So, one of my secret/not-so-secret obsessions (secret in the fact that no one in America knows what it is or cares about it, but not so secret in the fact that if you ask me about I can go on and on until the cows come home) is the Eurovision Song Contest, or simply, Eurovision. It’s cross between reality competition and musical train wreck, treasured by few and despised by most, unless their country is in the final.
Today, for the first time ever, I watched it live on YouTube from Lisbon, in the hopes that Israel would pull off its first win in twenty years. I turned it on about midway through the performances, but it was the voting that made me literally shake. The jury voting came in, and Israel, despite being labeled as a contender this year with a genuinely catchy and unique song, was in a distant third behind Austria and Sweden. I was feeling pretty meh, but then the popular vote came in, and unlike the American election, it actually mattered in crowning the winner. I held my breath as one by one, the front-running countries got their votes. Once Austria, Sweden, and Germany were knocked out, I was feeling hopeful for Israel. It wasn’t until the final 4 countries’ popular votes were coming in that I realized that statistically, it was highly unlikely that Israel would come anything but first. And then, it happened…the winner of the fan vote was announced to be Israel, propelling its representative, Netta Barzilai and her song “Toy” to the top, and subsequently, the winner of the whole shebang. She tried not to try as she went up to the stage to accept her trophy, make a short speech, and perform a reprise. Oh, and this also means that Israel (most likely Jerusalem) will host the contest next spring.
What does this mean? Well, not a whole lot, but it does mean that music won out over politics this year, and of course, that my prediction (and hope) came first. The second placer, Cyprus, kind of grew on me, and I wouldn’t have minded if Eleni Foureira bagged Cyprus their first win.
Now that the competition is over, here are the rest of my top five favorites: Czech Republic had a sick sax beat with a hook and a fun music video, and coming in sixth was very respectable. I was also partial to Spain, which is perfect for a Viennese waltz, and, unpopular opinion: Moldova. The Latin-esque rhythm really got me going. Songs that I tolerated but wouldn’t write home about (if one wrote home about a song competition across the Atlantic) included Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, and Sweden. These would probably actually round out my top ten.
Of course, with 40+ countries, not all songs make it, and about half of them fall by the wayside. Last year, Macedonia (The Former Yugoslav Republic of) submitted “Dance Alone,” and as soon as I heard it, I replayed it about a hundred times and then downloaded it onto my iTunes. I was sure it would at least make it out of the semi-finals. I was shell-shocked that “Dance Alone” ended at the semi-finals. This year, my “Dance Alone” Award went to…Belarus. Their song, “Forever,” would have probably been in my top five had it made the final.
In any event, congratulations Netta, and Israel. Next year in Jerusalem!
Even though I don’t have Twitter, despise hashtags, and only use them ironically, I thought to myself a) this would be the perfect topic for a blog post and b) I probably have so much material from my life. In fact, I had a post quite a while ago with stupid things I used to believe, right here, and I reread it to make sure I wouldn’t repeat a story.
So here’s a story about something stupid I used to believe.
Up until the first grade, I went to a Conservative Jewish preschool in the same building where my mom taught. As a Conservative Jewish school, one of the values they taught was tzedakah, or charity. One of the ways they would teach us was by having tzedakah box time. Our parents were instructed to give us some coins or a one-dollar bill every Friday so that we could participate. So, every Friday of my preschool and kindergarten years, the teachers sat us down in a circle and put one of those little blue and white cardboard Jewish National Fund fold-it-yourself tzedakah boxes in the center, and we’d sing a song. I can’t remember the name of it, but it went something like this: “Do you have a penny, a penny, a penny? Do you have a penny, a penny today?” All the kids who had pennies that day would crawl to the middle of the circle and stuff their pennies into the box. Then, we’d repeat the song, only with “nickel” instead, and then “dime,” “quarter,” and “dollar.” About once a month, the box would get too full, and one lucky kid got to take it to the front office.
As a preschooler, I had no idea what happened to the money once we dropped it off and then traded it in for a new box. I don’t know where I got it from, but I had this image in my head that there was a secret pipe somewhere behind the secretary’s desk – possibly like the tubes at the drive-thru bank – and at the end of the day, the secretaries would open the lid and pour the money into the pipe, where it would magically travel to Israel. Once it was there, it would fall from the sky into a giant pile of all the rest of our coins and dollars, and people would just kind of take money as they needed it. I then imagined that all schools had pipes like this that magically spit money into Israel and hopefully not hit anyone in the head. Then, when you went to Israel, you could go and find your school’s money pile., kind of like if you pay to have JNF plant a tree for you in Israel, you get a little certificate and you can go see where that tree was planted.
