Sunday, March 08, 2009

Fiddler On The Roof

I just saw Fiddler on the Roof, starring Topol. This is my third time seeing the play (I actually saw Zero Mostel in the original role), I won't tell you how many times I was forced to sit througy the film.

Being a Jew, I grew up around Jews. Makes sense. I had ample opportunity to attend weddings, bar-mitzvahs, and I even went to Hebrew School (there was something sad about pressing my face to the bus window as it pulled away from the curb---the bus came to pick us up after public school let out).  Anyway, I stumbled my way through Judaism, content, naive...and then came Fiddler on the Roof. 

Don't get me wrong. I love the movie and the story. My mother, born in Kiev around the turn of the century, was part of it. What astonishes me though, is how this film came to influence American Jews. I remember this scene where the women in the film were singing at the sabbath, wearing shawls and waving their hands over the candles in prayer. My mother never prayed. My mother used the phone a good deal and enjoyed television, but Friday night sabbath in our house was pretty much the same as every other night.

Imagine then my surprise when I arrived home one evening and found my mother doing the shawl and candle thing. I let it pass. Sometimes, you have to. But little by little this film started creeping into other expressions of Judaism. 

Before Fiddler on the Roof, I never saw a woman and man put on chairs and raised above the shoulders of the guests as part of the wedding celebration. Never. The canopy? Yes. The breaking of the glass? Yes. Uncle Seymore embarassing everyone as he tried to dance the hora in too tight pants? Of course. 

But before Fiddler, I had never seen the chairs raised. And now? Now the bride and groom are raised, the parents of the bride and groom, Moishe the Village idiot sometimes takes a turn, and even the guys in the bathroom with the cologne samples and towels. And it's spread to other events. I have seen bar-mitzvah boys and bas-mitzvah girls raised. I have also attended non-Jewish weddings and found some Christians taking on the tradition (of course, it usually occurs after a sweaty version of "Shout!" and before the obligatory "We Are Family!" (Notice all wedding songs have an exclamation point: "Close To You!", "Butterfly Kisses!", "We've Only Just Begun!")). 

With Fiddler being a rite of passage (I believe there is a new clause in the Torah that states that no Jew will have attained the age of sixteen without having sat through this and "Shindler's List"), I am curious about other groups and religious folk. What films are Catholics forced to watch and which of them have infiltrated Catholic popular culture? What about ethnic or racial groups? Do African Americans have to watch "Roots"? Are the girls forced to experience "The Color Purple"? Will "Milk?" becoming part of the gay experience? What about "Rent"?

I'm afraid to imagine what influences "Goodfellows" and "The Godfather" has had. 


spyscribbler said...

LOLOL! My stepfamily is Italian-American. At least once a month, my stepbrother rolls meatballs (the men do the meatballs, the women do all the other cooking) while he watches The Godfather.

It's a given, during any family dinner, that if the Godfather is playing on TV, then THAT will be on in the background.

So yes, I believe it is required watching. :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, being raised Catholic I still don't know what particular movies play a role as a kind of right of passage. We certainly watched movies like "The Robe," and "The Ten Commandments," but that's more general Christian than just Catholic.

Christina said...

I love live theatre. It just makes the story more thrilling to me. I haven't seen this one yet, though honestly, the shows I have seen I could count on one hand, unless I have a really bad memory.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Unfortunately, when movies are made about Catholics, it's almost always to highlight a moral depravity present in a small portion of all Christian groups but somehow deliciously voyeuristic when it's Catholic.

The only positive one I can think of, offhand, is Sister Act. Far from anything impactful.

I've actually never seen FOTR, but always meant to.

Angie said...

My family's Italian too (but not Catholic, and yes, there's a story there [wry smile]) but I don't remember any movies which actually impacted our perception of who we are. And I have to admit I've never seen the Godfather movies. [hides under keyboard] I was too young when they came out to be interested in that kind of movie, and since then I've just... never been interested.

The closest I can come is movies which resonated, and even then, the strongest one was a movie I've never seen, but which my mom talked about a lot for a while, and from her descriptions I had to smile and nod. Dom Delouise did a movie called Fatso about this guy who grew up in an Italian family and was enormously fat by the time he was an adult. My mom talked about the scenes of his childhood, from the time he was a baby, where every time the baby opens its mouth to cry, food gets stuffed in it. When the little kid cries, food is stuffed in his mouth. Every celebration, every birth, death, holiday, anything, comes with loads of food. My mom was going, "Yes, yes, that's exactly how it is!" And yeah, it was.

Even now, at forty-five, I only remember about three Italian words from my childhood, when I'm told I was fluent. (Then I went to school and lost it all.) One of them is "mangia!" which means "Eat!" (Imperative form -- it's a command or exhortation. And yeah, anyone growing up in an Italian household with hear it a lot.

Other than that.... Huh. The remake of La Cage aux Folles (which I'm probably misspelling) (or it might've been a sequel to the remake? I forget) had a long stretch set in the Italian countryside. The two guys (both gay, one a cross-dresser, both middle-aged) spent some time staying with a very traditional Italian country family, and that was another one I had to nod and laugh about. The women wore these dowdy, sacklike dresses in dull colors, with plain headscarves, exactly like the clothes I've seen in old family photos from before the family left Italy. Much of the day was devoted to food prep, with all the women working their butts off while the men sat around talking and being waited on by the women. That still happens today -- peek in on any large family gathering, at least in my family, and the guys are kicked back in the livingroom with the TV on, while all the women old enough to "help" are in the kitchen working on getting dinner ready, or doing snacks and such. Occasionally one of the men will get up and make a round of drinks for the other men, and if he's a particularly cool guy he might ask the women what they want too. But yeah, lots of resonance in that one.

That's really all I can think of, though.


Stewart Sternberg said...

It scares me to think of people finding something to idolize in the likes of Godfather or Wiseguys. I think it's a little wish fulfillment and power issue, like the kid watching a Fifty Cent video and saying: "That's me..oh yeah."

What about all that Christmas stuff that comes out. Maybe something there? You know what would be really frightening? The family that comes together for a summer BarBQ and someone calls out for the annual screening of "Deliverance"

My mom was from New York and had this Broadway thing going on. She would drag me to touring companies, especially is a star was reviving a role. I remember seeing Carol Channing in Hello Doll and Zero Mostel in Fiddler. Live theater is the best.

But I must say I've noticed a disconcerting change in audience behavior, as though people have forgotten how to behave in the presence of live drama.

I have always been a sucker for musicals. I think my all time favorites are Cabaret and My Fair Lady. Sometimes, you just have to let go of reality and enjoy the moment.

I remember seeing FATSO when it came out. The film, if I am not mistaken, had terrible reviews and died at the box office. I think people came wanting to laugh, and instead found themselves uncomfortable with the character.

I live in an area where Italian culture flourishes. So much so that I wouldn't grieve if I never again had pasta. I crave Indian, Thai, Korean. I would kill for some honest to god Detroit soul food (grew up in Detroit and there's nothin' like the ribs on Wyoming with Jean's Sauce of the Islands). I would even cave for a real deli, where real Jews served real corned beef.

For those of you eating bagels, you may think you're eating bagels, but you aren't. Not unless they come from a real Jewish bakery.

Demon Hunter said...

I remember seeing "Roots" for the first time in 8th grade. My teacher, an older Caucasian woman, wanted us to see the series, and discuss it since we (students) were all from ethnic backgrounds. It was an interesting experience. I'm glad I saw it.

I love the Color Purple. Classic. And no, I wasn't made to watch it. I wanted. Alice Walker it brilliant. ;-)

TaylorSwift said...

I've seen different musicals many times and Fiddler was one of my best attended shows ever…I got a pretty good seat after comparing prices for Free from . It was really one of the most memorable shows with a beautiful, smooth-flowing set, gorgeous music and a super talented cast.