"Goodbye, Columbus": A remarkably all-Jewish movie turns out to be anti-semitic
“Goodbye, Columbus”: A remarkably all-Jewish movie
turns out to be anti-semitic
SUPPOSE YOU’RE tall, dark and handsome and a famous bestselling American novelist of the Hebraic persuasion. Suppose your latest literary hit is Portnoy’s Complaint and it’s number one in the nation. Suppose, too, you have just seen Paramount’s Goodbye, Columbus, the film adaptation of your first novella — and you’re sick to your stomach.
Relax, folks, I am not that tall, dark and handsome novelist of the Hebraic persuasion, but having just seen the Stanley R. Jaffe-Larry Peerce film rendition of Goodbye, Columbus, let me catalogue what I think are the legitimate gripes of Roth.
Goodbye, Columbus earned Philip Roth the National Book Award for fiction in 1960. Newsweek hailed it as “a classic of our time.”
But that, of course, was in the 1950s. In the ’50s the children of Depression America came to maturity at the very moment America was entering an unprecedented era of affluence. This affluence was accompanied by a loathing and fear of ideology, manifested in anti-Communism so all-pervasive it bordered on official theology.
No group in America embraced the tenets and philosophy of the New Babbittry with more enthusiasm than North American Jewry. A Depressionweary and war-weary America had now become rich and consumer-oriented. The Jews began to ape the WASP Babbitts around them. Shaker Heights matched Grosse Point; Hadassah was the Jewish Junior League and Primrose was the Jewish Granite Club. The backyard barbecue and the nosebob joined circumcision and the bar mitzvah in the pantheon of Jewish rituals.
Then, in the ’50s, Jewish writers focused their attention on the Jewish community to attack the general yahooism of America which its Jewish community was merely reflecting.
The novella, Goodbye, Columbus was really nothing more than a Jewish Place in the Sun: Neil Klugman, Jewish librarian from the slums of Newark meets and balls with Brenda Patimkin, rich Jewish Radcliffe girl from Westchester, and no one lives happily ever after. Roth, through pro-
tagonist Klugman, poked fun at Jewish WASPirants. Roth spoke on behalf of American Jewish intellectuals who had no hangups about their Jewishness. These “good Jews” laughed at Brenda Patimkin, the plumber’s daughter, with her puritan hangups on diaphragms and her cache of blue ribbons won at WASPy Westchester Horse Shows. They were amused by Brenda’s brother, Big Ron, Number One basketball star, forever listening to Mantovani and Kostelanetz.
How silly and passé all this seems today! Who cares about Jewish vulgarity in a decade when presidents hold beagles by the ears, conduct interviews on toilet seats and bare postoperative scars to the inquiring lenses of Washington paparazzi?
There is little of what Roth had to say in the ’50s that needs to be said now. And so what is one to say of Goodbye, Columbus, produced for Paramount Pictures by Stanley R. Jaffe and directed by Larry Peerce? Seldom in the fevered annals of Hollywood history has any film been so full of Jewish production values. Gerry Hirschfeld shot the film, Ralph Rosenblum did the editing, Arnie Schulman did the faithful-adaptation-screenplay, and Stanley Fox wrote the music.
The film reeks of Jewish authenticity. A mezuzah adorns the front door of the Patimkin Westchester mansion. A bar mitzvah portrait of Ron in skullcap and prayer shawl hangs on the wall facing the circular staircase. At Ron’s wedding fat Jewish people dance the sher and a chopped-liver statue of
A quick glance at the bad and the beautiful
Where Eagles Dare: Richard Burton, Mary Ure and Clint Eastwood kill 14,000 Nazis all by themselves, before your very eyes, and suffer hardly a scratch. It’s not much except as catharsis therapy for garbage like Goodbye, Columbus.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: Zoe Caldwell’s Jean Brodie was a tour de force on Broadway. In Ronald Neame’s film, Maggie Smith’s
a chicken is beheaded by the Ritz biscuit of a galloping Jewish glutton.
Nor is there lacking a keen Jewish eye for the box-office. Fully aware that the love-sex exploits of a kinkyhaired Jewish boy bedding a hooknosed Jewish girl are not the stuff that fast bucks are made of, the JaffePeerce combo has come up with the WASP boy-and-girl-next-door team of Richard Benjamin as Neil and Ali MacGraw as Brenda.
But this is the only concession to goydom. Jack Klugman and Nan Martin as Ma and Pa Patimkin, Sylvie Strauss as Aunt Gladys, and Rubin Schafer as Uncle Max are thoroughgoing Jewish characters of the classic Catskills stereotype.
This kind of casting only reflects the sickening bad taste with which the Jaffe-Peerce combo approached Goodbye, Columbus. When Roth wrote the novel he was talking about Jewish WASPirants of the 1950s. Roth’s novel was didactic, not anti-semitic, and was full of love and pity for the characters he shot his barbs into.
Stanley R. Jaffe and Larry Peerce, two gentlemen with nothing left to say, in the film say it badly. They are stating the Big Lie that the Catskill Jew is the only Jew, that American vulgarity is really only Jewish vulgarity. What they end up doing is centring out the Jew once again as grotesque and apart in his grotesqueness from the society in which he lives.
The result is a new low in Hollywood breakthroughs: the first All-Jewish Anti-Semitic Bar Mitzvah Movie.
Jean Brodie is a forced tour of Muriel Spark’s excellent novel. The Brotherhood: Beautifully shot and edited. Loving and lavish attention to ethnic ritual and Mafia detail. A must see for anyone wishing to understand CBC politics.
Stolen Kisses: Truffaut’s Fahrenheit experience seems to have taught him that Hitchcock-worship is not a fireproof house. Here he’s back among mere mortals, offering some of the most joyously erotic scenes this voyeur has gazed on in years.
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