It wasn’t until the hashtag came up that this memory resurfaced. Completely irrational and weird, but what can I say, I was about 4 years old. Secret tubes and giant piles of money.
It’s been a while since I wrote an Israel post, and with the recent back-and-forth between me and Vanessa, here’s another story from Israel which I am surprised I had not yet posted.
Fast food restaurants in Israel are quite the experience. There’s basically two categories: the locals and the imports. Locals are places like Burger Ranch and Cafe Hillel; places that basically don’t exist outside the country. They’re sort of a mix of fast food and restaurant, and usually the fare is cheaper, more exciting, and better-tasting than the food from the second category, which would be the American imports, like McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. It’s not a hard and fast rule – for example, I think Cafe Hillel’s coffee kinda sucks – but generally, employees at the latter restaurants are at the mercy of the internationally-focused franchisers rather than the local, so they have different standards for their employees. And, as we know here in America, the latter restaurants tend to pop up in the not-so-greatest parts of town, further weakening their reputations.
But anyway, the story.
One night I went to visit Ele in Rehovot. I got off the train and he and Janet were there to fetch me, with the task of going to the store to bring back dinner for all their housemates. After buying soda at a makolet, we stopped by the local Pizza Hut in crummy downtown Rehovot to get cheap and quick eats for the gang. We place our order, and I hand over my credit card to pay. She runs it and it doesn’t work. After trying it a few times, she says it’s not good. I say that it is, and she asks if she can see my teudat zehut (Israeli ID card) to punch in my ID number, and maybe that will push the transaction through. I tell her that I’m not an Israeli citizen, and neither are Ele and Janet, so we don’t have teudat zehut.
Then, the most redoinkulous and awkward situation commences (as if it could get weirder):
PIZZA HUT LADY: Do you have your American teudat zehut?
ME: Um, we don’t have those in America.
PIZZA HUT LADY: You don’t?
ME: Nope. It’s just an Israeli thing.
PIZZA HUT LADY: So what do you have?
ME: Well, I have my driver’s license on me ::innocently takes it out of my wallet::
PIZZA HUT LADY: Can I see it?
ME: Um, okay. ::hands it over:
PIZZA HUT LADY punches numbers into the machine. Nothing. She keeps trying.
ME: Um, ma’am…what are you doing?
PIZZA HUT LADY: I’m trying this number.
Yep, that’s right. The lady at the Pizza Hut kiosk on the main street in downtown Rehovot thought that my Soundex number would magically pay for a pizza. I guess worse assumptions have been made, but despite my insisting that it was just a license, and not connected to any sort of bank account (and it barely has a magnetic strip) she kept on trying, in vain, and even called over a manager to help her out, while we all looked on in wonderment.
Eventually, while looking around and noticing something across the street, I said “you know what, just wait a sec.” I gave Ele my license and wallet, took out my credit card, ran to the ATM across the way hoping it was functional (it was), withdrew money, and paid in cash.
And that’s what it’s like to get Pizza Hut in Israel.
I’ve decided to set a goal for myself to reserve Friday to write about theatre. No real reason, other than that it sounds cool, I guess, and it’s something toward which to work. I was on the lazy side today (come on, it’s New Year’s Day) but I managed to skim over a play. It’s one of the ones I scanned in on Sunday at the library, and a relatively short one, so let’s see how this goes for Naim by Nola Chilton.
I couldn’t find a suitable image, so I made this one all by myself with Canva! Copyright me! Maybe I should create my own art tiles for all the plays I review?
Naim was written by Nola Chilton in 1978, adapted from The Lover, a novel by A. B. Yehoshua.
Adam, the husband (Jewish)
Asya, the wife (Jewish)
Dafna/”Dafy”, the daughter (Jewish)
Naim, young Arab boy (Arab)
Verducha, old woman (Jewish)
It’s not too clear, but probably in the 1970s, in Israel. Much like A. B. Yehoshua’s other work, there are tons of plot twists, but to sum it up in a sentence or two: Adam and Asya find Naim, and hire him as an errand boy, mostly because he looks like Igal, their son who was deaf and died. Elements of culture clash occur between Naim/Adam, Naim/Verducha (in a subplot, Naim is assigned to help find Gabriel, who was once Asya’s lover but is now missing) and Naim/Dafy (in another subplot, Dafy loses her virginity to Naim). In the end, Adam takes Naim back to the village from whence he came.
