Thursday, November 22, 2012

The SS Exodus

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my favorite films of any era. It is bitingly dark, sardonic and thought provoking. Also, when I watch it, I get to look at Audrey Hepburn, as the iconic Holly Golightly, which is always a treat. If not for one scene in the film, I would say it was the perfect film. Anyone in a modern audience will notice this scene immediately because it is completely out of sync with the rest of the film. Of course, I am talking about the Mickey Rooney scene. It might just be the most outright racist scene I have ever seen in a Hollywood film, which is saying a lot considering their treatment of African and Native Americans throughout the years. Rooney plays Holly's Japanese landlord, believe it or not. I think it was meant as comic relief at the time, but does not have the same effect nowadays. The scene is just painful to watch. Like the rain of frogs in the film Magnolia, this scene simply ruins an otherwise perfect film.

I could not help but think of this scene today when I start watching Otto Preminger's 1960 war epic Exodus  with the very WASP-looking Paul Newman as the star in his first big roll. Throughout the film, I kept thinking of how badly this film was cast.  Exodus is based on the Leon Uris novel of the same name about the founding of Israel. This was pre-Dustin Hoffman Hollywood, where it was okay to be Jewish when you are behind the camera or in production, but you certainly couldn't be in front of the camera. If you were on film and Jewish, you certainly couldn't look it.  Newman's father was Jewish and his mother was a Christian Scientist. I have read that  Kirk Douglas wanted to star in this film but I cannot find anywhere as to why Newman chosen. Douglas does seem to be a better match for this role.

Since I am woefully ignorant of most things Middle Eastern, I watched this film with my Mac on my lap giving Google and Wikipedia a good workout for the 3.5 hour run time. Leon Uris was famous for the amount of research he did for his historical fiction. The biggest criticism I could find of the book was that it was biased toward Israel, while the Arabs were portrayed as thugs. The film's biggest criticism seems to be its length. Preminger was so faithful to the novel that the film went so long.  At one point during the film premiere, comedian Mort Sahl yelled "Otto, let my people go." In the film, the British seemed to be much more thug-like than the Arabs. Overall, I found it entertaining, but indeed too long.  It was only educational in that I was researching the gaps in my knowledge throughout my viewing.

The biggest gap in my knowledge is the transition period after World War II and the founding of Israel in 1948.  Where did those people go? Nine concentration camps were created on the island of Cyprus to house over 50,000 survivors of Hitler death camps. After surviving the Holocaust, living through ungodly horrors, they were moved to Cyprus awaiting admission to Palestine. The camps were operated by the British from August 1946 to January 1949. Camp conditions were horrendous. Better than Terezine, but surely not comfortable. Britain had their own problems at the time.

The SS Exodus was a ship that left port in France in 1947 carrying thousands of Jews, mostly Holocaust survivors, seemingly headed toward Cyprus. None of them had certification for immigration to Palestine, so they had to go to the camps instead.  The ship was actually commanded by the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization. It intended to break through the blockade and illegally immigrate to Palestine. Eventually, it was seized by the British navy and forced to return to France. To add insult to injury, it was refused entry and they eventually relocated back to Germany.

It is very easy to get angry and frustrated with modern Israel. Indeed, they have a right to defend themselves, but they do seem to overcompensate. I am not qualified or informed enough to discuss the situation much more. The more I learn of how the Jewish people have been treated throughout history, the more I understand their behavior in modern times. I don't justify it, but I do begin to understand it.


Anonymous said...

This interactive of oil flow in the middle east, to add to the two youtube links ... It's my belief that our need of Middle eastern oil is slanted. We need the commerce to remain predominately dollar based in this region, or we chance the failing dollar, not the actual barrels.

Anonymous said...

My earlier post was not posted . Here are two links you may like. Short and concise.