Monthly Archives: May 2014

Hester Street, A Visit To A World That Has Left Us

In 1975, the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century was a memory. That year, the movie Hester Street premiered and the memories of that world and the people who lived in that world became vivid and real.

In 1896, Jake (Steven Keats) is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who has remade himself into an American.  He is excited when his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane) arrives with their young son.  But his excitement dissipates quickly when he sees that his wife still clings to the old traditions. As the marriage begins to show signs of wear and tear, he turns to Mamie (Dorrie Kavanaugh), a dancer who has fallen in love with and has, like Jake assimilated into the American culture.

This movie is like a time machine. Through the lens of the characters, the viewer is taken to a world that does not exist anymore and whose denizens are long gone.   It is in black and white, with subtitles (some of the actors having lines in both English and Yiddish).  It is a story of the age old dance of staying true to your faith and culture versus assimilating into a new culture.  The slow death that is Jake and Gitl’s marriage feels very authentic, like it could be replayed at any time and place when faced with the issue of immigration and the fear of assimilation.

I recommend this movie.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie Review, Movies, New York City

Selected Letters Of Mary Antin Book Review

Fame and celebrity are fickle creatures. One moment we are celebrated as the most famous person in the world, then in the next moment, we are alone.

In her own time, Mary Antin was both a celebrated author and a woman forgotten by the generation that both praised and criticized her work. Her 1912 autobiography, The Promised Land, traced her childhood in Polotsk, Belarus through her families emigration to Boston and her assimilation into the United States.

In 2000, Evelyn Salz edited and published Selected Letters Of Mary Antin. The letters start in 1898, when Antin was not yet 20, at the beginning her marriage to  Amadeus Grabau, a German-American man, who was Christian and a dozen years her senior.  The letters are to notables of that era, a list that includes Israel Zangwill and Theodore Roosevelt. The letters end in 1949, just before her death.

It’s an interesting book, Antin is a very complicated woman. She is both a Jewish emigrant from Eastern Europe, a feminist, and a  writer in addition to being one half of a mixed religious marriage.

Do I recommend this book? Yes and no. Yes, for research or if the reader has an interest in the immigrants of the first half of the last century. No, if this topic is not interesting to the reader, as it is a bit dry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books

#YesAllWomen

“But let me observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall.–Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.” Jane Austen, Persuasion

This weekend, in California, Elliot Rodger, a young man with a history of mental illness, opened fire on a college campus. When the shooting finally stopped, the shooter and several other young people were dead. This sad incident brings up issues that our politicians have been dragging their feet about, (greater awareness and assistance to those with mental illness, as well amending the national gun laws to prevent another tragedy of this manner), it also brings up another issue in regards to the double standard when it comes to women.

We are supposed to be either the virgin or the whore. We are either uneducated, scantily clad or surgically altered  beautifully clothed mannequins who are nothing but arm and eye candy or we are nothing but glorified housekeepers, cooks, nannies and sexual partners.

Mr. Rogder’s sentiments are not an anomaly; as much as we in the western world like think that we have removed ourselves from the archaic and outdated ideas of what is male and what is female, we haven’t. His beliefs about women are not too far off from the Boko Haram.  There are still women being raped because they were wearing a short skirt or they were walking home alone late at night. There are still women who are being abused by their husbands or boyfriends. Female fetuses are aborted and infant girls are either murdered and given to orphanages to raise. Girls are often married to men twice or three times their age before they reach puberty. In Pakistan, a woman was murdered by her own family because she married for love and not because her husband was chosen for her.

While we can say with pride that we have come a long way in only a few generations. We have the options of school, career, whether or not we choose to marry and/or have children. But that doesn’t mean that the war is over.

#YesAllWomen

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Jane Austen, Persuasion, World News

Persuasion 1995 Vs. Persuasion 2007

Persuasion is Jane Austen’s final novel, published posthumously with Northanger Abbey.  It is her most mature novel. There is sadness and a sweetness to the novel. The question of what if pervades the novel. What if we had a second chance at true love? What if the love of your life, the one that got away, came back? Do you take the chance at happiness or do you let it slip through your fingers once more?

As I have done with the comparisons of Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice, I will be comparing the 1995 Persuasion and 2007 Persuasion.

1995 Persuasion

Cast: Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds), Sir Walter Elliot (Corin Redgrave)

  • Pro’s: This adaptation is beautiful and spot on to the text of the novel. Every actor is perfect for his or her part.  Redgrave as Sir Walter is Austen’s metro sexual, is cringe worthy as Anne’s only surviving parent. Root, as Anne is brilliant. Shy and retiring at first, but slowly coming into her own and learning to trust her instincts. Hinds, as Captain Wenworth, is stubborn and angry, but slowly looses his anger and starts to remember why he and Anne fell in love in the first place.
  • Cons: None.

