Because this is the 20th anniversary of the Washington DC Jewish Film Festival, all of the previous festival directors were given the chance to pick their favorites from past years to put on this year’s schedule. That is how I got to see “From Swastika to Jim Crow” today.
Hitler came to power in January of 1933. In April of that year, Jewish professors started being dismissed from universities and within a month, most of them were gone. About 1200 came to the United States. And of that group, about 50 ended up at one of the traditionally black colleges. Finding themselves in areas segregated by law and culture, these “refugee scholars” were in “double exile.” They had lost their home, their country, their friends, their families, their jobs, and their language. And they were in a place where they were seen as triply suspicious outsiders — Jews, immigrants, intellectuals.
Interviews with the professors, their families, and their students and archival footage bring us into the world of these immigrants, who found they had more in common with their black students and colleagues than with the white members of the community. It is especially poignant when one explains that the black students were better able than whites to comprehend the information that came out about the Holocaust atrocities because “the notion of man’s inhumanity was not foreign” to them. The white community did not accept the refugee scholars but that does not mean they did not tell them how to live. One was threatened for entertaining students in his home. A newspaper headline notes: “White Professor Fined $25 for Eating with a Negro.”
One-time students, now distinguished scholars themselves, talk movingly about these professors, whose struggle, survival, and commitment to excellence and knowledge was itself an education.
An exhibit inspired by the movie is now at the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage and will go on tour.
“Julie & Julia” is — I can’t help it — a scrumptiously satisfying film about writer/director Nora Ephron’s two favorite subjects: food and marriage.It is based on two true stories. Julia Child revolutionized American notions about food with her cookbook and PBS series that brought haute cuisine to the “servantless” American housewife in the early 1960’s. Cookbooks and magazines in those days had recipes that included canned peas and crushed potato chips. But Child (Meryl Streep), newly settled in Paris with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) fell in love with the fresh, subtle, deeply sensual quality of French cooking and decided to study at the Cordon Bleu. She was an unlikely epicure and an even more unlikely spokeswoman, over six feet tall and with a rather horsey quality, a voice with a trill that made her sound like a cross between Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Francis of the Ding-Dong School. But she was passionate, knowledgeable, accessible, and completely fearless. She boned a duck with knives that could slice through granite and scooped up food from the floor and put it back on the plate, crisply assuring her audience that it was all right because no one could see them in the kitchen. Americans fell in love with boeuf bourguignon, chocolate mousse, and with Julia, too. Half a century later, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) was in need of some of Julia’s resolute forthrightness. While her “cobb salad lunch” friends made million-dollar deals on their cell phones, Julie had a half-finished novel and a job answering the phone in a cubicle, listening to the problems of people seeking help with their 9/11-related injuries and losses. She and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) lived in a tiny, dingy apartment over a pizza place, with a handkerchief-sized kitchen. But Julie wanted to do something big and important. She wanted to finish something. And so she decided to work her way through Julia’s famous cookbook, to take on every recipe including deboning a duck, to do it all in one year, and to do it in public, on the then-novel outlet of a blog. Both Julie and Julia were drawn to the literally hands-on nature of cooking, the sense of purpose and mastery, and the generosity of it. Ephron’s screenplay, based on memoirs by each of its main characters, touches on the parallels without overdoing it. And one of the sweetest is the rare portrayal of tender, devoted, and, yes, very passionate married love, even more palpably luscious than the abbondanza array of diet-busting delicacies.It is the Julia story that is the heart of this film and it is Meryl Streep who is at the heart of this story. A little bit of movie magic makes the 5’6″ actress tower over her co-stars and even the furniture. But it is sheer, once-to-a-planet acting that makes Child so touching and inspiring. No one is more adorable than Amy Adams, and she wrinkles her little nose and throws her little tantrums as a twinkly romantic movie heroine must. But Streep as Child is revelatory, real, and irresistible. In one scene, when she responds to some good news from her sister (wonderfully played by Jane Lynch), the mixture of emotions that cross Streep’s face in a moment tell us of decades of pain. In another, as the Childs and their friends celebrate Valentine’s Day, we see an expression of love and trust so deep and enduring and joyous and sexy that it makes most expressions of movie romance feel like whipped cream made with skim milk and fake sugar.This is a movie about food and love and courage and dreams and lots and lots of butter, and doing something — cooking or acting — brilliantly and with gusto. And it is delicious, nourishing, and good to the last drop.
Back before the days when trashy faux celebrities from tawdry reality shows merited magazine covers and “gangsta” rappers postured and pretended to be killers, there was once a romanticized fascination with actual killers with names like “Baby Face” and “Pretty Boy.”
John Dillinger needed no infantalized nickname. He robbed at least 24 banks and killed several people, including police officers. But he had a rakish audacity and an innate populism that endeared him to people during the depths of the Depression. “I’m not here for your money,” he says to one bank customer who had the bad luck to be there during a robbery. “I’m here for the bank’s money.”
Dillinger became the most wanted man in America by law enforcement authorities and helped inspire the enactment of new federal laws and increases in budget and authority for the FBI. His story, ended when he was gunned down by the FBI coming out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago, has been the subject of many books and movies, and now this latest starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger, Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, and directed by Michael Mann (“Miami Vice,” “Collateral”).
