Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Michael C. Hall, the Emmy-winning star of Showtime’s “Dexter,” plays his first cinematic Jewish character in “Peep World,” Barry Blaustein’s dark comedy about four siblings who come to terms with their monstrous father (Ron Rifkin) on the eve of his 70th birthday.
Hall (“Six Feet Under”) portrays the dutiful son, Jack Meyerwitz, who is hiding an excruciatingly embarrassing secret; Sarah Silverman (“The Sarah Silverman Program”) is his needy, not-so-nice sister, Cheri; Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) is the family sad-sack; and Ben Schwartz (“Everybody’s Fine,” “Parks and Recreation”) is the favored son, Nathan, whose thinly-disguised autobiographical novel mortifies the family.
“To have yourself characterized in a negative way in something you didn’t agree to —that must be a real betrayal,” Hall said of the idea of becoming fodder for someone else’s tell-all.
While serial killer Dexter would have known exactly how to handle “Peep World’s” smug novelist, the fictional Jack isn’t the blood-splattering type. “It was interesting playing a part where an option to kill them all wasn’t there, so I had to do something different,” Hall quipped.
Here are excerpts from my conversation with Hall, Schwartz and Silverman, who last spoke to the Journal about her own autobiographical best-seller, “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee.” “I don’t think there is anyone who can say they don’t come from a dysfunctional family,” Silverman said of “Peep World.” “I think that’s what makes a family normal.” A pause. “But this family is f——d up.”
“Peep World” opens March 25 in Los Angeles.
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March 16, 2011 | 12:59 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Artist-filmmaker Julian Schnabel understands why some Jews have condemned his movie, “Miral,” which opens March 25, as an anti-Israel screed: “It comes out of fear,” he told me by phone from New York this morning. “The fear that the Holocaust occurred, that ‘We have been [decimated] and we don’t want it to happen again;’ that ‘these people, the Palestinians, are against us having a state of Israel, and we must fight for that no matter what happens.’ But I don’t believe that’s true. I believe a Jewish homeland in Israel is super important, and a great thing, but we must have empathy, we have to be sensitive. I don’t think it’s a very encouraging way to look at people, as ‘us and them.’ It isn’t us and them. We are all human beings. And what is good for the Palestinians is also good for the Israelis.”
Not everyone agrees with Schnabel about “Miral.” Mainstream Jewish groups such as American Jewish Committee and The Simon Wiesenthal Center have condemned the film as as one-sided propaganda, and in particular its United States premiere at the United Nations on Monday. “Others have attacked me because the film isn’t pro-Palestinnian enough,” Schnabel said. “I really can’t believe I’m even talking about this because ‘Miral’ is a movie about a girl and her family,” he added. “If the movie had been set in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t even be on the telephone today.”
“Miral”—which is based on an autobiographical novel by Schnabel’s girlfriend, the journalist Rula Jebreal—spotlights a Palestinian girl, orphaned after her mother commits suicide, who becomes radicalized while teaching in a refugee camp during the first Intifada in 1987. In one scene, the fictional Miral (Freida Pinto) is arrested in the middle of the night for her association with activists, then brutally beaten during her interrogation in an Israeli prison. In another, a female terrorist attempts to place a bomb in an Israeli cinema, while the rape scene from Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” plays on the screen. The sequence is a metaphor not only for the rape of Miral’s mother – which propels the woman’s suicide —but also for the protagonists’ perception of the rape of the Palestinian people, Schnabel said.
“Just as if I were painting a portrait, I’m dealing with what is in the frame that is related to Rula, and to Miral’s point of view,” said Schnabel, whose previous films include the acclaimed “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” “It’s not from my omniscient point of view of a 59-year-old Jewish guy who’s got all these different facts where I have to explain who attacked whom in the Six Days War. It’s Miral’s family history as it was told to her, and as it was lived by her. And that’s the power of the story. I can’t do this inexhaustible summation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are just too many stories.”
Not that Schnabel is without his own opinion. “When I shot the movie and lived and worked in Israel and in Palestine, I was pretty ashamed of certain situations that I witnessed,” he said. “I felt it was like apartheid over there, and that’s very disappointing. There’s democracy for Jewish people in Israel but I don’t think there’s democracy for Palestinian people….When I see a kid with pais and a yarmulke throwing a rock into a Palestinian home and screaming at them, that doesn’t seem to be the Jewish way to me.”
