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The Jerusalem Cinematheque is showing a number of films in honor of Holocaust Memorial day, among them Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During World War II by Aviva Slesin on Monday at 6 p.m. (the film will be followed by a discussion led by the staff of AMCHA, the Israeli National Center for the Psycho-social support of Holocaust Survivors); Ich Bin Jude! Ich Bin Jude! Jewish Youth Movements' Resistance In Occupied France, directed by Nicole and Barak Bard, at 6:30 on Tuesday (the film is in French with Hebrew titles); Appelfeld's Table by Adi Japhet Fuchs, a portrait of novelist Aharon Appelfeld, on Tuesday at 8 p.m.; and Paper Clips, a look at a school in Tennessee that in 1998 began trying to collect 6 million paper clips in order to comprehend the scale of the Holocaust, a personal favorite of Jerusalem Cinematheque founder and director Lia van Leer, on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.
A SPECIAL PROGRAM on Ethics and Cinema will be presented at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Thursday at 7 p.m., featuring a lecture by Dr. Ronen Tzedekah and a screening of Bertrand Tavernier's It All Starts Today (1998), a feature film about a kindergarten in an impoverished town in northern France.
This program has received a fair amount of publicity and I hate to strike a sour note, but I find the trend of lectures on high-brow subjects such as ethics at the country's cinematheques discouraging. Why? Because there is ample opportunity at universities, on television, and in the op-ed pages of newspapers for highly credentialed experts to hold forth on the cures to all modern-day ills, but relatively few places to see really wonderful movies, especially now that there are few theaters outside of the large, commercial chains. Every lecture that is held at a cinematheque means that one fewer movie will be shown. It's also worth noting that most cultural institutions in Israel tend to be dominated by senior citizens, while at the cinematheques, even for some of the most demanding and complex films, the audience is considerably younger (at 43, I often feel I am one of the oldest viewers in the room).
While of course there is nothing wrong with the fact that older audiences tend to attend the Philharmonic and the Jerusalem Theater, it's encouraging that these young audiences will most likely continue to support the cinematheques for years to come, especially in Jerusalem, which more and more is a city dominated by groups that do not generally see movies or make the arts a priority in their lives. Will lectures that reek of what Woody Allen once called total "heaviosity" bring in young audiences or drive them away? The answer is obvious. So rather than add a lecture on ethics to the program, I'd rather put It All Starts Today on a double bill with Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a wonderfully entertaining and hopeful movie on ethics, politics and integrity.
SPEAKING OF ETHICS, has reading about the scandal involving Jared Paul Stern, who writes for the Page Six column of the New York Post, whetted your appetite for a good movie about the gossip business? For those of you who don't follow this kind of thing, Stern was accused by billionaire businessman Ron Burkle of attempting to extort money from him to insure that only positive items about Burkle would be reported in Page Six.
As someone who can admit to being a gossip junkie (and one who used to write for the New York Post, where I sat within earshot of the Page Six staff and enjoyed their unprintable conversations with the dozens of publicity hounds who phoned daily begging to get their names in the column), this story has put me in the mood to watch the Citizen Kane of all gossip films, The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
Although this film is nearly 50 years old and in black and white, it couldn't be fresher or more relevant. Both Burt Lancaster as the power-mad columnist J.J. Hunsecker (said to have been based on Walter Winchell) and Tony Curtis as his rat of an assistant give the most memorable performances of their careers. The sparkling dialogue by playwright Clifford Odets is unforgettable (there was a character in Diner who spent his entire life just reciting scenes from the movie), with lines like, "I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic." When Hunsecker exults, "I love this dirty town," you'll realize that scandals in the gossip business are nothing new. Sweet Smell is on DVD and good video/DVD stores should have it.