2007 Persuasion 

Cast: Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins), Captain Frederick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones), Sir Walter Elliot (Anthony Stewart Head)

  • Pro’s: Hawkins and Penry Jones were well cast in their parts and age appropriate. Stewart Head (Giles to my fellow Buffy The Vampire Slayer Fans) is as cringe worthy as his predecessor.
  • Cons: As with some adaptations, some aspects of the story line or some characters are edited or removed completely.  As much as I love the scene where Anne runs through Bath after receiving the letter, it would have not been appropriate for a well bred young lady to run as she did.

And the winner is…the 1995 Persuasion, but not by much.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Jane Austen, Persuasion

The American Heiress Book Review

In 1776, America won the war of Independence against the British. In the 1890’s, wealthy American parents returned to the British Isles, looking for titled and wealthy aristocratic husbands for their daughters.

Cora Cash, heroine of Daisy Goodwin’s novel, The American Heiress is one of the wealthiest young women in America. Mrs. Cash, her controlling mother, is not looking for husband for her daughter among the young men in their social circle.  She requires a title for her daughter, coupled with a large estate.  While riding in the countryside, Cora meets the Duke Of Wareham, known to his family and close associates as Ivo. Their engagement and marriage quickly follows.

But Cora is unaware of the stringent customs and traditions of her new country. Her husband is distant at times, causing Cora to question if she made the right choice.  While Cora is learning about her new life, her free black maid, Bertha is also learning about English customs while being courted by the Duke’s valet.

This book is absolute perfection. It is part Edith Wharton, part Jane Austen, with a dash of Downton Abbey. Ms. Goodwin balances the details of the period with a very entertaining story line and interesting characters.

I highly recommend this book.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Downton Abbey, Jane Austen

The Cripple of Inishmaan Review

Daniel Radcliffe is an exceptional actor. At the the young age of 24, he has starred in one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. In the three years since the release of the final Harry Potter film, Radcliffe has continued to show audiences that he can play characters that are far from the world of his bespectacled wizardly alter ego.

His new play, The Cripple of Inishmaan is about a small island off the coast of Ireland. Among the residents of this island is Billy (Radcliffe), a orphaned young man born with a physical deformity. When Hollywood visits to make a film about their island, the residents hope for a chance for stardom. Vying for this chance of stardom is the very funny and mouthy brother and sister duo of  Helen and Bartley McCormick (Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill). Billy’s aunts, Kate and Eileen Osbourne (Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna), who have raised Billy since his parent’s death, are equal parts concerned about him and quick to remind him of his deformity.

This play is very good and very funny. While most of the characters have a small town mentality, Billy is eager to leave his small town and find opportunity in Hollywood. The supporting cast is well chosen and very funny.

I recommend this play.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Broadway Play Review

Kim Kardashian Has Married (Again)

In non-news, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are now married. According to the news reports, they married in a lavish ceremony that cost more than most people’s annual salaries.

Am I the only one taking bets on how long this marriage will last?

The thing that bothers me about this non news is that the new Mrs. West, should she become the ex Mrs. West in the future, can marry as many times as she likes. She may one day, if it is her prerogative, beat Elizabeth Taylor’s record for the number of times that she says I do. In contrast, there are gay couples who have been together for decades, as committed and loyal to their partners as any straight, married heterosexual couple.

And yet, they are denied the legal and social benefits of marriage simply because they are a same sex couple.

On top of this being made news, when it is not, the real news is being pushed aside. This weekend being Memorial Day weekend, the real news should be the American soldiers who have given their lives to protect this country and the freedoms we cherish. A reality star’s third trip up the aisle is not news worthy.

This will be the first and last post that I mention the new Mrs. West. I wish her well on her marriage and I hope I will see the day when all couples regardless of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual,  can say I do.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Misc

Salome Of The Tenements Review

In 1923, Anzia Yezierska, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe published her third novel, Salome Of The Tenements.

It is the fictionalized story of Yezierska’s contemporary, Rose Pastor Stokes, who married the older and Christian JG Phelps Stokes. Weaved into this novel is the author’s failed relationship with John Dewey.

Sonya Vrunsky is a Jewish emigrant originally from Eastern Europe. She joins many of the immigrants of that time, residing in the Lower East Side.  She is working for a newspaper and is sent to interview John Manning. John Manning is a native born, Protestant philanthropist who is eager to extend a helping hand the lower, working classes.  They are attracted to one another, but their differences may tear them apart.

It’s been wanting to read this book for a few years. What I didn’t expect and didn’t like was that the characters were too stereotypical for me. Sonya, in her need to attract John and keep him interested in her, is almost mercenary in her task.  The other characters within Sonya’s world are very much what one thinks of a Jewish stereotype.

