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Jewish Journal

A (Defiantly) Jewish Film by Barry Levinson

The director reaches back to his youth to complete his film quartet

by Naomi Pfefferman

November 11, 1999 | 7:00 pm

In a pivotal scene in "Liberty Heights," the fourth film in Barry Levinson's semi-autobiographical "Baltimore" series, three Jewish teenagers crash a country club that excludes Jews.

They tear down the sign that says, "No Jews, Dogs or Coloreds Allowed" and throw it in the trash. Then they stride to the lakeside, where they reveal that one boy has painted a large letter "J" on his chest, the second, the letter "E," the third, a "W." As the startled sunbathers look on, the teens defiantly stand together to spell the word, "J-E-W."

It was the same kind of defiance that led the Oscar-winning director to reach back into his Baltimore youth to create "Liberty Heights" last year.

The movie was born after Levinson read a review of his sci-fi thriller, "Sphere" that he perceived to be anti-Semitic in tone. The critic wrote that Dustin Hoffman's character wasn't 'officially Jewish,' but was 'noodgey and menschlike.' "The implication is that if the character has all these traits, he must be Jewish," Levinson says. "And I felt really angry about the notion that there's one kind of Jew, or one kind of anyone."

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