Schnabel knew almost nothing about Middle East politics until he met Jebreal in 2007 at an opening of his exhibition at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, a former Pope’s residence where Mussolini gave his infamous speech-on-the balcony during World War II.
Schnabel had grown up in a strongly Zionistic family; his mother was president of the Brooklyn chapter of Hadassah at the time Israel was founded in 1948, and held many terms in subsequent years. As a child, he remembers how she “sold tickets for the youth aliyah; the B’nai Brith brunches on Sundays and how all the women who came to our house were members of Hadassah.
“My mother very much wanted me to go to Israel after my bar mitzvah, but I didn’t want to go—in part because everyone else was,” Schnabel said. “I was just more interested in being an artist; it was a point of rebellion in a way.”
When Schnabel finally did visit Israel, he arrived, ironically, the day before the first Intifada began in 1987. While Jebreal was teaching children in refugee camps, he was preparing for his solo show at the Israel Museum. Schnabel recognized that there was a curfew imposed, and that he and his sister were the only people dining in an Arab-owned restaurant his second night in Israel.
While in the Jewish state, the artist had hoped to make a painting on a Bedouin tent in the desert, with Arabs and Jews, and then view it from several hills away. That didn’t happen because of the Intifadah. “Really the whole trip was more about me being an American artist talking to Israeli art students than me finding out about what was happening with the [uprising],” he said.
At that time, Schnabel was already a superstar of the art world, having achieved international recognition for his brash, large-scale paintings set on broken ceramic plates. He had also made a splash for his larger-than-life personality (wearing pajamas in public, for example, and comparing his own genius to Picasso’s).
In 1996, Schnabel made his feature film debut with “Basquiat,” a biopic of the American postmodernist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; in 2007, his Cannes-winning drama, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was based on the remarkable memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French Elle, who was struck with a rare condition that paralyzed him with all his mental faculties intact.
Schnabel’s exhibition at the Palazzo Venezia, also in 2007, was more flamboyant: “There were 40 paintings that I actually installed without building temporary walls, so you could just see modern paintings among the frescoes in these giant rooms,” he said. When he met Jebreal at the show’s opening, he assumed she was Indian, but was surprised to learn she was, in fact, Palestinian, and an Israeli citizen.
“I could almost see tension for a moment in his eyes,” Jebreal told me of that meeting. But the artist and the writer clicked; and when she susequently sent him her novel, “Miral,” he was moved and heartbroken by her story.
Pick up the March 25 issue of the Journal for more on Schnabel, Jebreal, their relationship, their collaboration on “Miral,” and the public’s response to the film.
March 14, 2011 | 8:42 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Remember Yael Naim’s quirky, ebullient song, “New Soul,” from that omnipresent MacBook Air commercial, which gleaned the French-Israeli chanteuse an almost instant surge of celebrity two years ago? On May 10, the petite, 33-year-old folk-pop artist – who this month was awarded France’s prestigious “Victoire de la Musique"award for best female singer – will celebrate the United States release of her new album, “She was a Boy” on the Tôt ou Tard label.
Naim—who was born in Paris to Tunesian parents and raised in Ramat HaSharon before returning to France— created her album, “New Soul,” with percussionist David Donatien, on a computer in her Paris apartment. Reminiscent of work by Regina Spektor, the CD features songs in English, French and Hebrew sung in Naim’s husky, whimsical voice. Apple’s Steve Jobs personally selected the “New Soul” title track for his Mac ad – which helped make Naim the first Israeli solo artist to have a Top 10 hit in the United States.
Naim again has collaborated with Donatien to create “She was a Boy;” here’s a sneak peak of her new single, “Go to The River.”
March 6, 2011 | 2:26 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
In the aftermath of Charlie Sheen’s anti-Semitic rants last week, the actor told Access Hollywood that he is MOT. Replied the show’s host: “You’re getting accused of anti-Semitic remarks; you might want to say, ‘By the way, I’m Jewish!’” “I know, I know — stupid me,” said Sheen. Now another celebrity who has been disgraced for his own anti-Semitic rants — ex-chief designer John Galliano of Dior, whose “I Love Hitler” remarks were caught on videotape —may have Jewish roots, too.
