Saturday, August 14, 2010

2010 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

One Sunday during the Hole in the Head Festival, I wandered over to the Castro Theater to catch a couple films at the SF Jewish Film Festival. The festival ran from July 24 to August 9 at multiple venues.

The festival had a mini program called Tough Guys: Images of Jewish Gangsters in Film which consisted of four films - Bugsy (1991), King of the Roaring 20’s – The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961), Lepke (1975) and Scarface (1932).

I watched Lepke starring Tony Curtis. Louis "Lepke" Buchalter was a Jewish gangster who founded Murder, Inc. a gang of hitman used by the Mafia. I'm moderately familiar with his story and Lepke does not do it justice. The plot was one step above incoherent. Perhaps the particulars of the man's life were faithfully recreated in the film but none of the man's inner demons were present in Curtis' performance. Surely a murderer like Lepke has something driving his sociopathy. Even if he didn't, I would expect a film to attribute his behavior to something for the sake of the plot. Instead, we are left with Lepke which seems more a like a cataloging of 1920s gangster. Lucky Luciano, check; Albert Anastasia, check; Dutch Schultz, check...

The other film I saw at SFJFF was Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. The documentary profiled some of the prominent Jews in Major League Baseball including Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Al Rosen. I always thought Lou Gehrig was Jewish. I seem to recall a scene in The Pride of the Yankees where Gehrig (played by Gary Cooper) is subjected to some anti-semitism. I guess learning history from Hollywood movies is not always a good idea. Apparently, Gehrig was Lutheran. I'll have to watch the film again to see if my memory is wrong or the film distorts the truth.

Whereas Lepke was a cataloging of Jewish & Italian gangsters and I found it boring, Jews and Baseball was a cataloging of Jewish baseball players and I found it interesting. I guess a documentary can get away with that.

After the film, Al Rosen took a few questions from the audience. I only knew Al Rosen as the former general manager of the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees during the Reggie Jackson/Billy Martin years. However, Rosen was a accomplished slugger for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s. He was known and introduced as the Hebrew Hammer. Rosen told a few stories about his playing days, anti-semitism and relationship with Hank Greenberg who was the general manager of the Indians at the time Rosen played for them.

Rosen's Q&A was probably the best part of the afternoon for me. Rosen's nickname during his playing days was "The Hebrew Hammer." They don't make nicknames like that anymore...


Lepke starring Tony Curtis; with Milton Berle; (1975)
Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story; documentary; narrated by Dustin Hoffman; (2010) - Official Website

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