On first glance, it was confusing. On second glance (and after having read some notes), it has many layers to it, with the Arab/Jewish conflict almost eclipsed by surrogacy (Naim becoming a substitute son for Adam/Asya), “incest” (Naim, as the “son” of the family, having relations with his “sister” Dafy, even though the two are nowhere near related), loss (Adam/Asya mourning the loss of Igal and Gabriel), open relationships (with the references to Asya’s lover, and Adam’s quest to find him), and education (Verducha and Naim bond over Naim’s education in Jewish history and culture, and how odd it seems for Naim to have been taught this instead of about his own true heritage). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this play, but the writing style of the author is what’s really fascinating.
Writing From Another Point of View
According to articles I read online by Linda Ben-Zvi and Dan Urian, Nola Chilton (who is still alive and kicking at age 91; I imagine her as a fun old lady with colored hair and funky glasses) is known for her experimental writing and staging, and for speaking her mind through her plays. She switches between first- and third-person, but ultimately, the story focuses on the feelings of the characters in the moment without delving too deeply into backstory, politics, or useless dialogue. She could have very easily made it more specific in these ways, but chose not to. I like this approach to writing; I kind of use it myself. When I write characters, especially those who are not like me (which I love doing), I try my best to imagine that I’m not me when I’m writing, but I’m the character, writing in his/her own voice. If I read the lines out loud and they sound like something that I, Jacob, would say in real life, then it’s no good. You can’t expect actors, readers, or audience members to get into your characters if you keep them inextricably linked to yourself; in most cases, other actors will be playing the characters you write, and if it sounds like you, the audience will be disinterested. In this play, Chilton definitely commits to her characters, switching focus adeptly and fluidly. The strongest characters to me were actually the two least like Chilton, the male characters of Adam and Naim. Which brings me to…
Israeli Play, Arab Character
Dan Urian has written extensively about this topic, as have others, but suffice it to say that there has been some controversy over lack of Arab representation on the Israeli stage. Not saying that every story needs an Arab character in it, but that they are underrepresented, especially in mid/late-twentieth-century plays. On pages 78-79 of his article, Urian points out Chilton’s characterization of Naim, and the character’s Israeli education – a choice probably not seen by most. I admittedly don’t know more about this issue (and I probably should take this as a cue to learn more), but the lack of politics other than interpersonal relationships is refreshing.
Hmm, not sure on this one. Nola Chilton seems to be a badass one-woman trailblazer on her own, from what I’ve read about her, and she provides the technical elements in notes, so I would probably want to see it like she wrote it first.
Ben-Zvi, Linda. “Staging the Other Israel: The Documentary Theatre of Nola Chilton”. TDR 50.3 (2006): 42–55. JSTOR. Web.
Chilton, Nola. Naim. Trans. John Auerbach.In Modern Israeli Drama, 242-265.
Urian, Dan. “‘Hawajah Bialik’: The Double Culture Of The Israeli Arab In Hebrew Drama And The Israeli Theatre.” Contemporary Theatre Review 3.2 (1995): 75-86. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web.
Yesterday was July 4th (well, duh, of course, since today’s July 5th), but it was more than the 239th anniversary of America’s independence; it was also the 39th anniversary of one of the most flawless hostage rescue operations of all time, the Raid on Entebbe aka Operation Thunderbolt. The raid brought attention to the terror that was Idi Amin, brought posthumous fame to Yoni Netanyahu, the young and educated commander of the operation (and brother of future Prime Minister of Israel Bibi Netanyahu), and laid the foundation for many future hostage rescues.
But one of the real heroes went relatively unsung: Patricia Martell.
A short history lesson:
In mid-June 1976, a regularly scheduled Air France flight took from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens. When the plane landed in Athens, about 50 people got off, and 30 more got on. Once in the air, four of those who boarded in Athens – two Palestinian men, a German man, and a German woman – hijacked the plane and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda. They decided to hold the passengers hostage in exchange for 53 Palestinian prisoners to be released from jails in Israel and Europe.
Eventually, they landed in Entebbe, and through crazy good planning and very good luck, the Israeli intelligence drew up a rescue plan in 5 days and rescued (almost) all the hostages in Uganda on July 4, 1976. It took all of 90 minutes.
