Monday, October 20, 2008

Jock Jews

This fall, Stewart Wallace received lots of media attention as the composer of a new opera based on Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter.  Back in June 1989, with the help of Texas Opera Theater, the then 28-year-old Wallace launched the world premiere of the outrageous Where's Dick? (with book and lyrics by Michael Korie) at the outdoor Miller Theater in  Houston's Hermann Park.  

Following that performance, I was invited to an opening night party being held at the home of Wallace's parents.  A soprano took me aside at the party and said "Look at all this food. It's all sugar.  I'll be up the whole night!"  I tried to explain that she was obviously in a Jewish home where coffee, wine, and seven kinds of dessert were to be expected.  I pointed out that if the party had been held in a non-Jewish home there would probably  have been a lot more in the way of cold cuts, beer, and hard liquor.

I mention this because one of the hidden gems of San Francisco's cultural landscape is the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's comprehensive "Culture & Thought" series, which offers a year-long program of interviews with authors and artists, a wide variety of music and theatrical attractions and several film series ("Travel Adventure Cinema," "Italian Jews During Fascism," and "Mark Cantor's Giants of Jazz on Film").  After many events, a little "nosh" awaits the audience in the Pottruck Family Atrium where guests can enjoy some coffee and pastry while discussing the evening's presentation.

Jackie Mason always used to joke that he could spot the Jews in any audience as they left the theater.  How did he do it?  "The goyim always ask if anyone wants to go for a drink," he explained.  "The Jews always ask if anyone is hungry."

Let them eat cake!  

Here.... have a little wouldn't kill you.

This week started off with two wonderful evenings in Kanbar Hall.  On Monday evening, the JCCSF launched a new film series entitled "Let The Games Begin!" as a sort of warmup to 2009, when San Francisco will host the JCC Maccabi Games.

Following an introduction by Lenore Naxon (Director of the JCCSF's Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts), Peter Stein, the always affable Executive Director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, confessed that when trying to find a title for this new film series he originally thought of calling it "Oy, I Think I Pulled Something!" 

The First Basket actually provided a surprisingly strong opener for the series.  As quickly paced as a basketball game, it not only traced the growth of the sport in America, but showed how quickly basketball took hold among Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

David Vyorst's winning 90-minute film (narrated by Peter Riegert) may well be the only sports documentary to boast a musical score heavy in klezmer and jazz music.  It follows the way basketball took root in YMCAs, YMHAs, and New York's Settlement Houses.  

As the film follows the growth of the sport's popularity with Jewish athletes at CCNY (then known as "the Harvard of New York") up through the formation of the National Basketball Association and on to the Olympics, audiences quickly get caught up in a tremendous amount of archival footage and the sheer guts of the game.  Just witness the following clips:

The First Basket will be given a theatrical release later this fall.  If you're a sports fan, you won't want to miss it.  Not only will you learn a lot about the early days of integrated basketball teams (with Jews and Blacks working the court), you'll have a grand time watching footage from the old Madison Square Garden.  If you're an athletic Jew, you'll be surprised how much you'll learn about your heritage.

* * * * *

The following night featured an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's television critic, Tim Goodman (whose blog -- Tim Goodman: The Bastard Machine --  has been known to raise quite a few hackles within the industry).  An extremely cheerful raconteur with an encyclopedic knowledge of the television world, Goodman was an absolute delight.  After describing the particular strengths of some of the current hit shows on television -- with some wonderful insights into the creativity behind Mad Men -- he generously took questions from the audience and enjoyed the sparring almost as much as the audience did.

Goodman has won numerous awards for his criticism but his blog is a real gem.  He won kudos for his brilliant deconstructions of episodes of The Sopranos and may be one of the few people who can honestly and intelligently discuss both sides of the television industry:  the business of making art, and the art of making entertainment sausage.  What goes in may not always come out right, but listening to Goodman describe the creative process is a treat in and of itself. 

Besides, how many television critics are known to have made a network executive's mother cry every time they write that the creative team from a certain show (which happens to include her beautiful and talented daughter) should all be fired!

No comments: