From Nov ’11 Spotlight: Joan Rivers isn’t the only Jewish senior still charming audiences everywhere with her supersized personality. It turns out that the indomitable Carol Channing—Broadway’s original “Dolly Levi” of Hello, Dolly fame—is also Jewish. Filmmaker Dori Berinstein reveals this nugget in her splendid new doc Carol Channing: Larger than Life, the most joyous film I saw at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival.
Those of you who read “Tzivi’s Guide to the 47th Annual Chicago International Film Festival” online already know that this wasn’t a particularly good year for films with Jewish content. In “Tzivi’s Guide,” I previewed the four films (two from Israel, one from Europe, and one from “Israel/Palestine”) that were identified by their Jewish content in Cinema/Chicago’s schedule. As always there were a few more, but like in the Carol Channing case, you might not know unless you were actually there to watch them.
For example, this year’s “Festival Centerpiece Presentation” was My Week with Marilyn, in which actors Dougray Scott and Zoe Wanamaker impersonate both Arthur Miller (Marilyn Monroe’s third husband) and Paula Strasberg (Marilyn Monroe’s acting coach) in ways that clearly mark them as Jews. But their efforts don’t amount to much; while Michelle Williams does an excellent job as Marilyn, the film itself isn’t very interesting.
Another heavily-hyped “Special Presentation” was What Love May Bring by Claude Lelouch, who has somehow managed to spin a whole career out of the Oscar he won way back in 1967 for his much-loved film A Man and a Woman. This new film, a totally unconvincing depiction of French life in the 20th Century as a colorful panorama, squeezes an ill-advised trip to Auschwitz into its middle frames. But even without these offensive Jewish elements, the film is still a cacophonous mess.
I went back to see My Best Enemy again with friends who hadn’t seen it yet, and I enjoyed it very much. The distributor, Luxembourg‘s Samsa Film, promotes itself with a stylized logo in the shape of a cockroach (honoring Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis). Such cheeky self-awareness earns my trust, and so far this is the only “Holocaust comedy” to actually succeed in a troublesome new genre. My Best Enemy definitely deserves a theatrical release once the festival season ends.
I also attended another screening of The Slut, but even the Q&A with Israeli filmmaker Hagar Ben-Asher failed to convince me. Yes, I connected a few dots the second time that had eluded me the first time, but then knowing more, I liked the film even less.
Photo Credits: Al Hirshfeld sketch of Carol Chaning taken from the Carol Channing: Larger than Life website with permission from filmmaker Dori Berinstein.
Photo of Berinstein (center) with Alissa Norby & Robert Kisting taken by Jan Lisa Huttner at the WITASWAN Reception for Berinstein on 10/15 (after the Saturday screening of Carol Channing: Larger than Life at Chicago’s AMC River East.)