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An Imaginary Conversation with J Hoberman about Inside Lleywn Davis and the universe of the schlemiel

(quotations from Mr Hoberman are from his “Tablet” magazine review of the film).

JH: A scene in which [Lleywn] sings Ewan MacColl’s “The Shoals of Herring” for his catatonic dad in a dismal rest home for retired seamen affords a pathos that the Coens are pleased to despoil because, like Barton Fink or Larry Gopnik (_A Serious Man_), Llewyn Davis is a schlemiel.
JG: Llewyn is certainly a schlemiel (but not solely that). He has maybe gotten a colleague at the Gaslight pregnant who, it turns out, really cares for him. But he does not pursue it. He almost drives to Akron to see a girl friend who had his child, instead of using the money he freely gave her to get an abortion. But he doesn’t make it. He insults well-meaning people. He loses his merchant marine papers through thoughtlessness. He loses out on royalties on a gag song he jointly sung (sure fire) , because he gave up any royalties in favor a few hundred bucks he needed (to pay for the folk singer’s abortion).
JH: . Later, Llewyn goes on the road to Chicago with a feline cat and a human one (John Goodman as a hideous jazz junkie hipster), hoping to land a gig at the Gate of Horn or at least get representation from the owner Bud Grossman. A stand-in for Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman, this imposing figure is singularly unimpressed. “I don’t see a lot of money here.” Read More 
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Steve Stern's "The Wedding Jester"

Steve Stern is a gifted comic writer. Like Nathan Englander, he weaves into his stories legends and mystic figures of the Jewish people: Dybbuk, Golem, shekinah, tzaddik, doppleganger, demons, wonder rabbis, the True World, transmigration of souls. Both writers allude to the tales of The Baal Shem Tov, Nachman of Bratslav, Mendele the Bookseller, Sholem Aleichem, the panoply of Yiddish short story writers published in eastern Europe and in The Jewish Daily Forward, as well as Bellow, Malamud, and Ozick. I. B. Singer is perhaps their most recognizable model.
This kind of story allows readers to understand the part-anguished, part-mystical world the Jewish people of the Diaspora lived and breathed in the context of the American world into which they have been, by now, oh so thoroughly assimilated. A hell of a trick, when successful. Sometimes, these stories indeed do prove timeless, and enrich their characters psyches. Leslie Fiedler asked, “Is there a Jewish identity which survives the abandonment of ghetto life and ghetto beliefs, which for so long defined the Jew? Or has the Jew left in Europe, along with the pain and squalor he fled, the possibility of any definition?” It is a brilliantly composed question.  Read More 
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