Felicity Jones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 1, 2017. Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com

Felicity Jones replaces Natalie Portman as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in biopic


British actress Felicity Jones will portray Jewish Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a biopic after Natalie Portman dropped out.

Shooting of “On the Basis of Sex” was slated to begin this month in Montreal, according to Variety.

Portman, who is Jewish, had been attached to play Ginsburg for at least four years while the film project was stuck in development.

Jones starred as Jyn Erso in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and in “Inferno” with Tom Hanks. She received a best actress Oscar nomination for her role in “The Theory of Everything.”

Ginsburg was the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

The film, which is being directed by Mimi Leder from a script by Daniel Stiepleman, deals with Ginsburg’s struggles for equal rights and what she had to overcome in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, according to IMDB.

Ginsburg, 84, was appointed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton and remains one of the court’s most liberal voices. During the past election campaign, in a move rare for justices on the high court, Ginsburg said in several public comments that Donald Trump was unfit for office. Trump called for Ginsburg to resign and questioned her mental acquity. Ginsburg later apologized, calling her remarks “ill advised.”

The many sides of Bob Dylan


Bob Dylan’s Jewish identity has long been a point of conflict and controversy. His short-lived conversion to born-again Christianity dismayed many, heartened a few and confused all. But at least two commentators are certain that Jewishness and Judaism inform the core of the former Robert Zimmerman’s beliefs and music.

Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman, the director-writer and co-writer, respectively, of the new Dylan biopic “I’m Not There,” which opens theatrically in wide release on Nov. 21, are convinced, after living with their project for many years, that Bob Dylan remains a Jew.

“I’m Not There” is part of a mini-floodlet of new Dylan filmed material that is hitting theaters and DVD stores this month. Also being shown for the first time are Murray Lerner’s compendium of concert footage from Dylan’s folkie days, “The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan, Newport, 1963-1965,” and an hour-long collection of outtakes from D.A. Pennebaker’s seminal “Don’t Look Back,” called “65 Revisited.”

But “I’m Not There” is stirring the most controversy. As practically everyone seems to know by now, Haynes’s film divides Dylan’s life into six personae, each represented by a different actor. We see Dylan progress in fragments from a 12-year-old African American boy (the wonderfully serious Marcus Carl Franklin) through a soft-spoken poet (Ben Wishaw); an earnest folkie who eventually is reborn as a Christian preacher (Christian Bale); a troubled actor, father and husband (Heath Ledger); a snarky pop star (Cate Blanchett); and a mellowed outlaw (Richard Gere). For each of these aspects of Dylan, Haynes devises a different visual style, ranging from the black-and-white faux-cinema-vérité-cum-Fellini of the Blanchett sequences to the amber twilight of the Gere passages.

By all rights, this should feel gimmicky, even foolish. But Haynes invests each of his “Dylans” with a powerful presence that is the perfect counterpart to the music of each period in Dylan’s career, and at the same time links all the personae to a central humanity. In its own oddball way, “I’m Not There” is among the best pieces of music criticism I’ve seen or read on the subject of Bob Dylan. It is a jigsaw puzzle, with its various pieces scattered around the table by a deft, if quirky hand. It’s a film that rewards close attention and deserves repeated viewings.

The film’s one significant omission is the place of Judaism in Dylan’s life.

“That is the most secret and well-preserved of his personae,” Todd Haynes replied when asked about that gap at the New York Film Festival. “I think Dylan’s relationship to his Jewishness is much more private than any of the other roles he has played; it’s kept close to his relationship with his family life, and I don’t think we’re supposed to know more about it than that.”

“[Judaism] is the one central thing in his entire biography,” Moverman said in a telephone interview last week. “Whether it is overt or not, it is there. Even the Christian period occurred as a reaction against his Jewishness, and that lasted only three years, and the next thing you know, Dylan is doing Chabad telethon appearances.”

One could argue, I suppose, that Moverman and Haynes are biased. Moverman is an Israeli now living in Brooklyn, for whom, in his words, “being Jewish and Israeli are a huge part of my identity.” Haynes is half-Jewish by his mother, and when it was pointed out to him during an interview last week that halachically he is a Jew, he sat upright on a sofa and said with a huge grin, “And I’m damned proud of it.”

Haynes acknowledges that he didn’t have a religious upbringing. Raised in the San Fernando Valley in a largely Jewish community, he notes that “I never felt like a member of a minority group. I didn’t understand jokes about Barbra Streisand’s nose. I thought she was glamorous and sexy.”

Although he is not religious, Haynes feels he is deeply imbued with a sense of his own Jewishness.

“I identify it, and its manifestations, through an innate sense of the role of the entertainer and the comic; the origins of popular theater and the role of humorist are at their heart Jewish phenomena, and the leftist historical associations, the commitment to progressiveness that are the historical associations with Judaism in America,” he said, adding “I see that in Dylan as well. For all his desire to efface himself, he is the natural inheritor of the role of the Jewish performer. It’s there in his wit, his politics and his performances — the way he throws himself into them.”

Haynes admits he can’t identify with the performer side of Dylan: “That’s the big difference between us. As a performer he is insistent on living in the moment, and a film director’s job is about as far from that as possible. He’s not reflective in nature; I am. The job of a director, of necessity, requires all kinds of planning and preparation.”

In fact, Haynes believes that his own most Jewish trait is his inclination towards reflectiveness.

“The history of Jewish thinking is analytical and reflective,” he said.