Pretty smooth operation.
Once the plane was hijacked and headed to Africa, the pilots told the hijackers that they were low on fuel and they wouldn’t make it, so they made a refueling stop in Benghazi, Libya. They had only stopped briefly and did not allow anyone off the plane. However, one passenger, a British-Israeli woman named Patricia Martell, had a plan.
Ms. Martell went up to the hijackers, asked to get off the plane because she was pregnant and had miscarried. Her pants were stained with blood and she was still bleeding everywhere.
The hijackers (including the one lady hijacker, who might have had some sympathy for the bleeding woman), were probably like:
So, Patricia Martell got off the plane.
But…she didn’t have a miscarriage.
She wasn’t even pregnant.
She was, however, a nurse in an Israeli hospital who happened to a) have a sharp object in her purse, like a knitting needle or scissors or something (this was pre-9/11, so you could take just about anything on a plane), b) know exactly where to stab herself on the inner thigh to cause a lot of bleeding but not sever an artery, and c) the guts to do it to herself and then lie about it.
Once Patty got into the Benghazi Airport, she headed straight for the Libyan Airlines counter (hopefully having changed her pants) and booked tickets on the next flight to London. She arrived later that day, where she immediately went to Scotland Yard and the Israeli embassy to give testimony which proved to be decisive. In the days before Twitter or Facebook, Ms. Martell gave the all-too-important details and descriptions of the hijackers, the passengers, the plane, and where they could be.
She is still alive and living in Israel. In a 2006 interview, regretted her decision, saying that it was “pretty stupid,” but considering what resulted, I’d disagree.
And that’s how a problem with someone’s lady parts played a part in stopping a hijacking, saving hostages, and stopping an international incident.
A hugely successful day: we moved the show out to Taliesin, put up the set, did a run-through, and found out that tomorrow’s rehearsal is cancelled, giving me a whole day free! Yay!
I had to return my copy of The Labor of Life and Other Selected Plays by Hanoch Levin to the library today, so I thought I’d flip through them and see what caught my eye. The first play that caught my eye was The Rubber Barons, mostly because of its subtitle. I also enjoyed The Child Dreams, but I think it would be way too depressing for a blog post, as much as I’d love to see how people would react to the mother flashing the ship captain and the closing scene with the chorus of dead children in the graveyard. So The Rubber Barons it is.
The Rubber Barons (Socharei HaGoumi) was written by Hanoch Levin (1943-1999). The play was originally written in 1977 ib Hebrew. Its first production was in 1978 at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. Levin also directed.
Bella Barlow – 40s, a pharmacist.
Yohanan Tsingerboy – 40s, a clerk.
Shmuel Sprawl – 40s, a condom vendor.
We open on Bella’s drugstore where Yohanan is attempting to buy condoms. He actually sings this adorable little song called “The Hint Song” about them, a la that episode of The Golden Girls where they are shopping for the cruise. Side note, Yohanan also has two things: sixty thousand dollars in the bank and a thing for Bella. Shmuel, on the other hand, just inherited 10,000 Australian condoms from his deceased father and is trying to sell them to Bella at top dollar.
A weird sort of love triangle ensues. Yohanan wants Bella, but she’s not interested, even though they get naked in her apartment and it’s implied that they have sex, or at least a condom is utilized, as Bella says, “please, not on the carpet.” Once Bella learns about Yohanan’s money, she becomes attracted to him, but only for that, so she can rebuild her store. Shmuel and Yohanan do not have a sexual relationship, but they have a few weird scenes where they have long fantasy sequences about having sex with young, pretty girls from Texas. Shmuel shows up at Bella’s doorstep trying to sell her his condoms, and she kinda falls for him, but then falls out just as quickly. Yohanan comes back, and Bella resumes begging for his money, and he begs her to be with him. Finally, he hands over the money, but instantly regrets it. She becomes attracted to him, but the moment has passed for him. Everything kinda sucks at the end, and they still have a ton of condoms left.
Levin, Hanoch, The Rubber Barons (A Tale of 30,000 Condoms) in The Labor of Life and Other Selected Plays, trans. Barbara Harshav. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2003.
Today, I went to the bank, ate a lot of cheese crackers, and went out to have a guy’s night with Shlomo at the movies. The Wisconsin Film Festival is in town, so we headed over to Hilldale to catch the only Israeli film in this year’s festival: The Farewell Party, a 2014 film directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, starring Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelstein, Aliza Rosen, Raffi Tavor, and Ilan Dar.
