor, that Tapley found the secret to his heartbreak. It was where he discovered, the true measure of masculinity:
What many have derided as the era’s repression I saw as exacting a major upside: the lovers and beloveds of the time engaged in a scrupulous self-examination whose central quest was to be worthy of love. Furthermore, for the men, avoiding that quest—risking nothing in love out of fear, or apathy, or difficulty—was the true emasculation.
...The masculinity of Downton stood unapologetically opposed to this kind of posturing. What I was witnessing in Crawley, Bates, and Branson was a lived-out insistence that a soulful, ethical heart was the standard of a man’s love. It was curious to me how service to this standard did not render these men subordinate or submissive; on the contrary, it proved them real men. Even Lord Grantham, the patriarch, does not gain his nobility out of status but out of a refusal to shrink from the hard emotion as a factor in leadership, partnership, fatherhood—manhood.
Whether upstairs or downstairs, on this all men were equal. And so falling short of that standard, whether because one had loved wrongly or was wronged in love, was nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it indicated a lesson our time has perhaps forgotten: that in order to be a man, following one’s heart—no matter perception or love’s undeniable terrors—must become non-negotiable.
January 9, 2012 | 12:43 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Towards the end of the film, “My Week With Marilyn” about the 1956 production of “The Prince and the Showgirl” starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, Olivier sits alone, in a dark theatre, as a scene of Monroe dancing flashes across the screen.
She is whimsical, self-possessed, incandescent.
Barely averting his eyes when his assistant enters the room, Olivier remarks that the same quality that makes Monroe a revelation to watch is also what makes her “so profoundly sad.” It reminded me what the book critic Dwight Garner said of the recently deceased novelist Wilfrid Sheed: “His pain fed his prose like an underground well.”
If “My Week With Marilyn” is about anything at all, it is a window into a star’s disconsolate emptiness. An emptiness, it suggests, that stems from a loveless childhood.
“Do your parents love you?” Monroe asks the same 23-year-old assistant, Colin Clark, whose personal account of the film’s production and his relationship with its star provides the basis for the film. “I’m sure they do,” he replies.
“You’re lucky,” Monroe says, her face full of sorrow.
History, as well as the film, suggests Monroe tried to reconcile the unrequited needs of youth with adult love affairs. During the period in which this film is concerned, Monroe had just married the playwright Arthur Miller, and although they feigned love for the cameras, there was deep discord between them. In one scene, Monroe weeps over Miller’s journals, in which he supposedly limned terribly hurtful things about her. Later, Olivier confesses to a conversation in which Miller more and less confided that he felt emotionally terrorized by Monroe.
Of course, she is well aware of her effect on men.
One night, after swallowing too many pills, she dolefully tells Clark (who is smitten with her) that the men she loves fall in love with Marilyn Monroe, and soon as they discover who she really is, abandon her. That narrative, played over and over in her head at night, blighted by pills and intensified by alcohol, overcame her rational sense.
Overwhelmed by despair and self-doubt, Monroe’s pain fueled her performance. She could be miserable one day, majestic the next—her career, the most stable force in her life. When Clark proposes she marry him and give it all up, she knows she can’t; the spotlight is her only safe space. Love can not be counted upon.
As Roger Rosenblatt, the journalist-turned-memoirist wrote in a recent book about his daughter’s death, “All I have to keep me afloat, all I ever had, is writing.” Pain sometimes has nowhere to go but to art. Even after suffering humankind’s greatest loss, the loss of a child, Rosenblatt admits, “In every heartbreak, beauty intrudes.”
Monroe, sadly, never completely realized her own beauty—the fullness of her talent, her disarming magnetism, that extraordinary comic charm. All those gifts remained, somehow, external to herself. But with extraordinary sadness swelling inside, a sadness which ultimately led to her death, she was, for many years, a vessel through which her many mesmerizing gifts were shared with the world.
January 4, 2012 | 8:08 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last night I caught a re-run of a 60 Minutes interview in which Charlie Rose interviews the billionaire Oracle founder, Larry Ellison.
Ellison is not exactly the reigning authority on living a meaningful life—he worships money and power, and has been divorced four times—but he is undeniably someone who has lived fully.
His childhood was not easy: He did not learn he was adopted until, as an adolescent, his stepfather blurted it out one night before dinner.
A description of his roots, according to Wikipedia:
Ellison was born in the Bronx to Florence Spellman, an unwed 19-year-old. His biological father was an Italian-American U.S. Air Force pilot, who was stationed abroad before Spellman realized that she had become pregnant by him. After Larry Ellison contracted pneumonia at the age of nine months, his mother determined that she was unable to care for him adequately, and arranged for him to be adopted by her aunt and uncle in Chicago. Lillian Spellman Ellison and Louis Ellison adopted him when he was nine months old. Lillian was the second wife of Louis Ellison, an immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1905 from Russia. Larry Ellison did not meet his biological mother again until he was 48.
