Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Movie Made Me Hopping Mad.

About a week ago we watched a 1992 movie, School Ties on Amazon Prime. It was an early vehicle for many of today's well-known faces in film and TV: Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, Ben Affleck and suchlike - all still fresh-faced. The film made me hopping mad! I still seethe when I think of certain scenes in it. The film was not pure fiction, but was based on truth too. Dick Wolf, best known for the creation and executive production of the long-running Law and Order franchise on TV, also co-wrote the screenplay of School Ties.

From an archived article The Talk of Hollywood; Anti-Semitism Film Strikes a Chord With Its Producers, by Bernard Weinraub.

The idea for the film was first proposed by Dick Wolf, a well-known television writer and producer, who attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., in the 1950's. The film was written by Darryl Ponicsan, a novelist, and directed by Robert Mandel. Mr. Tartikoff, who took over the studio in July 1991, when the movie was about to begin filming, said he was startled when he read the script.

"It was such an eerie coincidence that when I got to Paramount, this project that I had nothing to do with in the first place looked like it was a homage to my own experiences at prep school," said Mr. Tartikoff, who grew up in Freeport, L.I., and attended the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J., from 1962 to 1966.

"There were 15 Jewish students in a school of about 650 kids," he said. "I went there seven months after my bar mitzvah. The anti-Semitism wasn't as overt as it was in the film. But you heard people making remarks; there were fist fights; people called you 'dirty Jew.' I was a pretty popular kid, on a couple of varsity athletic teams, but there was was this steady undercurrent of anti-Semitism. It made me aware that I grew up quite insulated. It made me aware that I was in a distinct minority."
Nutshell plot: Set in early to mid-1950s. A working class young Jewish guy, David Greene (played by Brendan Fraser) from Scranton, New Jersey, brilliant athlete and football player is head-hunted by a sports coach for an elite school in a posh area of Massachusetts. Coach needs a good quarterback in order for their team to beat a bitter rival team. David Greene gets a scholarship and enters the kind of scenario totally alien to him. His main purpose was to get himself a scholarship to Harvard, eventually. After a veiled warning from coach, he does not mention his Jewish background, removes his Star of David necklace.

David's was a charismatic personality, and in spite of very different economic backgrounds he soon got on well with his new school colleagues, especially when they realised how valuable his football prowess would be to the school. Mat Damon plays Charlie Dillon, younger son of the very posh local family. He and David become friends, until David inadvertently entrances Dillon's longtime girlfriend.

Somehow David's Jewish faith is made known to one or two pupils, and word spreads rapidly.

This is where I started to feel hopping mad. The level of anti-semitism and outright bigotry displayed was shocking, especially bearing in mind that World War 2 was less than a decade past. Nobody mentioned that millions had died fighting something born of the bigotry and ignorance being displayed!

Alright - these boys were young-ish, maybe didn't fully understand World War 2 - but their teachers should've and should have been stamping hard on antisemitism. The boys' relatives, or some of them, would surely have fought in the war, some of their teachers too.

"WTF!?" was my cry again and again!

Now, had the movie been set in the 1930s, though no less sickening, would have been more understandable.

With School Ties still batting around my mind, at the weekend I watched Schindler's List on Netflix. I'd seen it before, but too many years ago. What a great piece of film-making that was! I wish it had been made in time for those ignorant louts at the posh US boarding school. They should have been made to watch it once a week for life! Instead, I'd not be surprised if many of 'em are in places of power as I type - or have been so in recent years. Disquieting thought, that!

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