So long, farewell…
The film is a black comedy, dealing with aging and machine-assisted suicide, taking place in a Jerusalem retirement home. At the outset of the film, Yana (Aliza Rosen) calls upon her friend Yechezkel (Ze’ev Revach), a machinist and inventor, for a way to put her husband, Max – who is very old and very ill – out of his misery. A mutual friend, Rafi (Raffi Tavor) introduces Yechezkel to someone who can help: his lover Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a veterinarian who has experience with sedatives and putting animals to sleep. Though initially apprehensive, Dr. Daniel eventually describes to Yechezkel the type of machine he’d need, and Yechezkel sets about to make it, a machine where pressing a button will administer a lethal dose of drugs. Yechezkel’s ladylike but dementia-suffering wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein, in a stunning performance), discovers the plans and almost blows their cover, but eventually acquiesces and becomes the fifth member of this unlikely death squad. Together, they videotape Max soberly acknowledging that this is how he wants to die, and presses the button, killing himself. To trick the nurses, Dr. Daniel briefly hooks up Rafi to Max’s heart monitor while waiting for him to flatline, and then replaces it and leaves with the rest of the group. They think that this is the end, but at Max’s funeral, a man called Dubek approaches Yana, telling her that he knows what happened (though not how) and begs for her to do the same for his ailing wife, Clara. After stalking the group at their retirement home, they acquiesce (all but Levana, who has become too emotionally fragile), and they do the same as they did to Max for Clara, who is in much better shape than they thought but presses the button anyway. Then there’s a weird musical interlude.
Meanwhile, Levana, who is frequently left alone, exhibits even more signs of dementia, doing things like putting her purse in the freezer, leaving the house with cookies burning in the oven, and eating pizza out of a garbage can. Levana and Yechezkel’s daughter, Noa, urges them to place Levana in a home for elderly dementia patients, but Yechezkel shuts her down, stubbornly refusing to see the signs of Levana’s illness until one day when Levana shows up for lunch in the nursing home dining hall completely naked. Upon returning back to her room with Yechezkel and Yana, Levana becomes hysterical, crying that she needs to be put in the home. Yechezkel then hatches a plan, taking Levana down to the nursing home’s greenhouse that night, where Yana, Rafi, and Dr. Daniel are all naked and smoking marijuana. The two join in the fun until they are caught by a security guard and warned by a social worker, who recommends that Levana go into the home for the mentally disabled.
The group unites again (sans Levana, and Yechezkel, who is taking care of her) to head to a kibbutz to use the suicide machine on their 89-year-old friend Zelda. As soon as Zelda presses the button, a fuse blows and the machine dies. Rafi calls Yechezkel to come and fix it, but since he’s promised Noa that he won’t leave Levana alone, he takes her with him to the kibbutz where once again, the machine blows a fuse when Zelda presses the button. Then after a choir sings outside Zelda’s window, she briefly reconsiders her decision before pressing the button a third time, again blowing a fuse.
We then cut to the parking lot, where we learn that the machine didn’t work and Zelda changed her mind anyway. Zelda’s brother runs out to the group in the parking lot, saying that 5000 shekel has gone missing from Zelda’s money, and though the group thinks Levana accidentally took it, Rafi is revealed to having taken it, as well as money from Max and from Clara. A furious Yechezkel wrestles Rafi to the ground, injuring himself in the process.
Soon after, Levana and Yechezkel visit the home that Noa and the social worker suggested, but find it to be a sterile environment where everyone is a vegetable. Levana reveals that this is all too much for her, and she tells Yechezkel she wants to be the machine’s next victim. Yana tells Yechezkel that he should let his wife die in dignity, with the machine. Furious, Yechezkel destroys the machine.
Later, Yechezkel leaves Levana alone for a short time while he goes and discusses what has happened with the other three, returning to discover her in bed, unconscious. The group rushes her to the hospital, where she is revived but reveals that she purposely overdosed in an attempt to kill herself. Yechezkel suddenly sees how much his wife is suffering, and builds a new machine. In the closing scene, the group stands around Levana’s bed as she apologizes to Noa and tells her not to be angry with her father, and that she is deciding herself to die with dignity. The camera then zooms in on her as Yechezkel leans over for a last kiss and her finger presses then button and the film ends.