Ellison was raised a Reform Jew. He struggled through college, and then skipped his sophomore year final exams because his adoptive mother had died. He tried again at another school, but eventually dropped out. By age 20, he moved to Northern California where he eventually founded the software development company that would challenge Microsoft.
When Rose recalled that Ellison had spent one month of his life as the richest man in the world, topping his arch-rival Bill Gates, Ellison returned, “That was a grrrreat month.”
Ellison is quite the huckster, eager, ambitious, touting his accomplishments at every turn, but who can blame him after his adoptive father raised him with the threat that he’d never amount to anything?
“I had all the disadvantages required for success,” he said.
Ellison admits it took him awhile to learn the important things, like greatness isn’t a substitute for human closeness.
“One time [when] I was a kid, my sister walked into my room and said, ‘Larry, which is more important to you: to be admired or to be loved?’ And I looked at my very bright young sister and said, ‘Well for me, personally? To be admired.’ She looks at me and smiles—“Wrong.” Walks out. And it took me awhile to realize that all of us, all of us, want to be loved, that being loved is more important than being admired. It’s something we have a hard time accepting.”
January 4, 2012 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Longtime writing-producing-directing partners Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (“Thirtysomething”, “My So-Called Life”) will receive the Writers Guild of America, West’s 2012 Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television for lifetime achievement in television writing. The ceremony will take place Sun., Feb. 19 at the Hollywood Palladium.
Though this honor counts them “among a small group of writers who revolutionized the television drama,” Herskovitz and Zwick have also produced many notable films together, among them “Defiance” about the WWII resistance fighters, the Bielski brothers, “Love and Other Drugs,” the rom-com starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, and “The Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise. They have also been involved, centrally or peripherally in “Courage Under Fire,” “Legends of the Fall,” “I Am Sam,” “Traffic,” and “Shakespeare in Love,” for which they shared a 1999 Academy Award for Best Picture with several others producers, including Harvey Weinstein.
Having endured the requisite trials and tribulations that come with many years in the entertainment biz, they also deserve kudos for loyalty and partnership. It’s a real gift to be steadfast in challenging circumstances but these two have been as devoted as if in a marriage. In fact, at least for one of them, their partnership outlasted marriage.
Read the full press release here.
January 4, 2012 | 4:23 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Aaron Sorkin, who is somewhat of a Houdini himself, will pen a Broadway play set to star Hugh Jackman about the Jewish disappearing act, magician Harry Houdini.
Houdini was born Erik Weisz in the late 19th century in Budapest, Hungary. His father, Mayer Samuel Weisz, was a rabbi, and after the family emigrated to America in 1878 became head of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin. When his father lost his position with the shul, Mayer and son moved to New York City, where Houdini began performing tricks.
According to Wikipedia, “Ehrich Weiss took several jobs, making his public debut as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself ‘Ehrich, the Prince of the Air.’ He was also a champion cross country runner in his youth. [When] Weiss became a professional magician [he] began calling himself ‘Harry Houdini’ because he was heavily influenced by the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.”
Houdini started off performing card tricks at the circus, then performed at Coney Island, but he soon gravitated toward something Jews do best—escape acts:
From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators, on January 25, 1908, Houdini put his “handcuff act” behind him and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences.
Centuries of persecution have made many Jews expert escape artists. As my editor Rob Eshman once wrote, Jews created Israel to escape the world; they created Hollywood so the world could escape reality. Houdini’s life and work became a literal vehicle for escape, not only for himself, but for his fans. But although he enjoyed the illusions of magic, he despised dishonesty. As he matured, he took to debunking the so-called Spiritualists who claimed to commune with the dead. For awhile, he devoted himself almost entirely to exposing fraudulent Spiritualism, some say, an interest sparked by the death of his mother, by attending seances with a police officer and a reporter in order to reveal the victimization mediums inflicted upon the bereaved.
The difference between illusion and untruth is the part that most interests Sorkin. He told Deadline Hollywood’s Mike Fleming that the play will focus on the conflict between Houdini, an entertaining magician, and the Spiritualists, who claimed to have supernatural powers: “Rather than being a biography, Houdini, told in a contemporary tone, tells the story of an epic battle that took place between the world’s greatest illusionist and a trio of women, known as ‘Spiritualists,’ who convinced millions of people, including the editors of Scientific American and The New York Times, that they could communicate with the dead,” Sorkin said.