Spotting the Jewish in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Tomorrow night at 7pm we’ll be screening (for free) the film version of Carson McCuller’s novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunteras part of DC’s Big Read. There are many differences between the film and the novel: the period is changed, the ending completely re-written and as expected, many liberties are taken with the plot and timeframe. But one of the biggest changes for me from the book to the film are the removal of a few key references to Jewish characters and Jewish characteristics.

112214__lonely_lIt’s not that The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is what you could call a Jewish book. But Carson McCulllers clearly had a thing for Jews, or if not actual Jews, what Jews represented to her — a combination in different parts of wisdom, suffering and quintessential outsider status. In fact, in its early drafts, the central character of The Heart Is… was explicitly Jewish, Harry Minowitz. As McCullers later wrote:

Suddenly, as I walked across a road, it occurred me that Harry Minowitz, the character all the other characters were talking to, was a different man, a deaf mute, and immediately the name was changed to John Singer. The whole focus of the novel was fixed and I was for the first time committed with my whole soul to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

In the finished novel, Harry Minowitz does appear as Mick Kelly’s anti-Fascist Jewish neighbor and her first sexual experience. But that does not mean all of the Jew has been taken out of John Singer. Because he is a mute, he is a bit of a cypher for the characters that surround him, each able to project onto him the characteristics that each needs to be reassured. For Doctor Copeland, that image of Singer reflects his own self-perception: that of a philosopher misunderstood by his own people.  When Singer shows up at his Christmas party, Dr. Copeland observes, “The mute stood by himself. His face resembled somewhat a picture of Spinoza. A Jewish face. It was good to see him.”

Dr. Eliza McGraw, author of Two Covenants: Representations Of Southern Jewishness will be giving a short introduction at the screening that is sure to touch on these and other issues related to the novel, the movie (whose sole Jewish characteristic that I could discern was the casting of Alan Arkin as John Singer) and the role of Jews in Southern culture and imagination.

Despite its significant differences from the novel, the movie does stand on its own — and if you haven’t read the book, it will definitely inspire you to do so. And you should be reading the book as part of DC’s Big Read. So get crackin’.

This Week at the 16th Street J

Click to Register for Session IIHot Times in The City Summer Day Camp

Session II Begins Monday, June 30
Spots still available in Camp Skate, JKids and for CITs (we’ll even pro-rate if you’re reading this after Monday 6/30)

Is your kid spending the summer at Camp XBox? Get them off the couch and into the best urban camp in the country.

The Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival Friendraiser: The Debt

The DebtMonday, June 30, 7:30 pm
Join past donors to the WJFF for a great film and light reception. Meet Susan Barocas, the new director of the WJFF as it gets ready to launch its 19th edition this December.

2007, Israel, 35mm,
93 minutes, Hebrew, German and Russian with English subtitles
Director: Assaf Bernstein

This thrilling drama tells the tale of three Mossad agents who capture the “Surgeon of Birkenau”, a monstrous Nazi war criminal in 1964. The agents keep him confined to their safe house on the outskirts of Berlin awaiting further instructions to return to Israel. As they watch over the captive, a psychological duel begins between the Nazi doctor and the three young agents; leading to the doctor’s eventual escape. Unable to face their horrible failure, the agents fabricate the Surgeon’s death and return to Israel as heroes. More than thirty years later, the Surgeon resurfaces in the Ukraine, claiming he wishes to confess his crimes against humanity. Gila Almagor (Munich, In Treatment) plays the ex-Mossad agent Rachel, who must take action to protect their lie by terminating a man known to be dead and redeem the debt against which she has built her life.

Hebraica Mirrors by Matatiaou in the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery

Opens July 1 through September 30
Hebraica Mirrors by MatatiaouHebraica Mirrors includes over 60 fine prints on Arches Velum and leather parchment, representing the crossroads of contemporary design and traditional Hebrew calligraphy by the French Jewish artist Matatiaou. This universal graphic interpretation is inspired by the Zohar- the direct origin of the Kabbalah, written circa 1300. The exhibition comes to us from The Jewish Museum of Florida.

This Week at the 16th Street J

A flurry of activity just prior to the holiday of Passover which begins this Saturday…

Monday, April 14

A Hebrew LessonThe Screening Room Presents: A Hebrew Lesson with director David Ofek–Meet the director of the acclaimed Israeli documentary No. 17. While that film examined Israeli society through the prism of a terrorist attack and one of its unidentified victims, his latest film tackles a similar topic through the experiences of those trying to adjust to Israeli society in an ulpan–an intensive Hebrew-language school.

Tuesday-Friday, April 15-18

The Price by Arthur Miller – Final Performances Before Passover. The holiday means this is your last chance to catch the Prosky family in Theater J’s acclaimed production. In addition to evening performances Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; there are matinees both Wednesday and Sunday at noon.

Thursday, April 17

JewfaceNextbook Presents: Jody Rosen at Busboys & Poets–Rosen is the curator of the new CD Jewface, a remarkable collection of popular “ethnic” songs from the 1905-1922. The songs were often gross caricatures of Jewish stereotypes: big nosed, greedy businessmen, nebishy immigrants or romantic weaklings. There’s a catch though, the songs were mostly written, produced and performed by Jews for a largely Jewish audience. Among them were some of the Jewish legends of Tin Pan Alley including Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice (one can even hear the opening bars of Berlin’s God Bless America in the cringe-inducingly titled When Mose With His Nose Leads the Band). These songs, recovered off of 78rpm discs and wax cylinders, are of course first-cousins to other “race” songs of the period, most notoriously, minstrel songs. Rosen, the author of White Christmas: The Story of an American Song unpacks the cultural history of the songs and interprets their modern significance.

Sunday, April 20

Annual Second Night Community Seder–Come celebrate the second night of Passover with new and old friends at the Washington DCJCC. Our welcoming seder will be lead again by Cantor Maurice Singer and is open (with pre-registration) to anyone who wishes to attend. Next year in Jerusalem, but this year at 16th and Q.

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