Shlomo and I had vastly different perspectives on the film. I mean, we saw the same points, but I saw more of the comic elements than he did. I guess I just took the movie at face value. True, the story is incredibly depressing, but the idea of a bunch of old people inventing a machine to kill people, going around and doing it, and getting naked and high along the way kind of made it feel like a screwball comedy for the geriatric. At some points, I was the one doing the dying, dying laughing, that is; Zelda’s three failed attempts at activating the machine and her comments after the room went dark, Levana putting her purse in the freezer, and of course, the naked greenhouse scene, which was actually kind of sweet, knowing that Yechezkel orchestrated it so that his wife would feel less awkward about the whole naked-lunch thing.
As I said earlier, Levana Finkelstein’s portrayal of Levana was absolutely stunning; she really wowed me with her spiral into madness. Ze’ev Revach as protagonist Yechezkel and Aliza Rosen’s tough-as-nails Yana were also fun to watch, and the playful relationship between the two widows (well, one at the beginning of the film and one at the very end) made Levana’s character all the more interesting. In terms of production values, some great camera work and excellent use of color, with whites and hospital-like pastel blues and greens contrasting with the dark shadows that the characters always seemed to be in, as if their wrinkles were intended to be accentuated at every turn.
I don’t have too much criticism for the film, even though I saw what was coming at the end. Oh, and the opening credits went on way too long, as well as the opening bit with Zelda and Yechezkel on the phone. Overall, it had a good mix of moments that were humorous and moments that were heartbreaking.
It gets four stars from me.
And I think I ate about a hundred cheese crackers as I wrote this.
This week has been rough in more ways than one, as you know, and I’ve kinda been scrimping on new content. I found out about another death today (my friend’s husband, after a short bout of lymphoma) but I had a really positive and enlightening meeting with one of my professors yesterday, so that kinda makes up for it a little. So, to make up for it, I’m putting out a double feature of Masterpiece YouTube; I know it’s my “fall back content” when I haven’t read anything new or can’t think of a rant or a fun story or anything. But here are two YouTube Masterpieces to enjoy.
With all the bad rap Israel’s been getting lately (and by lately, I mean, since the beginning of the world), along comes a video that makes me proud to call Israel my spiritual home; something that could only happen in Israel, nowhere else in the Middle East.
We open on an ordinary Jerusalem Light Rail trip (side note: I never got to ride it because it was not finished until a little while after I left) and it’s chock full of commuters from all walks of Israeli life. Suddenly, a chick in a violet top soprano-belts the first line of the Israeli National Anthem (Hatikvah). After a moment of silence, the percussion kicks in and she starts over, this time with accompaniment from a bunch of other riders and stares from…other, non-singing riders, who pull out cell phones. One older lady with glasses and a curly ‘do is singing along, although clearly not as part of the group because we later see her clapping. After a final crescendo and an awesome percussive coda that sounds like a slowing-down train, they get applause and are greeted by a cheering audience from the platform.
This is a masterpiece for two reasons: the a cappella is not bad, could be better, but the camera work is really top notch. A great mix of shots of singers and bystanders, edited together to show a range of emotions. Plus, singing on public transit has always been a fantasy of mine (come on, who wouldn’t want their everyday life to turn into a musical?).
Final note: I actually know one of the people in the video; the skinny chick in the headscarf at around 1:30 is my sister’s best friend from growing up, the one she went to Israel for in December for her wedding. Also, I’m not sure, but the rabbi at 0:30 looks an awful lot like my Chabad rabbi from UMass.
Now for a different type of a cappella; the video quality is poor but the sound is amazing. It was filmed at Wootton High School in Reston, Virginia, and it’s the Wootton Acabellas singing Olly Murs’ “Troublemaker,” a totally underrated pop hit from the early 2010s. The choreography is cute, their outfits are simple yet elegant and age-appropriate, and the lead singer isn’t too bad.
But then there’s the rap soloist.
She is AWESOME. According to the video, her name is Rahila O. Olanrewaju and if she doesn’t have an album in the works, she better start on one because I would pre-order that. Seriously. And I buy a CD about once every five years. Plus, if you listen closely, she is also beatboxing for part of the song, which is also awesome.
The masterpiece about this is that it’s so simple and humble yet these girls can sing. For most people, it’s amazing; for a high school group, it’s outstanding.
So, yesterday, after the show, I went to watch the second of four films offered by this year’s Madison Israel Film Festival, Dancing at Jaffa, a documentary directed by Hilla Medalia and starring Pierre Fontaine and Yvonne Marceau. For someone who is a huge fan of documentary films, of ballroom dance, of human interest stories, and of Israel, I have to say that I was let down.