According to a March 5 profile of the fashionista in Britain’s Daily Mail, during his tenure at Dior, “Galliano became a familiar figure on the streets of Le Marais, an area of Paris popular with gays and also — ironically enough — the city’s Jewish community.
It was no secret that Galliano shared his Paris home with his long-term boyfriend Alexis Roche, a style consultant.
What is less well known is that — according to a confidant of his, whom the Mail talked to this week — the designer loved to emphasise his own Jewish ancestry.
Perched in La Perle, mojito (his preferred cocktail) in hand, Galliano would tell anyone who listened about the melting pot of his heritage.
He always insisted he had Jewish blood from the Sephardi Jews who came from Spain and Portugal in the 19th century.
Johnny is obsessed with the idea of being descended from Jews,’ the confidant, who often drank with him at La Perle, reports. ‘He was brought up a Catholic, but has always been aware of the influence Jews have had on his life.
‘Johnny was particularly fascinated by the fact that couture in Paris was traditionally a Jewish industry.’
He added that, when sober, Galliano spoke authoritatively about the Holocaust, and particularly about the fact that thousands who worked in the fashion business in Paris were murdered by the Nazis.
‘Johnny knows that Paris designers were exterminated systematically by the Nazis in living memory. To me, the freaky language in a Paris bar was just nonsense — an attempt to shock strangers in bars.
‘He just didn’t want to present them with the image they expected — he wanted to surprise. He does this on the catwalk, so why not in a bar?’
Galliano has attempted to fight back, apologising for the video and said he is not responsible for any other racist abuse.
His supporters are insisting he is not anti-Semitic but simply attention-seeking. However, their protestations are doing little to assuage the anger of his former employer; Dior hastily severed links with its star designer, and its high-profile ‘face’ Natalie Portman spoke of her ‘shock and disgust’ at his behaviour.”
Now as Galliano has checked into a rehab near Phoenix, AZ, and reportedly could face court proceedings for making racist remarks, one could very well wonder: Is Mel Gibson Jewish, too?
March 4, 2011 | 5:37 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Poor Natalie Portman—who has suffered more than her share of fools this past week—courtesy of Dior’s ex-chief designer John Galliano, and now former Arkansas governor and probable 2012 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.
First there were the alleged anti-Semitic remarks by Galliano of Dior, where the Jerusalem-born Portman is model/spokesperson for the fragrance Miss Dior Cherie. In two separate incidents—one of them caught on videotape—Galliano allegedly spewed statements such as “I Love Hitler” to patrons at Paris’ La Perle restaurant. In her own statement, Portman said she was “deeply shocked and disgusted” by the video.
Huckabee aimed his remarks directly at Portman; OK, they weren’t anti-Semitic, but they in effect critiqued the actress for showing up to the Academy Awards unmarried and pregnant. (The pregnancy comes courtesy of her fiance, the ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, whom she met while preparing for her Oscar-winning role as a tormented ballerina in “Black Swan.”) In an interview on “The Michael Medved Show” on Monday, Huckabee suggested that such a public appearance helps to “glorify and glamorize” the idea of unwed motherhood: “One of the things that’s troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, ‘Hey look, you know, we’re having children, we’re not married, but we’re having these children, and they’re doing just fine.’ But there aren’t really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie,” he said. “And I think it gives a distorted image.”
In a statement issued March 4, Huckabee clarified: “In a recent media interview about my new book, ‘A Simple Government,’ I discussed the first chapter, “The Most Important Form of Government Is a Father, Mother, and Children.” I was asked about Oscar-winner Natalie Portman’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Natalie is an extraordinary actor, very deserving of her recent Oscar and I am glad she will marry her baby’s father. However, contrary to what the Hollywood media reported, I did not “slam” or “attack” Natalie Portman, nor did I criticize the hardworking single mothers in our country. My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death. That’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that society often glorifies and glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock.”
So who is Mike Huckabee to comment on single/unwed motherhood or any kind of parenting? Dan Savage, the liberal political pundit and sex advice columnist, had some thoughts about this in his recent blog, “Huckabee Bears False Witness Against Gay Families.”
