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Monthly Archives: March 2013

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Source: Haaretz, March 30, 2013.

Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, there is no more sensitive an issue in German life as the role of Jews. With fewer than 200,000 Jews among Germany’s 82 million people, few Germans born after World War II know any Jews or much about them. To help educate postwar generations, an exhibit at the Jewish Museum features a Jewish man or woman seated inside a glass box for two hours a day through August to answer visitors’ questions about Jews and Jewish life. The base of the box asks: “Are there still Jews in Germany?” “A lot of our visitors don’t know any Jews and have questions they want to ask,” museum official Tina Luedecke said. “With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Jews and Jewish life.” But not everybody thinks putting a Jew on display is the best way to build understanding and mutual respect.

Since the exhibit — “The Whole Truth, everything you wanted to know about Jews” — opened this month, the “Jew in the Box,” as it is popularly known, has drawn sharp criticism within the Jewish community — especially in the city where the Nazis orchestrated the slaughter of 6 million Jews until Adolf Hitler’s defeat in 1945. “Why don’t they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat and make the Jew feel really cozy in his glass box,” prominent Berlin Jewish community figure Stephan Kramer told The Associated Press. “They actually asked me if I wanted to participate. But I told them I’m not available.”

The exhibit is reminiscent of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann sitting in a glass booth at the 1961 trial in Israel which led to his execution. And it’s certainly more provocative than British actress Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass box at a recent performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Eran Levy, an Israeli who has lived in Berlin for years, was horrified by the idea of presenting a Jew as a museum piece, even if to answer Germans’ questions about Jewish life. “It’s a horrible thing to do — completely degrading and not helpful,” he said. “The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews.” But several of the volunteers, including both German Jews and Israelis living in Berlin, said the experience in the box is little different from what they go through as Jews living in the country that produced the Nazis. “With so few of us, you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece,” volunteer Leeor Englander said. “Once you’ve been ‘outed’ as a Jew, you always have to be the expert and answer all questions regarding anything related to religion, Israel, the Holocaust and so on.”

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Museum curator Miriam Goldmann, who is Jewish, believes the exhibit’s provocative “in your face” approach is the best way to overcome the emotional barriers and deal with a subject that remains painful for both Jews and non-Jews. “We wanted to provoke, that’s true, and some people may find the show outrageous or objectionable,” Goldmann said. “But that’s fine by us.” The provocative style is evident in other parts of the special exhibition, including some that openly raise many stereotypes of Jews widespread not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe. One includes a placard that asks “how you recognize a Jew?” It’s next to an assortment of yarmulkes, black hats and women’s hair covers hanging from the ceiling on thin threads. Another asks if Jews consider themselves the chosen people. It includes a poem by Jewish author Leonard Fein: “How odd of God to choose the Jews. But how on earth could we refuse?” Yet another invites visitors to express their opinion to such questions as “are Jews particularly good looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving or business savvy?”

Despite the criticisms, the “Jew in the Box” has proven a big hit among visitors.

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Maximilian Schell in The Man in the Glass Booth

 

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Room237

Source: J. Hoberman, Tablet, March 28, 2013

Even people who haven’t seen it know that The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, is the scarific tale of a stir-crazy caretaker—Jack Nicholson, no less—driven mad by the ghosts haunting an isolated, off-season hotel to murder his wife, played by Shelley Duvall, and their small son, who happens to be psychic. But, was this contribution to the horror cycle of the late Carter era also Kubrick’s meditation on the Holocaust?

That’s one theory advanced in the new essay-film Room 237 by Rodney Ascher, an engaging survey of the various exegeses that have attached themselves to Kubrick’s horror film in the 30-odd years since its original release (and especially since the introduction of DVDs and development of the Internet). Other, not necessarily related, takes: The Shining, as revealed by Kubrick’s co-scenarist Diane Johnson, literalizes Freud’s notion of the unheimlich [uncanny] in making the familiar strange; the movie is a coded admission that, at the behest of the federal government, Kubrick faked the Moon landing photos; The Shining is an updated version of Theseus and the Minotaur, or an exercise in subliminal advertising techniques, or an exposé of what film historian David A. Cook termed “the murderous system of economic exploitation which has sustained the country since, like the Overlook Hotel, it was built upon an Indian burial ground.”

Room 237 revels in all of the above interpretations and lets them ricochet off each other at crazy angles. One theory never bruited is Kubrick’s own bland disclaimer that “a story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analyzed too closely.” As Warner Bros. was telling reporters back in November 1978, “Stanley’s trying to make a movie that will really scare people,” to which Diane Johnson added, “Stanley wants to make the best horror film ever made.” That’s one reason why, 18 months, two endings, and many trailers later, The Shining was seen as an anticlimax when press-previewed only days before its May 1980 opening.

I well remember the disappointed WTF response among critics who were mainly impressed by the movie’s fluid SteadiCam and swooping helicopter shots. (Pauline Kael began her review by noting that if The Shining “was about anything that you can be sure of, it’s tracking.”) People were amused by Nicholson’s over-the-top performance as well as Shelley Duvall’s not-unjustified hysteria, but even New York Times critic Janet Maslin, who liked the movie, had to admit that the panoply of ghosts, ghouls, and guys in bear suits uncorked, along with a gore-gushing elevator, for the grand finale were “preposterous,” if not risible. The Shining was panned by many reviewers (and received not a single Oscar nomination), although audiences made it a hit—the biggest, by some accounts, of Kubrick’s career.

More conventionally entertaining than the movie it parses and certainly the recipient of far better notices, Room 237—which is named for the Overlook’s most sinister suite—embeds scenes from The Shining in a humorous montage that encompasses everything from F.W. Murnau’s Faust to the 1940 Thief of Bagdad to Hitchcock’s Spellbound to a late-night-TV favorite like The Brain From Planet Arous (an alien-possession flick from 1957) while cross-referencing the Kubrick oeuvre, thus commenting on the comments made by a quartet of exegetes.

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Do the Kabbalist readings or wild free associations that Room 237 celebrates improve The Shining? Let’s say that they create a parallel text: Lost in the Overlook, in search of the overlooked. (After sitting through 100 minutes of reasonable and outlandish analyses, I found myself inclined to agree with Nicholson when he tells the phantom bartender with whom he’s been schmoozing in the Overlook’s elaborately haunted ballroom, “Anything you say, Lloyd. Anything you say.”) Room 237 raises questions beyond The Shining and even Kubrick’s intent: Are movies meant to be solved like crossword puzzles or decoded like ancient hieroglyphs?

The Shining has evolved into something like the egghead Rocky Horror Picture Show. Put another way: Is this sort of over-interpretation intrinsic to movies in general or was Kubrick practicing a radically different sort of filmmaking that would make it intrinsic to his work in particular? The Surrealists delighted in the ultra-subjective, if not paranoid, elaboration of their favorite movies, calling the practice of imagining material beyond or hidden within the film “irrational enlargement.” It’s the main factor in the making of a cult film—something that only an audience can do, seizing upon and emphasizing aspects of a movie that, intentional or not, transcend the narrative framework. The truism that no one quite sees the same movie is here made literal.

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