Dancing at Jaffa documents the true story of an intercultural experiment aimed at uniting two groups of children in a very unusual way: through a ballroom dance class. French ballroom dance champion Pierre Fontaine returns to Jaffa, Israel – a suburb of Tel Aviv and the city of his birth – to see how he can best contribute to the people of a divided city in a divided nation. The idea of a ballroom dance class is brilliant, and especially the way he did it, by making Jewish boys dance with Palestinian girls, and Palestinian boys with Jewish girls. Of course, the program does not run smoothly; the scenes where the children meet for the first time are wonderfully awkward, and their reactions are candid and honest. Slowly, though, the resistance to look at, to touch, and to dance with the partner of the opposite sex and religion melts away, and by the end, they all (well, most of them) dance in a competition in front of a crowd of parents, family, and friends from both communities. Other than Pierre, two of the trajectories are those of Noor, a chubby Palestinian girl who can be either incredibly shy and withdrawn, avoiding everyone or hostile and belligerent, attacking and scaring everyone; and that of Lois and Alaa. We do not learn about Noor’s partner, but we do learn that Alaa comes from a very poor Palestinian home at which Lois is shocked, and that Lois’s thing is that she was fathered by a sperm donor, which prompts an adorable scene where she tries to explain to her partner what a sperm bank is, and then is followed by an awkwardly graphic scene where Lois’s mother gives Alaa the intimate details of her procedure and of the reproductive process. She’s a wily one, that lady. Noor’s arc basically ends with her in control of her emotions and actually proving to be a very talented dancer, and Lois and Alaa take us out with a scene where they row Alaa’s father’s boat and it’s all very Hand in Hand and gooey as the credits roll.
The concept of the film is great; cute kids and a fun project. If the synopsis weren’t enough, the trailers made me want to jump right up and buy a copy of the movie for myself. However, as I mentioned before, it was not a cakewalk to sit through.
Okay, disclaimer: granted, I missed the first 20 minutes because I was still at the theatre finishing up with the costumes, but for an almost 2-hour-long movie, missing 20 minutes shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and I was able to get right into it when I walked in. The main criticisms I had were the treatment of ballroom dance, the character development, and the camera work/filming style.
Okay, first, the ballroom dance. Obviously, I was not expecting to watch children do ballroom for two hours straight, because that would be boring, but they could have shown more of that and fewer tracking shots of school buses and checkpoints. The only dances that I counted were merengue (which is not something I know much about), rumba (a different style than what I’m used to, though, and tango. There was a tiny bit of foxtrot and waltz in the scenes where Pierre and his American partner, Yvonne Marceau, were demonstrating for the class, but they didn’t show them teaching it. It’s obvious that the children were not professional dancers or even actors, but I felt like I was either watching them dance the same steps over and over in different settings or just watching them talk about their lives. There was a lot left on the cutting room floor.
This leads into character development. I found it odd that almost nothing was mentioned about Noor’s partner; that would have been a great counterpoint to Lois/Alaa. It is clear that we were supposed to root for Noor, but she seemed like a whiner up until the very last moments. Unlike Lois/Alaa, the Noor scenes always seemed to be about someone other than Noor, and Noor’s relationship with that person (Noor’s mother, Noor’s teachers, Noor’s classmate, Pierre). Also, some of the adult characters were frustrating. Pierre seemed a little full of himself at times; Lois’s mother, while funny, clearly attempted to commandeer a documentary that was not about her; and there was something that one of the teachers said to a class that I thought was incredibly harsh and unwarranted. Also, there were like five different schools, and so many children that we barely knew anyone else’s name by the end.
Finally, the camera work. Pick a style and stick with it. You want to do it as if it’s a real movie, with no fourth-wall breaking? Do it that way. You want heavy confessional action? Do it with all the characters, or at least not just Pierre. And for goodness sakes, decide if you want your voice in it – there was one scene in the Palestinian neighborhood where they were talking to Alaa and some of the other boys, and it was clear that the prompts/questions were coming from the person holding the camera.
I would give it a 2 out of 5 star rating, and that’s only because I just love ballroom dance.
And hello to another six continent day, the first after a few! So, just who danced in today? North America (Canada and USA), South America (Paraguay and Colombia), Europe (UK, Hungary, France, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), Asia (India, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Burkina Faso), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).