Murray Lerner has been filming pop music performances for several decades now, and in recent years he has begun to make the results more widely available for both theatrical and home video use. His Dylan film, centered on the singer-songwriter’s appearances at the 1963 and 1965 Newport Folk Festivals, shows how each of those performances represents a pivotal moment in Dylan’s career. The first was his coronation as the “king of the protest singers,” a label Haynes makes clear Dylan loathed. The second performance was one of the most famous of Dylan’s career, the moment when he first played with an electric band, tossing aside the too-heavy crown of folksong royalty in exchange for the colorful robes of rock ‘n’ roll prophet. If you wanted to see two early Dylan performances preserved, these would be on the short list.

Lerner’s method is utter simplicity. He plants the camera where it can see the performer, usually just far enough away to show him in the larger physical context of the stage; he is sparing in his cuts to different camera angles, never imposing his own rhythmic choices on the music, and shows us audience reactions only between numbers. The result is an intense focus on the artist as creation takes place, and, in this case, the results are compelling.

Ingrid Bergman — in the footsteps of Golda


In 1980, on a private trip to Israel, Ingrid Bergman visited the resting place of Golda Meir. There had been rumors in the press than Bergman, the Swedish-born actress who rose to world fame with the movie, “Casablanca,” was set to play the part of the iconic Israeli prime minister. But Bergman herself was far from decided.

Golda’s grave is on a windswept hill in the military cemetery. There, Bergman, a quick study, placed small stones at the grave site – she had learned Jews do this to signify the loss of the beloved being like “a stone in my heart.” She stood, the wind whipping strands of ash hair across her handsome face. Her eyes filled with tears, and she whispered in her husky voice, “I don’t want to portray you, because I don’t want to harm you.”

For some time, Paramount had been on the hunt for a name actress to portray Golda. I was associate producer on the project, and I knew Bergman had already in fact officially turned down the role. But I also knew I would soon see Bergman in London, and I was obliged to try again. Ingrid was being honored for her good works by the Variety Club. It was May 1981 – a glittering charity ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

I sat next to her at the head table, and we spoke all night. At first it was an exchange of questions and answers about Golda. But this led to a gradual unfolding of parallel lives. I could sense Bergman’s frisson with each revelation of what the two women had in common, the most compelling being their medical histories. Golda had lymphoma for 12 years and Bergman, who was then 66, had been battling breast cancer for six. They both felt guilt about leaving their children to pursue careers. Both were hounded by the press, which dogged their every move. And both had an extraordinary idiosyncrasy of rubbing a teakettle until it shone like a mirror. As the evening progressed, Bergman, at first aloof and mildly interested, gradually became vulnerable, her protests less convincing.

I left her that night by saying that nothing would honor the memory of Golda Meir more than if Ingrid Bergman portrayed her. She called me the next day.

“I’d like to have a screen test,” she said. And so, the journey began.

It was a Friday, late August – hot and humid, redolent with jasmine and orange blossoms – when Ingrid Bergman touched down on El Al’s last flight before Shabbat. The cavernous terminal echoed with the week’s last stragglers. A handful of people waited, leaning over the barrier onto the passageway. Some were carrying flowers – irises and carnations, and tulips, wrapped in clear, rigid plastic. Bergman strode into the airport in a navy and white polka-dot dress. Even through the puffiness of her face, she was game to greet admirers. I shook my head. How was this tawny-haired Swede with those aristocratic angles ever going to portray the short, ample Mother of Israel? Margaret, Bergman’s assistant, stayed close to her, carrying a mysterious device sheathed in khaki.

Bergman wasted no time on her strategy for that Sunday. She wanted to see archives, films, cassettes – anything that documented Golda. Even though most of it was in Hebrew, Bergman had to see it. She was particularly anxious to hear Golda’s laugh. And so we went to Jerusalem, to Israeli TV to see documentaries, to the Rad archives on Mount Scopus, to Herzliya Studios to replay “This Is Your Life,” a three-hour documentary that featured everyone who had ever touched Golda’s life. Ingrid watched Golda’s gestures, her hands, her walk, her endless smoking – the latter came easily to Bergman.

Yom Kippur approached, two days when, at least back then, the country all but closed down. The cast and crew frantically bought food and liquor for what they saw as “the siege.”

On the Day of Atonement, Bergman turned to me.

“Would you take me to synagogue?” she asked.

I met her in the lobby of the hotel. She had on her flat shoes and a scarf around her head. She looked at me sharply.

“Where’s your head covering?” she asked. “I’ll wait, so go up and get a scarf!”

She had already re-invented herself as an observant Jewish woman.

An earnest chazzan was well into the liturgy when we arrived at shul. Finding two seats, I handed Bergman a prayer book with an English transliteration. She read the list of sins carefully, then ruffled through different prayers.

Suddenly I felt a sharp nudge. Bergman pointed to a line from the daily morning service: Thank you, God, for not letting me be born a woman.

“What,” she whispered, “is that all about?”

I think at that point we lost a convert.

In 1974, Bergman had a mastectomy. Since then the cancer had returned, it was slowly devastating her body. She knew this film would be her last hurrah.

The lymph nodes, compromised by the surgery, resulted in a swollen right arm and hand, totally out of proportion with her body. The device her assistant Margaret kept close by, I eventually learned, was an IV stand that was used as an elevated sling. Bergman trussed up her arm to it every night, and by day during break periods in her trailer. Therapeutically, it prevented the fluids of the lymph system from being retained in her arm and hand. Bergman was determined not to use a double for close-ups of Golda’s hands, especially when we recreated the historic scene of Golda covering her face and head with her hands, when, in the Knesset, she is elected leader of the Labor Party and prime minister of Israel.

Despite her evident suffering, Bergman rarely complained – except about the press.

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