diaTribe: The (Jewish) Empire Strikes Back!

“If any of us get laid tonight, it’s because of Eric Bana in “Munich.” —

Seth Rogan (as Ben Stone in “Knocked Up”)

Fuck you, Woody Allen!
Yeah, I said it! (To quote another actress that fits every stereotype of another race, creed, religion…or whatever people seem to be calling other people these days).
Up until recent years, we Jewish Generation X-ers and, yes, even a few of you Y-ers, out there, have had this nebbishy, weird, incestuous, bozo-haired creature (or a stand-in of similar traits and characteristics) being our poster boy for What It’s Like to be Jewish, in television, movies, books.
To quote another M.O.T.—former or, um, not-so-former—Mr. Robert Zimmerman (Columnist’s Note: or, in the interest of placating all of the naïve, poorly-brought-up, young gentiles who used to beat the living shit out of me, K-12, for courageously informing them that Jesus was, in fact, a Jew….Bob Dylan) the times, they are a-changin’!
I can’t tell you how tired I was of Jews, in TV and movies, being portrayed and/or seen as timid victims.
With all due respect to our Golden Boy of Showbiz, Mr. Stephen Allan Spielberg, 1993’s “Schindler’s List” completely screwed us over for a decade. Granted, it’s an amazing, powerful film that finally managed to do what so many other films attempted and failed (save Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 “Shoah,” which is in a world and class, all its own), by breaking through the surface and bringing to light what people in a way that, cinematically, made every man, woman and child, understand the horrors that were bestowed upon the Jews, during Hitler’s reign of horror.
BUT… (yes, there is a “but” coming along) After that film, for years, no man, woman, and/or child could think/speak about Jews or Judaism, without using “List” in the same breath. It made people feel sorry for us, pity us, and that’s a damned shame, because it’s taken thousands of years of wars, battles, and fighting to show the world, throughout the ages (B.C. or B.C.E….or however you want to call it) that, simply put, ya don’t fuck with the Jews.
Frankly, I think the better movie, the more honest, less manipulative movie, tougher movie to watch, was not, in fact directed by a man named Spielberg. On the contrary, this amazing, tough, emotionally-exhausting film did not appear on a movie screen, but, rather, a small one, and it was directed by a man named Jack Gold in 1987.
Any guesses?
It was called “Escape from Sobibor,” starring a cast of character actors, such as Rutger Hauer, Alan Arkin, and Joanna Pacula. While it managed to show the same things that Spielberg’s “List” did, it did so, with just as much bloodshed, but without the visual manipulation.
And it is at this time, that I would like to go on a rant I’ve been holding back for a long, long time: Look, I understand that Spielberg was trying to show us how dark of a time it was, by removing nearly all of the color from the film, rendering it black and white, but I’m sorry, I’ll side with screenwriter/essayist Bill Goldman (“All The President’s Men,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “The Princess Bride“) on this one: It was a completely pretentious, bullshit “Look ma! I’m an auteur!” move. The Jews—those that survived or perished—did NOT see everything in black in white. On the contrary, they experienced, and saw all of the horror, bloodshed, and viscera, in living, breathing color.
But getting back to “Sobibor”: The film also showed that, as a Jewish people, we knew how, and when, to throw down, and to fight back, even if the odds were often against us and we were outnumbered. It’s a fine film. Seek it out.
This brings me to why I truly, in my heart, believe that “Munich,” is Spielberg’s better film, whereever your political ideologies lie. It is a smart, sad, film about the finest of fine lines, the moral ambiguity that often finds its way during defensive actions—revenge, to be exact. In this case, it was the Israeli governments covert backlash against the Palestinian group, Black September; those responsible for the brutal massacre of Jewish athletes, during the 1972 Summer Olympics. Glorify violence, it does not. For that, you can go watch Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant, bizarre, and completely gonzo “Inglourious Basterds.” (P.S.—Why didn’t anyone tell me that Hitler got blown to bits in the WWII?! Shocking!)
But let’s get back to the main point. The Jewish people, despite what Woody Allen, and sometimes, Spielberg, might display in their films, be it comedy or tragedy, respectively, are, in actuality, cunning, agile Jedi Knights.
In films such as last year’s underseen and underrated “Defiance,” we, as a People, have returned and struck back, with a vengeance, taking over the empire, once again. No longer are we the timid sidekicks, or neurotic best friends that can’t get laid. Rather, when trouble lurks, in the form of Nazis, hooligans, or, well, refer to above Columnist’s note regarding “naïve gentiles”, to use one of the colloquialisms of our day, we know how to “fuck shit up.”
For a more recent example, look at Jesse Eisenberg in “Zombieland.” While his Jewish heritage was never fully disclosed in the film, Mr. Eisenberg, while, yes, displaying a certain charming nebbishness, knew how to shoot first (or twice, also known as the “double tap,” according to the riotous, action-packed screenplay), without ever bothering to ask questions later. Between the latter film and “Sobibor,” the last time I saw a Jew that tough, was Brendan Fraser’s beautiful, dignified, soulful turn in 1992’s “School Ties,” where he pulled out the fisticuffs on some anti-Semitic prep school scumbags, who seemingly walked directly from the set of “Dead Poets Society.”
But I digress.
The truth is in almost every film he’s appeared in, the talented Eisenberg has managed to shine through, and outshine his castmates, by making us Jews look cool, whether it be through his marksmanship with a shotgun or, let’s just face it, bringing that brainy, sophisticated wit to the table.
The same goes for Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, David Krumholtz and, yes, Seth Rogan (even though the latter actor needs to take a break, or suffer the dire consequences of overexposure. Trust me. Jews don’t fair well on reality shows like The Surreal Life. Look at Ron Jeremy, for further evidence. Or, rather, don’t). The point is, y’all have paved the way for us to be true leading men, rather than annoying, stereotypical sidekicks. Granted, we may not always be the most “popular” guys in the crowd, but if “Superbad” told us anything, Jews are still supercool! And hot, too!
If you don’t believe me, I submit to you the following: Sarah Silverman. For G-d’s sake, not only is he she cool, funny, and literate—check out her new book, The Bedwetter—but let’s just face the facts, ladies and gents: Damn! (yes, my wife-to-be may very well murder me for this last paragraph. Que sera sera! This column was fun while it lasted).
But from a more cerebral perspective (sorry…I tend to run on Id more often than most), the Jewish people, at least know about tradition. No, I’m not talking about “Fiddler” style, all-capped “tradition!” but we know where we’ve come from and how we got here. It hasn’t been easy.
I’m gonna tell you, all of you, what I strongly believe, with all my heart, is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen about Judaism and our struggle…and it might raise an eyebrow, for one or two, reasons; either because they can’t believe anyone would actually reference such a movie in an otherwise lengthy and profanity-laden column, but because it’s not about Judaism with a capitol J. The movie is called “Avalon.” It is a marvelous film about the Jewish migration to America, our struggle for respect and dignity in this country, and our struggle to keep religion alive. And, best of all, it’s all true, thanks to director Barry Levinson’s sentimental, but never, ever, sanctimonious, semi-autobiographical screenplay. And, come on, in all seriousness, after all the fighting, and the victimization, isn’t that what it’s all—
Oh shit.
My mother’s calling me and I’m totally late for an appointment with my therapist!