In this diligent but somehow chilly and uninvolving retelling of the story the details seems right and Depp delivers a performance of enormous depth, maturity, and appeal. Bale, however, is a cipher as Pervis, leaving the story unbalanced.
It’s a forest and trees problem. The details are all careful and often arresting, but there’s no real sense of what the movie’s overall story is or why it is being told. We know how it will end, indeed we are there to see the big shootout, but that removes much of the suspense. Depp is fascinating as always but Dillinger himself is not all that interesting. Is he a sociopath? Is it desperation or rebellion? The focus on just the last portion of his short life does not give us enough of a clue. When he has the inevitable crime movie scene with Dillinger and his devoted girlfriend (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as a Depression-era Bess the landlord’s daughter), dreaming of escaping to a peaceful life, it is unconnected to anything about him we have seen before. What do we learn from this violent man’s devotion to one woman? He is impulsive but cagey, shrewd about today but not about next week, cocky but fatalistic.
And the movie fails to connect in any meaningful way to the parallels in today’s world. It’s a hat movie, pretty good but nothing more.
Once again, we now have a population that might secretly side with someone who robs banks, feeling that it is a just reversal of what the banks have done to us. But these days, we don’t glamorize criminals any more. We’re too busy keeping up with Jon and Kate.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission issued its seventh report in ten years on the marketing of violent media to children. While the movie industry is doing better at preventing children who are underage from buying tickets to R-rated films and DVDs, the report shows that there is still a long way to go, especially with the marketing of PG-13 movies.
With respect to PG-13 movies, studios continue to market these films purposefully and directly to children under 13. In its review of marketing plans and ad placements, the Commission found explicit and pervasive targeting of very young children for PG-13 movies. The marketing overview for the DVD release of one PG-13 movie, for example, described the movie’s “#1 Key Demo” as parents 25 and older and kids 8 to 14….The studios’ marketing submissions for the six PG-13 movies showed that all were heavily promoted to children under 13 in advertising on children’s cable networks – “Kids’ Cable” – and through promotional tie-ins with candy, snack foods, kids meals, toys, and other licensed products.
Studios also conducted marketing research on young children, including in one instance children as young as 7 years old. When research results showed that children and parents were concerned about the level of violence in the film, studios sometimes even altered their advertising to make the film appear less frightening, rather than market to an older audience. One studio, for example, copy tested ads for its PG-13 movie on various age groups, including children ages 7 to 9 and 10 to 12. The studio found that 80% of boys in these age groups showed definite interest in seeing the movie but also found that many parents were concerned that the movie was too violent. The written report stated that “parents, in large numbers, complain about the violence in [this movie], saying they wouldn’t want to expose their children to that.” The solution proposed by the studio was to “experiment with spots that include less intense action and more humourous/light-hearted moments in order to convince more parents that [this less frightening, rather than market to an older audience. One studio, for example, copy tested ads for its PG-13 movie on various age groups, including children ages 7 to 9 and 10 to 12. The studio found many parents were concerned that the movie was too violent. The written report stated that “parents, in large numbers, complain about the violence in [this movie], saying they wouldn’t want to expose their children to that.” The solution proposed by the studio was to “experiment with spots that include less intense action and more humourous/light-hearted moments in order to convince more parents that [this movie] will be safe to see. (emphasis added)
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has issued a statement on the report, calling for broader authority for the FTC over the marketing of media to children.
We are pleased that FTC questions the effectiveness of the film industry’s self-regulatory efforts. The report dismisses the MPAA’s much-hyped referral agreement with the Children’s Advertising Review Unit – an agreement the MPAA claimed would address concerns about PG-13 marketing – as “not a meaningful self-regulatory measure.” The report also notes that the MPAA does not consider movie cross-promotions or other marketing tie-ins to be within its purview, despite the fact these techniques are often part of a deliberate strategy to target younger children. In one instance, the FTC found that the target demographic for licensed products was for a violent PG-13 film was boys 3 to 11.
The FTC report also covers the change to the trailer rules I first wrote about in September and the access to “red band trailers” over the internet. Those trailers are shown in theaters only before R-rated movies to assure that they are not shown to children. But online, they are available to anyone.
A new concern in the online venue has been the proliferation of red tag trailers for R-rated movies on websites without adequate age-based restrictions. Mature Audience trailers (for films expected to be rated R- or NC-17) are preceded by a red tag stating that the preview has been approved for “restricted audiences only” and indicating the movie’s rating and rating reasons. Red tag trailers generally contain content that caused the film to be issued a restrictive rating and thus are subject to more stringent time, media, and venue restrictions.
According to the MPAA’s Advertising Administration, red tag trailers on the Internet must be placed behind an age-gate or similar mechanism to ensure that children under the age of 18 will not easily be able to view the material….Five of the six [video-hosting] sites contained at least one red tag trailer for viewing. Two of the websites did not use any age-screening mechanisms before allowing the user to watch the trailers. Even on the three sites that did, the user could circumvent the age gates by hitting the “back” button to the previous page and re-entering his or her age as 17 or older. (footnotes omitted)
The Commission also raised concerns about other issues, including the marketing of “unrated” DVD versions of theatrically released films. I will post additional information about the FTC’s findings on games and music and will also provide updates on any response from the MPAA or other industry groups.