Volume 78 - Number 35 / January 28 - February 3, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

“Defiance” (-)

Regrettably, this is not a very good film. “Defiance” recounts the true story of the Bielski brothers who were Polish Jews living in the ghetto of Belarus. When the Germans began killing the Jews and sending them in boxcars to various death camps, the brothers managed to escape to the forest. In the woods they met other Jews who had also fled their towns and villages. The refugees united and vowed to fight the German Army and their collaborators. An effort is made to show that Jews did not just walk without resistance into the death camps. They did fight back, e.g. the Warsaw Ghetto and other uprisings, without any hope of prevailing.

The brothers include Tuvia (Daniel Craig), the oldest and leader of the Jewish partisans, Zus (Live Schreiber), the second oldest who is less intellectual and more willing to kill the Germans, Aron (George MacKay), the youngest, and Asael (Jamie Bell), a boy in his 20’s who is very hesitant even in his courting of a young woman who joins the group which grows each day as survivors of the pogroms escape to the forest. Also living in the forest is a rival partisan group led by Russian soldiers amongst whom are anti-Semites.

Many painful stories have been told detailing actual accounts of Jewish persecutions by Poles and others, e.g., citizens of the Baltic nations and the Ukraine, all conquered by the Nazis with some of the subjugated becoming collaborators. But that is not covered in this movie. This picture gets bogged down with Jewish caricatures, e.g., the intellectual, the chess player, and the musician. One technical failure is that sometimes the Germans, Poles and Russians speak their native languages, and other times they and the Jews speak English with different accents. I believe it would have been best if everyone had spoken their native language and subtitles had been provided or if all had spoken English. But that would not have helped this movie very much, the script being third rate.

“Notorious” (-)

“Notorious” tells the story of the talented rapper Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls, who was murdered in 1997 at the age of 24. I view hip-hop as doggerel, while many others perceive it as inspired wisdom coming from the streets. Because the picture received several favorable reviews, I went to see it. On opening night The Regal Theater, located at East 13th Street and Broadway in the Village, was packed. The movie’s energy is enormous and the acting is superb. In the end, however, I believe the film is an attack by some African-Americans on their own culture – supporters of hip-hop using the vilest of language – and should be condemned rather than extolled.

Wallace (Jamal Woolard), who was born in Brooklyn and raised by a single mother, began to sell drugs on the streets at the age of 12. A few years later he started rapping and occasionally performed with local groups. He eventually released very successful albums and became known as one of the country’s great rap artists. While his musical talent and success in the industry are admirable, I don’t believe he should be viewed as a hero by the African-American community or by any other community – white, Hispanic or Asian - or as a man youngsters should look up to. During his short and violent life Biggie Smalls, a high school drop out, was arrested for harassment, drug and weapons possessions, and parole violation. The crescendo in the movie is the death of the West Coast rapper, Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas followed six months later by the similar murder of his East Coast rival, Biggie Smalls, in Los Angeles. Neither crime has been solved.

All of the actors in the film are outstanding. They include Wallace’s wife, Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), his girlfriend, Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton), his mother, Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett), and his friend, Sean Combs (Derek Luke). Jamal Woolard does an awesome job portraying the talented Biggie Smalls who was and still is a hero to many people, black and white.

When I left the theater, I met a friend, MH, who served with great distinction in my administration. She had just seen the film with her son who is attending college. When asked for my opinion of the picture, I told them I did not really like it and that I was very offended by the constant use of the “N” word. Her son said, “It’s generational.” Is he right?

I recently saw “Cadillac Records” and was mesmerized by the story of how rock ‘n’ roll music was created by black musicians in the South. Among the performers depicted in this wonderful film are Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Etta James and Chuck Berry. Credit for creating this music genre was denied to these talented artists by wealthy white men in the music business.

HS said: Although it has the same title, this film is nothing like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” 1946, with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. The 2009 “Notorious” is a pastiche of slum life, street crime, dope addiction, adultery and illegitimacy, climaxed by the murder of the protagonist, who is depicted as good at heart. Mayor Koch objects to the “N” word. It was only surpassed by the “F” word, sometimes employed incestuously.

Well, if that’s the way those rappers talk, let it be.

The movie is composed of a series of tragedies. Biggie Smalls’s mother and the several mothers of his children are favorably depicted, but they are among his victims. Our Rule 27-B is attributed to Biggie: “Get ready to die. Tell God I said ‘Hi,’” which he says just before he caps (wastes) someone. The film is dramatic, the actors are very good, the pace is quick, the music is a matter of taste (I couldn’t make it out.) The emphasis is on human misery, wasted talent, and small children who lose their father much too soon.

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