Posted by Tom Tugend
It took 64 years, with a detour to Israel’s War of Independence, but Mitchell Flint is finally getting to see the London Olympic Games, live and in person.
In the summer of 1948, Flint looked back on a four-year stint as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II and had just earned his degree as an industrial engineer at the Berkeley campus of the University of California.
At the same time, the newly declared State of Israel was struggling to defend itself from six invading Arab armies and, Flint recalls, “I’m Jewish, Israel desperately needed trained fighter pilots, so I thought I could perhaps do something to sustain the state.”
Applying for a passport in San Francisco, Flint was asked by an official about the purpose for his trip. It was illegal for an American citizen to fight for a foreign nation, so Flint, on the spur of the moment, said, “I’m going to London to see the Olympics.”
The Olympic Games had been suspended during the war years after the 1936 Nazi-staged competitions in Berlin. The 1948 resumption in London was dubbed the Austerity Olympics in Britain, where rationing was still in force, and visiting teams were asked to bring their own food.
Flint’s father, himself an American naval aviator in World War I, had died and Mitchell’s widowed mother was determined that her son, having survived one war, would not risk his neck in another conflict.
So falling back on his earlier fabrication, Flint assured his mother that he was just going over to watch the Olympics as a graduation present to himself.
He stayed in London just long enough to convince some distant British relatives to send pre-written postcards to his mother at given intervals, assuring her that he was fine and extending his travels to other European countries.
Actually his Israeli undercover contact sent Flint to Czechoslovakia to train in some rebuilt Messerschmitts, Germany’s main fighter plane during World War II, and then on to Israel to join the country’s fledgling air force.
Alongside a couple of Israeli pilots, who had served in Britain’s Royal Air Force, augmented by volunteers from the United States, Canada and South Africa, Flint got to fly – and crash – in unreliably reconfigured Messerschmitts, as well as Mustangs and Spitfires.
He remembers most vividly leading a strafing and bombing run on the Fallujah Pocket in the Negev, where encircled Egyptian troops, commanded by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser (later Egypt’s president), were holding out against Israeli forces.
Returning to the United States, Flint settled in Los Angeles, switched professions to become a lawyer, married his wife Joyce, and welcomed two sons into the world.
Now 89, Flint, always a sports buff, mentioned occasionally how sorry he was not to have seen any of the events at the 1948 London Olympics. His son, Mike, listened and proposed that the two of them make up for lost time by flying to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Speaking from a hotel in the British capital, the elder Flint described attending the spectacular opening ceremonies, and plans to be on hand for the tennis and equestrian competitions, as well as the closing ceremonies.
On Tuesday (7/31), a television crew from NBC’s affiliate in Los Angeles broadcast an interview with the senior Flint, but son Mike, a movie producer, has more ambitious plans in mind.
Inspired by his father’s deeds and reminiscences, Mike has been lining up money and talent for a full-scale documentary feature on the birth of the Israeli air force, titled “Angeles in the Sky.”
The project’s website lists as director three-time Oscar winner Mark Jonathan Harris, writer Jack Epps Jr. (“Top Gun” “Dick Tracy”), composers Allan Jay Friedman and Jonathan Tunick, executive producer Mark Lansky and producer Mike Flint.
Oscar and Emmy nominee Carol Connors, who co-wrote the theme song for “Rocky,” was so taken by the “Angels” story that she has already composed a theme song for the film, Mike Flint said.
He is aiming for the film’s release in 2013 to mark the 65th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth.
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July 22, 2012 | 11:23 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Nearly 70 years after Hitler’s downfall, the legal and political struggles continue to return Nazi-looted art works, dubbed “the last prisoners of war,” to their original Jewish owners.
The documentary follows the twists and turns, involving a large cast of Austrian and American museum directors, art dealers, politicians and various sleazy characters, which finally led to the recovery in 2010 of Viennese painter Egon Schiele’s portrait of his mistress, nicknamed “Wally”.
