‘Kreplach Western’ screening a new frontier for Boyle Heights lending library
Libros Schmibros is, according to David Kipen, its founder, “the Yiddish-Spanish joke that got out of hand.” By his telling, the Boyle Heights lending library has become more than just a place for community members to grab something to read.
“Very gratifyingly, and in a hurry, it became a place not just for people to come get books, which would have been enough — you know, Dayenu,” he said during a recent interview. “But it also became this kind of crossroads for friends of mine from the Westside and folks from the neighborhood to get together.”
The hole-in-the-wall bookshop recalls the Jewish history of Boyle Heights while catering to what is now a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood; visitors are encouraged to take home books, even to keep them, free of charge.
Now the lending library is looking to move from the bookshelf to the silver screen. On Aug. 5, Libros Schmibros will host a 50th anniversary screening of “Tiempo de Morir” (“Time to Die”), a Spanish-language western written by Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez and directed by Mexican-Jewish director Arturo Ripstein, at the newly restored John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in the Cahuenga Pass.
The 1966 film centers on a man released from prison after 18 years who returns to his hometown to discover the crime that put him away has not been forgiven.
Kipen, quick with a Yiddish joke, called the film a “kreplach Western” because of the Jewish heritage of its makers. Alameda Films, the studio that produced “Tiempo de Morir,” was founded by Ripstein’s father, Alfredo, a Jew of Polish descent, and is now run by a third-generation Ripstein, Arturo’s son, Daniel.
If a Western staged by Italians is a spaghetti Western, Kipen explained, doesn’t that make one shot by Jews a kreplach Western?
The screening is a pilot project for his organization, Kipen said. Aside from a pop-up exhibition it hosted with the Hammer Museum in the Westwood in 2011, Libros Schmibros has done little in the way of live events outside of Boyle Heights. If all goes well, Kipen hopes to begin screening films for large audiences in the neighborhood.
“We’re all cinephiles who sublimate our love of movies into books,” he said. “So it’s always been in the back of my mind to double down on [being] the kind of community center that we had somehow become by way of being a lending library.”
Libros Schmibros first opened its doors in 2010 on First Street in Boyle Heights. Kipen, a freelance book critic and former director of reading initiatives for the National Endowment for the Arts, started the lending library shortly after moving into the neighborhood when he learned the local public library branch would be shutting down on Mondays. He started by dipping into his own library; Kipen had amassed more than 10,000 books during his career as a critic.
“Here I am sitting on a pile of thousands of books and the neighborhood’s about to have even less access to books than it did before — which was not a lot,” he said, sitting at the Libros Schmibros Mariachi Plaza location, a cluster of shops around a large bandstand, steps from the Metro. “So, I thought, I can do something about this, at least a little.”
Kipen by now cuts a recognizable figure in the neighborhood, where he knows the local shop owners and easily strikes up conversations in coffee shops. On July 19, as he paced in long-legged strides past taquerias and neighborhood shops, a passerby recognized him and shouted, “Library Dude! What’s up?” Kipen seemed pleased with the moniker.
Earlier this year, when the Los Angeles County Arts Commission prepared to reopen the Ford Theatres this summer after nearly two years of renovations, it invited local community organizations to submit proposals for summer events.
A gregarious Jew with a working knowledge of Spanish (“Nobody would mistake me for bilingual,” he said modestly), Kipen thought “Tiempo de Morir” — which will be shown with English subtitles— would draw an eclectic crowd, including Jews and Latinos.
He also thought it would be a good chance to bring some attention to a national industry he believes languishes unfairly in obscurity.
“Mexican film is so unsung in Southern California,” he said. “I mean, there’s a century-long tradition of great Mexican cinema, but so few people know about it.”
Though less famous than international directors like Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón, Ripstein influenced both those filmmakers, they have said. “Tiempo de Morir” was Ripstein’s directorial debut, released when he was in his early 20s.
When the film premiered, García Márquez was far removed from the celebrity that marked his later years. His most famous novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” didn’t hit shelves until the year after “Tiempo de Morir” was released.
Rodrigo García, a Santa Monica-based director and the novelist’s son, said in an interview that although his father aspired early on to become a film director, his books typically did not translate well to the silver screen. However, the younger man remembers his father frequently working with directors on original screenplays he wrote.
While García Márquez’s novels were often based on his life experiences, “Tiempo de Morir” has no such basis as far as his son knows, and is likely based on the Greek tragedies the author adored.
García said people should come out to see the film — but not because his father wrote it.
“The story is compelling, and it’s tragic and interesting,” he said. “I think [people should see the film] because the movie is good, not just because it’s an early screenplay by a person who later became a famous novelist.”