Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Fortnight of Films

I rarely visit the cinema (or go to the pictures as I call it), but just recently I have seen a plethora of films, all of which I enjoyed, experienced in a different venue and had their own merits.

As part of the UK Jewish Film Festival I saw the droll Blumenthal:
Celebrated playwright, Harold Blumenthal, has passed away after succumbing to cardiac arrest while laughing at his own joke. Now, Harold’s estranged and jealous brother, Saul, must confront his personal hang-ups  to deliver himself from an epic bout of constipation. Meanwhile, Saul’s wife Cheryl and son Ethan must grapple with their own personal obstacles through a set of circumstances so improbably ironic they might as well have been lifted from one of Harold’s plays.

I have also booked for Hava Nagila this week which finishes the festival in true celebratory style with obligatory dancing.
Featuring interviews with Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Leonard Nimoy, Regina Spektor and more, Hava Nagila (The Movie) follows the song from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the kibbutzim of Palestine to the cul-de-sacs of America. It excavates the layers of cultural complexity with humor, depth and heart – traveling the distance between the Holocaust to Dick Dale and his surf guitar, sometimes in the same sentence. It stops at key places – Ukraine, Israel, the Catskills and Greenwich Village, where Belafonte performed a hopeful version in the late 1950s, only to be countered by Bob Dylan, who butchers the song in his version Talkin’ Hava Negiliah Blues. The film covers Allan Sherman’s parody Harvey and Sheila, and Lena Horne’s civil rights anthem Now – both set to the tune of Hava Nagila. The film spotlights Italian-American crooner Connie Francis, who made the song the first track on her famous album of Jewish favorites; and Glen Campbell, who released an instrumental version of Hava on the B-side of his theme song from True Grit. It also dissects the proliferation of pop culture references to Hava Nagila in film and TV and brings the song up to the present, where it’s a rallying tune at sports games, a hot dance number in nightclubs and a global hit online.

On a more cultural note, I saw the superb Encore Screening of the National Theatre Live production of Habit of Art with the late Richard Griffiths, Alex Jennings and Frances De La Tour   
Benjamin Britten seeks advice from his former collaborator and friend, W H Auden. During this imagined meeting, their first for twenty-five years, they are observed and interrupted by, amongst others, their future biographer.  Alan Bennett’s play looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography.  It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion’s spent: ultimately, on the habit of art.

If you have not yet sampled these NT screenings, I would recommend them highly at a lot less cost than a theatre ticket.  Go on their website for details.  There is an intermission just as in the theatre, when we eat our sandwiches and cake with our drinks, and an interview with the director or producer.

Last but not least, we saw the wonderful Philomena with marvelous actors Judi Dench and Steve Cougan.  I didn’t know the story beforehand, so I won’t tell it here, unlike some reviews which have revealed all.

Next on my list is not a film but a dramatic production which is being performed in railway stations all over UK.  It’s called Suitcase and commemorates the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Kindertransport from Nazi Germany, which is how my aunt arrived aged 11 (see my post for her story).  We also attended the local 75th Kristallnacht Commemoration where her granddaughter lit a candle and we heard the personal experiences from others who came over in the Kindertransport.


  1. I haven't been to the cinema for years. Usually we wait until they're out on dvd but I would like to see one in 3d so we might be going to watch Gravity.

  2. Oddly I have also been going to the cinema a lot recently. I would very much like to see Philomena, and I am interested in the NT screenings too. Where do you go to view?

    1. Try this site and go to What's On or Venues at the top.


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