Currently, the film is screening at Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino through Thursday (July 26),and on subsequent weekends at thje Town Center and the Monica Theatre in Santa Monica. For background and details on the documentary, visit www.portraitofwally.com.
July 1, 2012 | 3:30 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Neil Friedman, the head man at Menemsha Films, e-mailed a reminder that “The Matchmaker,” one of Israel’s quirkiest and most memorable films, is now playing at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills, Fallbrook 7 in West Hills and Town Center in Encino.
Whatever images come to mind when encountering the title “The Matchmaker,” don’t expect a heartwarming shtetl romance or a Hollywoodish “Father of the Bride” comedy.
The film, whose Hebrew title translates as “Once I Was,” has its humorous moments, but basically it is an honest though sympathetic view of the underbelly of Israeli society, its outsiders, from scarred Holocaust survivors and black market dealers to prostitutes and, I kid you not, seven dwarfs.
Set in Haifa’s Lower City, the often gritty harbor area, far from the well-appointed homes on Mount Carmel, with their magnificent views of the Mediterranean, the time is 1968, one year after Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War.
Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), the title’s matchmaker, is right at home in this milieu. A Holocaust survivor, whose backstory we never learn, he is a man with a scarred face, whose professional motto is, “I’ll give you what you need, not what you want,” and who “specializes on special cases” among his clientele.
One is Sylvia (Bat-El Papura), caught up in the real-life story of seven Romanian dwarfs, fancied by Dr. Mengele for his Auschwitz experiments, who came to Israel and opened a movie theater in the Lower City, showing only romance pictures, mainly from India.
With a beautiful, luminous face, Sylvia “has a big heart in a small body,” as Yankele tells potential suitors.
Then there’s Meir (Dror Keren), the shy, unprepossessing librarian, who takes lessons in the social graces from the beautiful and mysterious Clara (Maya Dagan), who hides her Holocaust scars and is Yankele’s constant companion and ally in some of his shadier dealings.
Joining this odd set of characters is Arik Burstein (Tuval Shafir), a 17-year old sabra from a middle-class family, who is recruited by Yankele to scout for new prospects and as a private eye to check out backgrounds of dubious clients.
Arik yearns to become a soldier and war hero, but in the meanwhile is a voracious reader of the then popular Stalag novels, in which sadistic Nazis made sport with voluptuous Jewish women prisoners.
The boy shares the belief of most Israelis of the time that the Holocaust survivors in their midst were kind of freakish and must have done something highly immoral and devious in the camps to escape death.
Since Arik’s own parents are survivors, he dare not ask them about their own experiences, even if they were willing to discuss them, for fear of what he might find out.
While Israel’s outsiders continued to struggle, for most young natives 1968 was the year they discovered the summer of love, rock music and other American innovations.
For Arik, loves comes in the shapely form of Tamara (Neta Porat), daughter of a wealthy Iraqi family, who was raised in the United States. She brings startling news of women’s liberation, free love, and jumps fully clothed into a water fountain during a chaste scout meeting.
Director and co-writer of “The Matchmaker” is Avi Nesher and the film reflects much of his life and upbringing.
He grew up the son of Holocaust survivors, who never spoke of their past, and, as a 15-year old in 1968, Nesher absorbed the changes brought about by the Six-Day War victory and the youthful revolts of the decade.
Nesher spent much of his adolescence in the United States, returned to Israel for his army service, where, to his embarrassment, he found out that he now spoke Hebrew with an American accent (and English with an Israeli accent).
At 23, he made his first film, “The Troupe,” about an army entertainment group, which was an instant hit. He followed with a number of other successful movies, but received so much flak with his 1984 picture “Rage and Glory,” about the pre-state underground Stern gang, that he decided to leave for Hollywood.
During a decade in the movie capital, he made a series of low-budget films, which made the studios – and him – a nice pot of money.
However, as his children grew up, he decided it was time to return to Israel, and right away scored big with the 2004 movie “Turn Left at the End of the World,” which became the biggest-grossing movie in Israeli history.
