Tag Archives: anti-Semitism

261 – The City Without Jews

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

1924’s The City Without Jews, an Austrian silent film adapted from Hugo Bettauer’s enormously successful novel of the same name, published two years earlier, imagines a European city undergoing hyperinflation and mass unemployment, blaming the Jews for its problems, and expelling them. Unthinkable! Needless to say, it both drew on and prefigured actual events, but some of the imagery is chillingly evocative of what was yet to occur, including the Chancellor’s proud address from a balcony to the ecstatic crowds below, and the entire depiction of the Jews’ eviction, from being kicked out of their homes to the trains that remove them from the city.

Despite its historical interest, the stories that surround it, including the murder of Bettauer by a Nazi less than a year after its release, and its obvious and depressing relevance 100 years on, The City Without Jews is not a great film, its story and world feeling somewhat poorly thought-out, and its ending rather pat, perhaps the result of the significant changes made in adaptation that led to Bettauer falling out with the director, Hans Karl Breslauer. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating and thought-provoking film, and worth watching.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

260 – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The winner of the 1971 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis tells an aching story of doomed love within a wealthy Jewish community in Fascist Italy. The 1938 racial laws, enforcing the segregation of Italian Jews, have just been introduced, but the titular family’s titular garden offers insulation from the rising tide of fascism – for a while.

Mike finds the film’s love triangle somewhat banal, but is impressed with the subtly observed way in which the central characters allow themselves to remain comfortably ignorant of the increasingly hostile and dangerous Italy beyond their walls; comparisons to frogs in saucepans abound, not to mention the present-day normalisation of absurd corruption and violence in the Greatest Country in the World™. José is more keen on the romance, but still, the film’s sociopolitical side remains our focus. We consider the film’s use of physical space, the ways in which the Jewish characters can navigate it without being suspected by the racist public, but find themselves eager to retreat to safety as the film develops. We note that The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was made 25 years after the end of the Second World War, but 50 years prior to today: it’s now conspicuously an historical artefact that speaks to the time in which it was made, and whose proximity to the horrors it dramatises is necessary to keep in mind. And Mike reflects on his relationship with his Jewishness in this day and age, and how the film demonstrates that whatever divisions we may find among ourselves, to those who hate us, there’s no distinction.

It’s also Bonfire Night – well, the day after, but it’s a Friday evening so the festivities continue – and we celebrate by closing the window and trying to ignore the fireworks going off outside.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

84 – BlacKkKlansman

We breathlessly debate BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comic drama based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. With limited time – Mike has to leave for work at some point and he’ll only let himself be so late – we dig right in. Discussed is the film’s point of view on culture and particularly cinema, arguing that a single film can wield the power to affect an entire nation; John David Washington’s performance, the influences we can see in it, and whether a more charismatic star might have been beneficial; our attitudes to Lee’s pamphleteering and the pros and cons of propagandistic cinema; the film’s direct address of Trump’s America and its tragic, somewhat surprising ending; and more.

We question whether the film’s comic treatment of David Duke, head of the KKK, carefully undercuts our delight in mocking him or dangerously indulges it. Duke is rendered a figure of fun in some notable and hilarious scenes, but the film ensures we recognise that he has never gone away. And Mike is particularly affected by Adam Driver’s character, a Jew in name only who, through being threatened by the KKK and confronted by Ron, is forced to reckon with his identity and the fact that it’s been easy for him to ignore it for most of his life. (The Howard Jacobson article he references is linked here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/07/howard-jacobson-jews-know-what-antisemitism-is-and-what-it-isnt-to-invent-it-would-be-a-sacrilege)

As we acknowledge in the podcast, we unfortunately missed the first few minutes of the film, which is only one reason we want to see it again. Mike is bursting with thoughts and can’t get them all out; Jose vacillates on the film’s artistic value, though not its cultural value. There’s much, much more to consider in BlacKkKlansman than we were able to in this podcast and we shall return to it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.