Brief Review: Jews and Madison Avenue; the BRCA Gene
By 1960, New York’s Madison Avenue was home to the world’s most powerful advertising agencies, but Jewish agencies—and clients—often weren’t welcome at the table. In its award-winning first season, AMC’s original series has brought that bit of history front and center, forcing executives at the fictional Sterling Cooper agency to confront their ignorance about Zionism and Jewish culture through a series of challenging clients, including the Israeli Board of Tourism.
Sparks fly as Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), a client, emerges as a central character. The head of a major Jewish department store, Menken wades coolly through the sexism and anti-Semitism of Madison Avenue in hopes of bringing more affluent customers to the family business; however, the attraction that blooms between Menken and adman Donald Draper (John Hamm, above with Siff) threatens to capsize their personal and professional lives. Look for Season 1 on DVD.(www.amctv.com/madmen).
In the Family
When Joanna Rudnik learned she had the BRCA gene—she was tested because three close relatives had either ovarian or breast cancer—the 27-year-old filmmaker had to decide whether to have her breasts and ovaries removed, the only preventative option available. Her personal journey and interviews with families at risk, researchers and physicians make this a valuable and informative film. A coproduction of Joanna Rudnik, Kartemquin Films and Independent Television Service. On PBS October 1; check local listings.
The Little Traitor
Set in Jerusalem in 1947, when Jews were “Palestinians” and British Mandate soldiers were the enemies, the film centers on the unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old would-be underground fighter (Ido Port) and a British sergeant (Alfred Molina). Writer-director Lynn Roth has transformed a semiautobiographical Amos Oz novel into an insightful film on the Jewish state’s struggle for independence. Evanstone Films.
My Father, My Lord
There is a great deal of love between a haredi father (played by Assi Dayan) and his young, and only, son. For the father, the will of God is supreme—and at times he squelches his child’s natural interest in animals, which he sees as inimical to Yiddishkeit. But what happens to that kind of faith after a tragedy occurs—when God’s expected protection does not intervene? This award-winning film by David Volach conveys authentic belief and heartbreak. Kino (www.kino.com).
A Hebrew Lesson
Like tracking the rays of the sun, cowriter and director David Ofek takes as his starting point a group activity— an ulpan for olim—and follows the lives of individual students as they come and go from class. Ofek combines his fictional and nonfictional cinema skills to create a documentary that has all the suspense and drama of a feature film. Eden Productions (www.edenproductions.co.il).
—Judith Gelman Myers
Love Comes Lately
Jan Schütte has incorporated three Isaac Bashevis Singer stories in this film that looks at the imagination, nightmares and desires of a writer approaching his eighties. Though the charming Max Kohn (Otto Tausig) depends on his long-suffering girlfriend (Rhea Perlman), he finds it hard to deny his romantic inclinations toward Barbara Hershey and Tovah Feldshuh (who play real and imagined women). Kino (www.kino.com).
It’s hard to separate the Cuban rhythms from the East European essence in this instrumental fusion. Still, there is variation in trumpeter David Buchbinder’s melodies; they are shtetl-prayful, jazz-inflected or carried along by hard drumming. The most danceably Jewish is “Freylekhs Tumbao.” Tzadik/DB Works, (www.odessahavana.com).
Two Faiths, One Voice
A multicultural, multilingual collaboration brings together Maria Krupoves, a Christian Yiddish professor in Lithuania, and Gerard Edery, a Casablanca-born promoter of Sefardic-Ladino works. Surprising musical and cultural similarities are in evidence in melody and verse: The Ladino “Gülpembe” has a refrain in Turkish. There are secular/liturgical echoes of “Song of Songs” in the love ballad “Morcna me Ilaman.” The lyrics can be followed in translation, but the rhythms are easy to get. Sefarad Records (www.sefaradrecords.com).
Everything’s coming up roses in Jewish writer-director Arthur Laurents’s labor-of-love revival. Patti Lupone is commandingly definitive as scary showbiz Mama Rose, but the gifted, 90-year-old Laurents also brings sublime insight to the Jewish ambience of the show’s ongoing vaudeville odyssey—most notably in a memorably madcap rendition of “Mr. Goldstone.” The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs. At the St. James Theatre, New York, open-ended run (800-432-7250).
Archaeology Zone: Discovering Treasures From Playgrounds to Palaces
Tucked away in a colorful corner of the museum, youngsters (ages 3 to 10) can watch a video of a dig, puzzle out uses of real artifacts (an ostrich eggshell used as a perfume bottle), draw mosaics of the zodiac found on a 1,500-year-old synagogue floor—or recline on a cushion in a 100-year-old Ottoman-style home. Through June 15, 2009, at The Jewish Museum, New York (212-423-3200,www.jewishmuseum.org).
Jews in Space
This Buenos Aires family—for which the term “dysfunctional” might have been coined—includes a suicidal grandfather, his three warring daughters and a grandson in love with his cousin. The plot in director Gabriel Lichtman’s charming but thin film revolves around who will host the upcoming Seder. Primer Plano Film Group (www. primerplano.com).
The number of adults over 80 in the United States is rising, and increasingly the responsibility of caring for these men and women falls on their children. Caring for aging parents is the focus of New York Times reporter Jane Gross’s blog at newoldage.blogs. nytimes.com. Launched in July, her first entry received over 500 comments, as readers shared experiences and asked questions about topics such as nursing homes versus at-home care. The New Old Age addresses both emotional and practical issues and has quickly become a much-needed resource on a topic that is affecting so many.
—Leah F. Finkelshteyn