“The Matchmaker” is Nesher’s most personal film to date, and while he abhors the idea of making a genre “Holocaust” movie, it is a subject which he and Israel cannot leave behind.
“The memory and mythology of the Shoah is in our DNA, for good or for bad,” Nesher said in a lengthy phone interview. “This catastrophe is still unresolved, it needs to be discussed and understood. It is part of the dialogue between myself and my kids.”
“The Matchmaker,” he insisted, is not a Holocaust film. “It is mainly a coming-of-age movie, about a kid growing up, he learns about the Holocaust, while at the same time finding out about the nature of love.”
Nesher feels equally at home in Israel and in the United States, he said, and writes in English and Hebrew with equal fluency. He acknowledges, though, that he would find it difficult to survive in the Jewish homeland without being able to follow his beloved New York Giants on ESPN.
His family reflects the international outlook. “My father came from Romania, my mother is from Russia, my wife is Italian, and my kids are American,” he said. His next film will be about an American woman living in Israel.
“The Matchmaker” won two Ophirs, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars, one for Adir Miller in the title role as best actor, the second to Maya Dagan (Clara) as best actress.
Nesher, now 58, finds making movies in Israel “intoxicating,” with special psychological rewards. “When I run on the beach in the morning, some seven or eight people will stop me to say something nice about my last picture or ask me what I’ll be doing next,” he said.
June 30, 2012 | 2:32 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Mazal Tov to Joseph Cedar, the talented Israeli director, on his election to membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. With a total of four feature films to his credit, two have made the final cut of five nominees for the Oscar in the foreign language film category.
They are the gritty “Beaufort,” based on the New York-born director’s own Lebanon War experiences, and this year’s “Footnote,” probing the rivalry of two Talmudic scholars who are also father and son.
There is no doubt in my mind that one day Cedar will be raising up his own Oscar statuette.
June 2, 2012 | 1:26 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
One of the most reliable movie plots has a bunch of losers (klutzes/ Dead End Kids/ prisoners) straighten out and fly right under the inspirational guidance of a gruff but kind-hearted (priest/teacher/prison warden).
In a kosher variation of this theme, “The Yankles” features a group of Yeshiva rabbis and students, fully outfitted with talaysim and flying payess, setting their hearts on competing In baseball’s college world series. But who will be the coach among the pious rabbis?
As luck would have it, major leaguer Charlie Jones (Brian Wimmer) has just been sentenced to 120 hours of community service after his third DUI arrest, and worse, dropping an easy fly ball in the deciding game of the (real) World Series.
Working with rotund Rabbi Meyer ( Kenneth F. Brown) as his assistant and Yiddish translator, and with Elliott (Michael Buster), a semi-pro player turned yeshiva bocher, Charlie miraculously whips the lads into shape.
In his spare time, Charlie romances Deborah (Susanne Sutchy), and though she reciprocates his affection, tells him that as a nice Jewish girl she cannot marry anyone outside the tribe.
But back to the real action – despite the machinations of an anti-Semitic league official, who sounds and looks a lot like Rush Limbaugh and schedules the deciding game on a Saturday, the Yankles make it to the championship playoff.
All right, it’s now the bottom of the ninth inning, the Yankles trail by one run, have two out and two on base, slugger Elliott at the plate has two strikes against him, here comes the pitch, Elliott swings…..
For the final score you’ll have to pick up a “Yankles” Blue-Ray or DVD at a retailer or through amazon.com.
Co-producers and directors are brothers David and Zev Brooks.
June 1, 2012 | 11:14 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
There is no more archetypical American story than that of the greenhorn immigrant, who first ekes out a living by the sweat of his brow, works his way up and kvells as his children and grandchildren become 100 percent American doctors or lawyers – or writers.
Such is the story of “The Immigrant,” Mark Herelik’s play about his grandfather, Haskell Harelik, who left pogrom-ridden Russia in 1909 to settle as a fruit peddler in Hamilton, a small farming town on the Texas plains.
