by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/09/28 20:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/09/28/8968269.aspx
In this blog I am not speaking for Microsoft or that bar I was in whose name I don't recall or any branch of Judaism or any particular Jew other than myself. And the UMW rule definitely applies for people who ignore this truth!
So I was asked a question the other day. It was one of those wild evenings of what turned out to be a fascinating and scintillating birthday weekend.
It kind of screwed with the story behind On why I think my birthday sucks a bit. Or maybe a tad. Some small amount like that....
Anyway, I was talking about the question I got.
The really random question.
Soon after the hellos and all that, she came out with "You're Jewish, right?"
It was kind of a weird opener, but I figured what the hell. "Yes, I am," I answered.
No, that was not the interesting question.
But there was one. I'll get to it in a minute.
First she explained "I guess I'm half Jewish, my dad. But he left before I was born so I don't know much about it."
"No shame there," I reassured her. "It was good enough for Goldie Hawn."
She nodded (though I think the joke fell flat), but continued "What's up with Jews and The Jazz Singer?"
As questions go, it is a pretty good one.
The Jazz Singer is, by pretty much any objective standard of movies, pretty lame.
It is hardly an accident that it has a 15% rating on rottentomatoes.com, and there are many sound reasons why Roger Ebert gives it just one star.
Everything he put in that review is true.
I think the fact that I knew about the 15% thing was not really something that helped me here, in my answer.
Though she did like my actual response....
I explained that "VHS came out at the end of the '70s. By the early '80s people certainly started having VHS VCRs. Somehow in America where Jews are perpetually worried about assimilation. this crazy story of the cantor with a very American dream whose very religious father accepts him and he gets to have both lives just turned into the Hello World movie that every Jewish family wanted to have the tape for, whether they bought the (at the time expensive) prerecorded one or just recorded it themselves off of HBO. How many mainstream movies even brought up Judaism at all? And here was one that had a great answer to people trying to figure out where they fit. The movie became available to them at about the perfect time for this."
This may not be exactly what I said, but I think it is fairly close. It may have been less coherent since I was a little buzzing at the time!
"You too?" she asked.
I nodded. "Indeed, I am pretty sure it was the first pre-recorded movie they bought -- I remember the black box with gold shape of Neil Diamond's outline -- and also one of the first movies my parents recorded off of HBO that was just kept in the library. Some kind of milestone. The fact that it is such a turd never came up in conversation."
"Are you orthodox?" she wondered?
"No, I'm kind of nothing at the moment though reform is easier in Seattle for high holidays. But I was raised conservative, which is ironically kind of liberal."
She senses there are jokes here that she isn't getting, and not just because she's a blond. I'm losing my grasp on the situation, clearly.
But she searches for a firmer foothold. "What did you mean by Hello World before?" she asked, as if I had just said it.
"Oh, I am a computer software guy. The 'Hello World' program is like the first one you create and then when you run it the program just greets the world."
She looked thoughtful. "Okay, I think I understand that. But I don't do much with computers. Back to the movie -- every Jew thinks this?"
"Oh no," I replied. "I think it's mostly a subconscious thing. I doubt most of the people who like it despite it being such a crap movie are nearly as obnoxious of self-important or as total narcissists as Neil Diamond was in the movie. But the overall themes of the movie feel comfortable -- it just resonates, you know?"
So we talked for a little longer after that. Soon she had to leave, so after after that so I turned back to my friend and found that several of them were not there. I went to ask people where everyone was and such.
So there you have it -- my personal theory about why such a terrible movie ended up being such a staple for so many Jews. It wasn't such a religious message, really. In fact from an actual faith standpoint it's a shitty message for a religion where even the most lax can make it to Shul for Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, to make it clear that a trained cantor being at neither unless his dad has a heart attack is a good thing somehow. And from a secular standpoint Roger Ebert had it all down in particular with one part:
One sequence that is not predictable has Neil Diamond abandoning the (now pregnant) Lucie Arnaz in order to hit the highway and become a road show Kristofferson. This stretch of the film, with Diamond self-consciously lonely and hurting, is supposed to be affecting, but it misfires, it drips with so much narcissism.
There's a great message in there, knowing that the temper tantrums we have when we are ten are acceptable when we are middle-aged. That we can leave one wife who is living with our father and then we just walk away from the woman we left her for who we are sleeping with and who we actually knocked up without a forwarding address. This film is just brimming with family values, let me tell you.
This blog brought to you by ✡ (U+2721, aka STAR OF DAVID)
ערן on 29 Sep 2008 2:06 AM:
חג שמח ומזל טוב, מייקל!
Michael S. Kaplan on 29 Sep 2008 2:58 AM:
Should I respond
גמר חתימה טובה
גְּמַר חֲתִימָה טוֹבָה
for the folks who are learning? :-)
John Cowan on 29 Sep 2008 11:51 AM:
Hmm. So tell us, what do the Jews think about the original, "You ain't seen nothin' yet, folks!" 1927 version?
For the record, when one of my Jewish friends (almost all my long-term friends are Jewish, for whatever reasons; even my wife is of Jewish descent, though neither halachically nor culturally Jewish) told me about TJS 1980 back in 1980, he described it as being just like TJS 1927, "except that instead of Neil Diamond growing up to be a jazz singer, he grows up to be Neil Diamond." (Thanks again, Joe, O master of the subtle putdown!)
Michael S. Kaplan on 29 Sep 2008 12:01 PM:
I don't think as many people saw the original, actually. It is just not as popular of a NetFlix item as one might imagine, I suppose.
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