Filmmaker Paul Mazursky is one of those Jewish guys from Brooklyn who helped change American culture forever after World War II. I was a teenager when Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was released in 1969, and I remember it well as a "water cooler event." BCTA raked in four Oscar nominations (plus awards from the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Writers Guild of America), and in the years that followed, Mazursky gave us classics like An Unmarried Woman, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Enemies: A Love Story, and many, many more.
But the world has changed a great deal since 1969, and Mazursky's most recent film is a self-financed documentary called Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy. In Yippee, Mazursky surprises himself by traveling to Uman, Ukraine to join 25,000 Jewish men from all around the world as they celebrate Rosh Hashanah at the gravesite of Reb Nachman of Breslov.
To be honest, my first screening of Yippee made me extremely uncomfortable. Thousands of men in white kitels (robes) and black streimels (fur hats) parading around, forcing themselves on a local population of skeptical blond Ukrainians—what to make of all of this? So I called Josh Shanes, the professor Spertus has chosen to lead their September Q&A.
Shanes told me to think of Yippee as a "video Blog." "It is not about the history of Hasidism," he warned. So I watched Yippee again, and it all started to make sense. On this personal guided tour, to counterpoint core scenes of masses of men in kippot, Mazursky adds footage from Munich (where friendly German street vendors have lots of hats for sale too). He throws down a challenge: What is the difference?
For all the talk of religious ecstasy, there's also deliberate defiance underlying all of this. Reb Nachman was born in Medzhybizh, Ukraine in 1772, just four years after an event known as The Massacre of Uman. "There is no question in my mind that Reb Nachman chose to be buried in Uman as a way of elevating the souls of the dead," Shanes said. And in one of Yippee's final moments, someone does tell Mazursky: "We are dancing on the graves of martyrs." Those Ukrainian policemen hired by Jewish organizations to protect the pilgrims, who were their grandfathers?
I predict that the Q&A after the Spertus screening of Yippee on Sunday afternoon Sept. 9 will have everyone on their toes! For tickets, visit www.spertus.edu.
World Music Festival Chicago
Paul Mazursky was born in Brooklyn in 1930. Daniel Kahn was born in Detroit in 1978. No, Mazursky and Kahn are not related, but they do share a playfully subversive sensibility across the generations. In 2005, Kahn moved to Berlin where he became a member of the suddenly exploding European Klezmer scene. He now travels constantly from continent to continent fronting a band called "The Painted Bird" (a wink and a nod to Jerzy Kosinski's controversial Holocaust novel).
Kahn performed last year at a party sponsored by the Chicago YIVO Society. His style is the epitome of anti-nostalgia, described on his website as "Yiddish Punk Cabaret." See for yourself at one of two programs on this year's World Music Festival Chicago schedule: Sunday evening Sept. 23 at Martyrs' Pub on North Lincoln Avenue, or Monday afternoon Sept. 24 at the Chicago Culture Center on Michigan and Randolph.
For complete details, visit http://ExploreChicago.org and enter "Daniel Kahn" in the search field.
Tzivi's DVD Collection
Way back in February, communicating my concerns about Kenneth Lonergan's new film Margaret, I wrote: "Even giving Lonergan the benefit of the doubt and assuming much was lost in the editing process [from the director's cut down to the much shorter theatrical version], rarely have I seen such despicable caricatures of Jewish women on screen."
Margaret is now available as a twin set: the first disc is a Blu-Ray called "Theatrical Version" with a 150 minute runtime, and the second disc is a DVD called "Extended Cut" with a 186 minute runtime.
I still don't understand all the hype about this film, but if you decide to watch it then I definitely recommend you invest your time in the full "Extended Cut." Some vital connective tissue was missing in the theatrical version I saw first, and once restored, multiple plot elements make a lot more sense, and the narrative as a whole unfolds as a much more sympathetic mother/daughter story.
Here's the link to my original post: http://www.juf.org/news/arts.aspx?id=414091.
Chicago author Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) created the award-winning Films for Two website (www.films42.com) with her husband Rich in 2002. Visit Jan's blog, www.SecondCityTzivi.com, for a complete online archive of all JUF News columns and posts plus additional interviews and reviews. Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.