In his post about Portman, Savage noted, “Did Mike have anything to say when Bristol Palin got pregnant and made the choice to go through with the pregnancy?....I don’t recall Mike saying anything about Bristol glamorizing the idea of having children out of wedlock—nothing from Mike about all those glamorous US Magazine covers featuring Bristol and her baby or her flat-footed stint on Dancing With the Stars. But Portman is to be faulted—a woman with a career, a woman with the means to take care of her child, a woman who, unlike Bristol, is still involved with the father of her child-to-be.”
Dan Quayle and “Murphy Brown,” anyone?
FOR AUDIO, CLICK ON THE COPY ABOVE READING “IN AN INTERVIEW ON ‘THE MICHAEL MEDVED SHOW’ ON MONDAY.”
March 1, 2011 | 1:08 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
The Oscar-winning, Jerusalem-born Natalie Portman has slammed the anti-Semitic remarks Dior’s just-axed chief designer John “I Love Hitler” Galliano allegedly made after assaulting a couple in Paris last week, as caught on video. The Miss Dior Cherie spokesperson/model—who pointedly did not wear Dior but Rodarte to the Oscars—released a statement:
“I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video,” the “Black Swan” star said. “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way. I hope at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”
Dior fired Galliano, a favorite at the company company since 1996, in the aftermath of his rants: “In light of the deeply offensive statements and conduct by John Galliano in a video made public [Monday], Christian Dior has commenced termination procedures against him,” one statement reads. “We unequivocally condemn the statements made by John Galliano which are in total contradiction to the longstanding core values of Christian Dior.”
Move over, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen.
So here’s the chain of events to incidents that give a whole new dimension to the term, “Fashion Victim:” Last week, Galliano was suspended from Dior after allegedly spewing a drunken tirade at a couple sitting near him in Paris’ La Perle restaurant (sample: “Dirty Jewish face…you should be dead,” he yelled at the woman—who reportedly turned out not to even be MOT—while insulting her thighs and eyebrows. And “f—king Asian bastard,” he told the man, before threatening to murder him.
Dior suspended the haute fashionista, citing their “zero tolerance” policy toward anti-Semitism and racism; an indignant Galliano filed a defamation suit against the couple. But then that disturbing “I Love Hitler” video surfaced—reportedly filmed last year at La Perle—with Galliano caught on tape slurring about his admiration for The Fuhrer and telling another woman that her family would be gassed and that he wouldn’t want peace with “people [such as herself] who are ugly.”
Portman publicly voiced her disapproval, as did Dior’s President and CEO Sidney Toledano. “I condemn most firmly the statements made by John Galliano which are total contradiction with the essential values that have always been defended by the House of Christian Dior,” he stated. “Today, because of the particularly odious nature of the behavior and words of John Galliano in a video made public this Monday, the Christian Dior house has decided to lay him off immediately and has begun firing procedures against him.”
So now the question is: Will Dior’s fashion show continue as planned for Friday, even though it was conceived by the disgraced designer? If it does, at least one Oscar-winning actress may not be in the audience. However, Portman did film her sexy commercial for Dior’s perfume as scheduled last week, directed by Sofia Coppola (see video below).
February 27, 2011 | 11:14 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
There was Aaron Sorkin’s win for scripting “The Social Network;” Natalie Portman’s for her turn as a deranged ballerina in “Black Swan;” David Seidler‘s for his original screenplay, “The King’s Speech;” Jesse Eisenberg vs. James Franco for best actor, with Colin Firth taking home that prize for his portrayal of the stuttering monarch of “The King’s Speech.” In between, there were the usual bon mots and faux pas that characterize the Academy Awards—which this year is getting panned by some critics (at least so far) as among the worst ever. Even so, there were some interesting moments:
- Oscar co-hosts James Franco (MOT) and Anne Hathaway in a parody of “Inception’s” sci-fi dream sequences—with a dreidl standing in for the spinning top that signals when that film’s protagonist is still in the dream state. Hathaway: “What are you doing?” Franco: “I’m just trying to see if we’re still in a dream.” Hathaway: “With a dreidl?”
- James Franco thanking his grandmother in the audience, who informs him that she just saw “Marky Mark.” “No, Grandma,” he corrects her. “That’s actually Mark Wahlberg.”
- Franco’s unscripted crack after Melissa Leo dropped the f-bomb while accepting her supporting actress statuette: “Congratu-effing-lations.”
- Aaron Sorkin’s pithy acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay, in which he informs his daughter: “Roxy Sorkin, your father just won the Academy Award. I’m going to have to demand some respect from your guinea pig.”
