Reel people, reel views

The Sam Spiegel Film School hosts a special conference this week involving 40 central figures in Israeli culture and academia who will present their favorite cinematic heroes in Israeli and international film

JAMES DEAN stars in ‘East of Eden.’ (photo credit: Courtesy of OraLapidot/PR)
JAMES DEAN stars in ‘East of Eden.’
(photo credit: Courtesy of OraLapidot/PR)
Although in real life, Israel is a country full of heroes, when the Sam Spiegel School of Film in Jerusalem contacted over 40 Israelis in the arts and humanities to ask who their cinematic hero was, the vast majority turned to Hollywood when they answered.
All these luminaries will get a chance to explain their choices on Thursday (November 10) in a conference at the Sam Spiegel School that is open to the public, and will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.. This conference celebrates the start of the academic year at the school, which was founded 20 years ago by filmmaker Renen Schorr.
This distinguished group of participants includes such well-known actors as Moshe Ivgy, Gila Almagor, Rivka Michaeli, and Oded Kotler; directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Joseph Cedar (Footnote), Avi Nesher (The Matchmaker), Nadav Lapid (Policeman), Judd Ne’eman (Streets of Yesterday), Yossi Madmony (Restoration) and Menachem Golan (Kazablan); leading investigative journalist and host of the television show, Fact (Uvda), Ilana Dayan; authors Zeruya Shalev, Yoram Kaniuk, Ronit Matalon, and Dorit Rabinyan; and professors Nahman Ingbar and Rivka Carmi.
“Just this once, we are dealing with the hero in cinema,” says Schorr.
“It’s important that future creators will remember [these cinematic heroes of the past] because their role will be to aspire to build new heroes and anti-heroes that will be inscribed in memory. The widely varied group of speakers will create a thought-provoking dialogue and provide inspiration on the fundamental question of modern and post-modern cinema.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the larger-than- life film culture of the US has produced more inspiring cinematic heroes than the low-budget world of Israeli film-making.
Only three of the 43 chose blue-and-white characters. Perhaps the most surprising choice of these is Prof. Micha Goodman’s decision go for the megalomaniac Prof. Skolnick in Joseph Cedar’s recently released Footnote. Actor Moshe Ivgy chose the character played by Shaike Ophir in Moshe Mizrahi’s Abu el Banat.
Dr. Ariel Schvitzer chose the brooding hero of Shalom, Prayers on the Road.
RECENT HOLLYWOOD offerings account for a few of the choices. Ilana Dayan, a television journalist with a reserved, onscreen persona, might not have seemed a natural match for a Quentin Tarantino heroine, but the one she chose is Shoshanna in Inglorious Basterds, a young Jewish Frenchwoman who escapes when her family is slaughtered, then manages to lure a group of high-ranking Nazis to a movie theater, which she then blows up. Another recent on-screen heroine, Frida Kahlo, from the biopic, Frida, inspired Prof. Rivka Carmi. Director Yossi Madmony went for the cult-classic antihero Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski.
But it’s mostly classic Hollywood where the participants found their inspiration.
Actress Gila Almagor was moved by Marlon Brando’s performance as a paraplegic veteran in Fred Zinnemann’s The Men.
Another Fred Zinnemann hero, the lonely and courageous Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in High Noon, provided inspiration for Prof. Yossi Izraeli. And another Gary Cooper role, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, was chosen by Gideon Amichai. The James Stewart character in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was the one for director Judd Ne’eman, And what hero could smolder more attractively than James Dean? Actor Oded Kotler chose Dean’s performance as Caleb Trask in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden. And, of course, Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan in Otto Preminger’s Exodus made the list, courtesy of Yom Kippur War hero himself and social activist Zvika Greengold.
But it wasn’t only the men of Hollywood who inspired Israel’s best and brightest. Novelist Ronit Matalon chose Holly Golightly, the heroine of Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for her role model.
Just a few embraced European heroes. Director Ari Folman found his hero in the Bruno Ganz character in Wim Wenders’ The American Friend. Author Zeruya Shalev went with Pomme, the low-key heroine of Claude Goretta’s The Lacemaker, who was played by Isabelle Huppert.

One of the most eccentric choices came from director Avi Nesher, who has created memorable heroes and heroines of his own in such films as The Matchmaker, Turn Left at the End of the World and Rage and Glory. But he went with the Bob Dylan character, known as Alias, from Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
“He’s a man with no name and no code of honor,” says Nesher.
“In the Hebrew titles when I first saw it, they translated his name as Elias, but it’s Alias. It’s ultimately a very American truth, that any attempt to put together a moral code is doomed. You can see his influence on the films of Quentin Tarantino.”