Must Jewish Comedy Be So Tragic? Scene&Heard A Leading Writer Argues That a New Film Comedy about North London Jews Is an Insult to What Is a Rich Cultural Heritage

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

Must Jewish Comedy Be So Tragic? Scene&Heard A Leading Writer Argues That a New Film Comedy about North London Jews Is an Insult to What Is a Rich Cultural Heritage


Byline: HOWARD JACOBSON

SOME comedies would be better reconceiving themselves as tragedies.

I'm not saying Suzie Gold would actually work, filmically, as tragedy - it is hard to imagine this indescribably feeble film working as anything - but the story it tells is far sadder than it knows. Inane Jewish girl living in north London's inane Jewish community falls in love with inane (but differently inane) Gentile boy, drops him in favour of inane Jewish boy in order not to upset her inane Jewish parents, then changes her mind. The end.

The end, all right. The end - if Suzie Gold portrays its world accurately - of a people once renowned for its learning, its knowledge, its sense of history, its devotion to literature, its passion for music, its fascination with language, its philosophical disputatiousness, its unrivalled capacity to find a joke even at the heart of horror, its belief, above all, in the sacred purpose of its own continuity.

The last is alluded to, in its grossest form, when one of the film's predictable characters predictably pronounces on intermarriage: "My family didn't go to the gas chambers so you could throw away your heritage."

Followed, of course, by "If you marry out, then Hitler has won."

Intermarriage and Hitler aside, it is not pretty to think that Jews have undergone their travails in order to live lives as pointless - as witless, as inarticulate, as materialistically conventional - as they do in Suzie Gold.

But what if it is the film's intention to show this very decline?

There would be point in it, were it so. It needs no prophet come down from Sinai to tell us there is a problem of philistinism within contemporary Jewry. How could there not be? There is a problem of philistinism within contemporary everybody. That one feels it more acutely as a Jew is perhaps mere arrogance. Why shouldn't we go to hell in a handcart like the rest of humanity?

People of the Book, I suppose.

The Book was once our justification. And if it isn't the thing to us it once was, at least we shouldn't be spending our time watching rubbishy musicals and reading trashy novels like other people.

Sociologically, it is an interesting question why English Jews either keep the lowest of cultural profiles, or, when they keep the highest, do so in the hope that no one will notice they are Jewish.

That is not the way of it in America. But then the US comparison is almost too painful to contemplate. The numbers explain it partially. Five million Jews in America, fewer than 300,000 here.

And beyond the numbers, the fact of what each of our communities discovered when we spilled out of our boats: in America a culture up for grabs, in this country a culture so labyrinthine in its complexity that simply making sense of it was enough, and anything more a luxury, not to say an impertinence. …

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