- The elegant David Seidler, 74, on winning the original screenplay award for “The King’s Speech:” “My father always said to me I’d be a late bloomer. I believe I’m the oldest person ever to win this particular award. I hope this record is broken quickly and often.” Seidler also thanked “her majesty the Queen for not putting me in the Tower of London” for putting f-words in the mouth of her father, George VI, the speech-impaired King of the film. In my interview with Seider, he attributed his stutter in large part to the trauma of fleeing the Blitz with his Jewish family during World War II. The film’s critical acclaim has made him feel “I have a voice,” he told the Academy. “I have been heard.”
- The documentary short “Strangers No More”—which spotlights the multinational students at the Biolik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv—winning the documentary short contest, prompting one of its filmmakers to thank “The children who opened their hearts to us.” The students had fled poverty and warfare in 48 countries before arriving in Israel.
- Past Oscar host Billy Crystal inserting a bit of shtick as he joked that the show was running a little long, “so here’s best picture”—long before the end of the show.
Here’s the trailer for “Strangers No More:”
February 26, 2011 | 7:09 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Ever since James Franco agreed to host the Academy Awards on Feb. 27 with Anne Hathaway, I’ve thought back to my interview with him last year during a break from his performance-art project involving the soap opera “General Hospital” at the Museum of Contemporary Art. His multifaceted endeavors back then were enough to make anyone feel like a slacker; now add hosting the Oscars, where Franco himself is competing in the best actor category for his harrowing turn as hiker Aron Ralston in “127 Hours” (a.k.a. the guy who cut off his own arm to free himself after being trapped in a canyon for five days). Franco won the best actor prize today for that role at the 2011 Independent Spirit Film Awards (catch the ceremony tonight, Feb. 26, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on IFC).
When I spoke to Franco about his “General Hospital” piece, in which he experimented with his own celebrity, I also had the opportunity to speak with his mother, the author Betsy Franco, of Palo Alto, CA. At the time, she was also appearing on the soap opera (playing—what else—mom to Franco’s character). Here are some excerpts from our conversation about her son’s early (and eclectic) artistic endeavors:
NPM: James told me that in his early teens he sometimes got in trouble for tagging, which is interesting because his “General Hospital” character is a graffiti artist.
BF: He often got caught and that was good for him because then he got consequences and could figure out what he wanted to do. His outlet [became] reading and drawing, just like crazy, spending most of his time doing that. And he just jumped into his studies, head first, and just turned around 180 degrees. I personally speak at high schools to tell kids the importance of creativity; if that’s where they need to go, it’s very important that they do so. It can save people—and not just save people, it can make their lives. But they have to understand that they have to be as creative about how to make that happen as doing the art itself.
NPM: Do you still have some of James’ early artwork?
BF: Oh, yes. He was doing a lot of figure drawing, almost every night, and then he went to a summer school program for gifted artists and writers which was at CalArts, in Valencia, when he was in between 11th and 12th grades. He went for art, and it changed him; it opened his mind, it changed his style and it just broke everything open. It was a wonderful place; there were performance artists and there were teachers that just influenced him tremendously; just pushed him and pushed him until he saw he had been too confined [in his previous work].
NPM: When do you remember him starting to act?
BF: He had been in plays in high school. Actually we were shocked when he came home one day and said he was the lead, because I thought he was focusing on art. We were like, “Really? This is the first drama class you’ve taken.” When he went to UCLA he finally told us [about his professional acting ambitions]; a friend of his had said that there was a playhouse nearby and would he like to come and take some classes, and that just really fit the bill for him. He finally told us that he was going to the program and that he was really loving it, and that’s how it all started.
NPM: What kind of Jewish content did you have in your home while your three sons were growing up? (Franco’s father, Doug, is not Jewish.)
BF: My kids know that I’m Jewish; they know they’re Jewish. And Doug totally appreciates and honors Judaism. I tried to pass down all the wonderful things I grew up with, including the humor and certain beliefs and attitudes: an open-mindedness, a caring for people. Doug is even more that way; he’s a humanitarian and he spends half his time doing humanitarian work. And just the humor which can really get you through life; the emphasis on education and constant learning, and I feel liike creativity is part of it, as well as a respect for individuals.