a Hollywood movie about ethnic prejudice.
mean that we cant honor the contributions which different groups have made, but in the end we
have to relate as individuals, not members of ethnic groups.
- by John Denvir
and Main" is an intersection. Its an intersection
where a traffic accident takes place, but more importantly, an
intersection of two cultures. You could say its a meeting
of the Hollywood Slicks and the Vermont Hicks, and you wouldnt
be wrong. But I think that
writer/director David Mamet goes out of his way to make the crucial
intersection be between Jew and Gentile. Its a Hollywood
movie about ethnic prejudice.
The film chronicles
what transpires when a Hollywood film crew invades a rural Vermont
village to make a movie entitled "The Old Mill." But
Mamet makes the moviemakers Jewish and the villagers Scot. Each
group has its icon; the Jews are identified with matzos, the
Scots by their tam o shanters.
We see the
two tribes meet on a public and a private level. On the public
level, their meetings are tense. The Hollywoods are cynical,
the locals suspicious. The worst traits of each group are represented
by one member. Readers of Picturing Justice will not be surprised
that each is a lawyer. The Jewish villain is Marty Rossen (David
Paymer), who portrays a stereotypical, fast-talking Jewish Hollywood
producer who is both hilarious and revolting in his no-holds-barred
attempt to muscle adversaries to his will. Rossen is so overdrawn
that viewers might wonder why Mamet, himself a Jew, would create
him, but I think Mamet has his reasons. He really is setting
Rossen up to be compared to the openly anti-Semitic Doug MacKenzie.
MacKenzie is ambitious, devious, and corrupt. In fact, hes
a lot like Rossen. But Rossen at least is not a hypocrite. Rossen
gets the last laugh when he greets the sanctimonious MacKenzie
in Yiddish when he delivers a bribe to him. The message is clear:
MacKenzie displays all the vices he attributes to Rossen. They
are members of the same tribe.
But the comparison
of MacKenzie and Rossen is only the first of Mamets Jew-gentile
intersections. There is also a meeting on the private level.
Here we see a romance ignite between Jewish playwright /screenwriter
Joe White and gentile local book store owner Ann Black. Here
the intersection is successful, not because the characters struggle
to transcend ethnicity but because they are blissfully unaware
of it. White is a sweet, shy, tongue-tied young writer. We only
know hes Jewish by the box of matzo in his room. When the
sexy female star played by Sarah Jessica Parker notices the matzos,
she attempts to flirt with him by saying, " I love Jewish
men." Whites reply is the key to the movie. He asks
"Why?" Why would you like or dislike anyone just because
they were Jewish?
spots the box of matzos, she asks if she can have a cracker.
She has lots of reasons for loving White, none of them related
to ethnicity. White (Jew) and Black (gentile) find they really
belong to the same tribe: the one that likes books, amateur theatricals,
small town papers, and quiet walks with lots of talk.
I think Mamet
is telling us that the only possible future for America is assimilation.
That doesnt mean that we cant honor the contributions
which different groups have made, but in the end we have to relate
as individuals, not members of ethnic groups. Mamet has introduced
this same theme before in Homicide. In that movie Bobby
Gold (Joe Mantegna) was haunted by the anti-semitism he perceived
in the behavior of his police colleagues. His Irish partner Tim
Sullivan ( William Macey)
dismissed his accusations and told him they should get on with
their job. But Gold became involved with a Jewish terrorist organization
which played on his ethnic identity. They kept asking him why
he wasnt loyal to his own people. Eventually the Jewish
group betrayed Gold, but not before causing him to miss an appointment
with Sullivan which led to Sullivans death. Too late Gold
discovered that his true "tribe" was Jewish, and Irish.
Communities should be based on mutual affection, not ethnic identity.
The final scene
in "State and Main" shows a judge donning his tam o
shanter to get in a few holes of golf after work. Hes an
African-American. Like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, he knows
he belongs to the greatest tribe of all -- the golfers.
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