Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Fiddler on the Screen for Christmas: Sounds Crazy, No?

A few years back, I was invited to  a local synagogue on Christmas Eve, to speak about my book, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson. The invitation was in line with the old saw about what Jews do on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, so it’s said, Jews eat Chinese food and go to a movie. So the very hip event planners at Santa Monica’s Kehillat Ma’arav had come up with an irresistible deal: a kosher Chinese buffet and a screening of The Graduate, with my talk as (I suppose) the dessert.

This year Christmas Eve just happens to fall on the 3rd night of Hanukkah. And what better time for L.A.’s Laemmle theatre chain to offer its very own Christmas eve tradition? The Laemmle family of film exhibitors come from a long line of proud Jews, dating all the way back to Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle. (Aside from his fame as an early movie mogul, Carl was known in his day for saving hundreds of Jewish residents of his German birthplace from the Nazis)  For the last dozen years, the homey local theatres in the Laemmle chain of independent cinemas have participated in a tradition of their own. But let the Laemmles describe it, via their website:

JOIN US TUESDAY, DEC. 24th for an alternative Christmas Eve. That's right - It's time for our 12th Annual, anything-goes Fiddler on the Roof Sing-a-Long!

Belt out your holiday spirit … or your holiday frustrations. Either way, you'll feel better as you croon along to all-time favorites like “TRADITION,” “IF I WERE A RICH MAN,” “TO LIFE,” “SUNRISE SUNSET,” “DO YOU LOVE ME?” and “ANATEVKA,” among many others.

The evening includes trivia, prizes, and by all means -- we encourage you to come in costume! Guaranteed fun for all?

At each venue, a guest host (a well-connected cantor or Jewish entertainer) is guaranteed to help attendees rock the shtetel. I personally can’t make it this year, but it sounds like great fun, and it’s also an opportunity to see once again on a big screen .a film that gets better with age. When it was first released in 1971, I compared it unfavorably to the bravura Broadway production, starring the larger-than-life Zero Mostel. When Norman Jewison (who jokes about not being Jewish, despite his name) was selected to direct the film version, he made clear that the cinematic rendition would be less fanciful, more realistic. Instead of Mostel, he went with a young-ish Israeli performer no one had heard of. His name was Topol, and he was funny, poignant, real, and totally masterful. His was one of eight  Oscar nominations for the film, which danced off with three.

To see the film Fiddler on the Roof from another perspective, check out a 2019 feature-length documentary called Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles. Based on Alisa Solomon’s fascinating book, it delves deeply into the backstory of the Broadway musical, then explores some ways in which Fiddler on the Roof has influenced audiences all over the world. Taking this one step farther, the documentary roams the globe, showing us glimpses of productions in Japan, Thailand, and the Netherlands.  It then gives us a glimpse of the Yiddish-language version (directed by Joel Grey, the Oscar-winning son of Yiddish comic great Mickey Katz) that has ecently galvanized the New York theatre scene.. And there are lots of on-camera interviews with show biz folks ranging from Harvey Fierstein to Lin-Miranda, who appeared once upon a time in a junior high production. Miranda loves Fiddler so much that he staged a surprise rendition of one of its songs at his wedding reception. On Christmas eve, L’chaim to one and all!

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