Dressed in black, with tallit and yarmulke and trying desperately to sell his bunch of bananas in Yiddish, Haskell couldn’t appear stranger to small-town WASPS if he had been a Martian time-traveler with antennas sticking out of his head.
Yet he finds an unexpected welcome in the home of Milton Perry, the town banker, and especially by the warm-hearted Ima, Perry’s wife.
At Ima’s urging, the Perrys even rent a room in the house to Haskell and the banker loans money to the peddler so he can open his own fruit store.
The odd but gradually ripening friendship is threatened when Haskell decides to bring his bride Leah over from the old country, who produces three children to enliven the once quiet and uncrowded home.
At the same time, the two couples discover that despite all good will, it is difficult to shake old stereotypes and expressions. Perry, signing a loan contract, assures Haskell that “I won’t Jew you down if you don’t Jew me down,” and Leah point out to Ima that, after all, “the Jews are God’s chosen people,”
One the other hand, there is no denying that Leah prepares a great Shabbes dinner, to which the Perrys are invited, but in the only attempt at interfaith dialogue, all hell breaks loose.
With Hitler saber-rattling in Europe and war looming on the horizon, Haskell argues passionately that the United States should open its borders to refugees. Perry counters just as fervently that Europe’s troubles are none of America’s business, and as the dispute gets louder, Perry storms out of the house.
“The Immigrant” ends of a bittersweet note and is carried, under Howard Teichman’s direction, by convincing performances in the current production by the West Coast Jewish Theatre through July 15 at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles.
The fine cast consists of Gary Patent as Haskell, Anthony Gruppuso as Perry, Cheryl David – a special delight – as Ima, and Dana Shaw as Leah.
“The Immigrant” bowed at the Taper Forum in 1991 as a regular play, but reprises now in a different incarnation as a musical, in which the actors/singers carry the plot forward through a kind of singing narrative.
All the principals have strong voices, but we found the musical addition more distracting than inspiring,
For tickets and information, phone (323) 860-6620 or visit www.wcjt.org.
April 30, 2012 | 6:28 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Tom is a contributing editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and the West Coast correspondent for the Jerusalem Post in Israel, Jewish Chronicle in Britain, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York. He has written on films for the Los Angeles Times and occasional features for Hadassah Magazine, Lifestyles and other publications.
Born in Berlin, Tom came to this country with his parents in May 1939. He holds a journalism degree from the University of California Berkeley, a bachelor’s certificate from the University of Madrid (Spain), and a master’s degree in history from UCLA.
Between the ages of 18 and 25, he participated in three wars, more or less, including World War II as a combat infantryman in Europe, and as an army editor during the Korean conflict. In between, he volunteered for Israel’s War of Independence, serving as squad leader in an anti-tank unit.
With such an auspicious start, he considered becoming a professional soldier of fortune, but changed his mind when he discovered he could earn almost as much as a journalist than as an army sergeant. He started as a copyboy and reporter on the San Francisco Chronicle, and then went to Spain to study and work for the Associated Press and as editor of an English-language weekly.
After this and other adventures, Tom settled down for the next 30 or so years as a science writer and communications director at UCLA, but moonlighted throughout as a free-lance journalist. For a break, he worked for a year at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel as head of its public relations department.
Tom is now a fulltime journalist, has reported from Buenos Aires to Bombay, and on every topic, from the trivial to the profound. He has been honored three times with the Rockower Award, three times by the Greater Los Angeles Press Club for best news story by a foreign correspondent, the Distinguished Journalist Award by the Society of Professional Journalists, and was given a lifetime achievement award by the American Jewish Press Association.
In 1993, he received a grant from the Fund for Journalism on Jewish Life for an investigative report on PBS coverage of the Middle East. He has contributed to a number of books, including a profile of Steven Spielberg in “Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays and Values”.
His Jerusalem-born wife Rachel, to whom he owes his tennis instruction and the fact that he is still alive and functioning, has been married to Tom for 55 years, and vice versa. They have three lovely daughters and eight grandchildren, all above average.