Do I recommend this book? Only if your interest is New York City in the early 20th century and the emigrant denizens of the Lower East Side. If not, then I would recommend to find another book to read.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books

Skin Deep- One Of The Single Greatest Hours Of Television

*-This post contains spoilers about Skin Deep and Once Upon A Time. If you are catching up on season 1, read at your own risk.

Half way through the first season of Once Upon A Time, the character of Rumplestilskin  (Robert Carlyle) was a villain with a capital V. He was the trickster, the dark one, making deals with people who were desperate enough to seek him out.

Then Skin Deep aired. Skin Deep put this villain with a capital V in a new light, a man who was tortured by his past and hid that tortured past under a mask that no one could crack. That was until Sir Maurice of Avonlea, desperate to end the Ogre wars, called upon the dark one to end the war. As usual, there was deal to be made. Rumplestilskin does not make deals without getting something in return. That deal was Sir Maurice’s daughter, Belle. She would leave her father’s kingdom forever and become a servant in Rumplestilskin’s castle.

This episode was written by Jane Espenson, and introduced Belle (Lost and Roswell’s Emilie de Raven) to the Once Upon A Time universe.

This episode, is best episode that this show has ever produced and I would like to tell you why.

  1. Carlyle and de Raven have incredible chemistry. They just work on screen.
  2. The psychology of Beauty And The Beast translates perfectly to the twist and turns that the Once Upon A Time gives to their fractured fairy tales.  In the original tale, Beauty is the youngest daughter of a now impoverished merchant who was once very wealthy. Her older sisters are very spoiled and selfish, Beauty is relegated to the role of servant. The Beast lives in an isolated castle, surrounded by material wealth. In the very well known 1991 Disney movie, Belle is an outsider in her small town, longing for adventure. Beast was once a human prince, cursed by a sorceress for his selfish ways. The psychology of both characters: the Beast, broken and bruised by life and Belle, selfless and loyal, while looking for adventure plays perfectly into the Once Upon A Time idea of twisting the basic fairy tale into something far more interesting.
  3. The title is absolutely perfect.
  4. The line “No one decides my fate, but me” ties in with the idea of female empowerment, a theme running throughout the show.
  5. The final scene between Belle and Rumplestilskin is heartbreaking. It echoes in the hearts of everyone who has ever given up an opportunity or a relationship out of fear and low self esteem.
  6. This episode launched the on screen roller coaster of a relationship that is Rumbelle, it has kept fans hooked since February of 2012 and wanting more.  As of the end of the third season, they have married and Mr. Gold has not told the new Mrs. Gold about a secret that will cause ripples in season 4.

And that is why Skin Deep is one of the single greatest hours of television.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Beauty and the Beast, Fairy Tales, Once Upon A Time

Pride and Prejudice 1995 Vs Pride and Prejudice 2005

I think it is pretty safe to say that Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s most famous novel. Most people, regardless of whether they have read the novel or not, have at least heard of it.

Part of it’s success is due to the adaptations that Hollywood has provided us. The most famous adaptations are the 1995 miniseries and the 2005 movie.

Like my previous post about Mansfield Park , I will try to honestly debate both adaptations.

1995 Pride and Prejudice

Cast: Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle), Fitzwilliam Darcy (Colin Firth), Mr. Bennet (Benjamin Whitrow), Mrs. Bennet (Alison Steadman), Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Barbara Leigh-Hunt)

Pros: Colin Firth in clingy pants (that ingenious line is from Lost In Austen, which I highly recommend). Sorry, I had to get that out.  Aside from that, Firth and Ehle have solid chemistry. It’s just there, you know that something is going to happen between their characters regardless of how much of the novel the viewer has read. There is so much detail in this adaptation, it is as if Miss Austen was on set during filming.  Every actor is perfectly cast.

Cons: The only con that I can think of is that some of the actors were a bit older than their characters, especially the parental figures in the novel.  But it’s not really a con because they were so effective as their characters that you forget there may be a 10 or 15 year age difference between the actor and the character.

2005 Pride and Prejudice 

Cast: Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley), Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland), Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn), Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Judi Dench)

Pros: This is a well put together movie. Director Joe Wright and screen writer Deborah Moggach created a very marketable movie that appeals to all, not just the Janeite fandom community. As Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, Knightley and MacFadyen are both age appropriate and effective in their roles. This was my first real introduction, not just to Pride and Prejudice, but to Miss Austen as well. It works as a gateway to the other novels and overall Janeite fandom.

Cons: It is a 2 hour movie. The difference in making a 2 hour movie versus a 6 hour miniseries is that sometimes story lines have to be condensed and characters have to be cut out.

In conclusion, the winner is…. The 1995 miniseries

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Jane Austen, Movies, Pride and Prejudice