Sunday, Jan. 24, 5:30 pm, Roper Performing Arts Center
Mal Vincent, who celebrated his 50th anniversary as a local and syndicated theater, movie and arts critic this year, is host for a rare screening of the comedy Avalon as the closing night feature of the 23rd Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, presented by Alma* and Howard Laderberg.
For more than a decade Vincent has participated in the festival. Each year he chooses a mainstream Hollywood film with Jewish imagery—a film that represents the popular, commercial counterpart to the festival’s usual imports of films from around the world.
The assignment is not always an easy one. Vincent’s past choices have included Rod Steiger’s memorable performance in The Pawnbroker, the Academy Awardwinning Gentleman’s Agreement, Simone Signoret in an adaptation of Katharine Anne Porter’s novel Ship of Fools, and Barbra Steisand in Yentl.
Barry Levinson’s hilarious treatise on his own family’s early years in America, the film is called Avalon after the street where they lived in Baltimore. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Screenplay; Costume Design, Music (composed by Randy Newman) and Cinematography. It won the Writer’s Guild Award as Best Original Screenplay of 1990 and was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Picture.
“At last, a comedy,” Vincent says as he explains the challenges of finding the right movie for the slot in the festival’s schedule. “The idea is to find a counter to the foreign imports that make up most of the festival’s schedule and, for my part, also a film that contains actors or creators I have personally met or interviewed. In order to make it a special evening, it had to feature personal people I had met. I had no interest in merely introducing a film with notes from its history. I had met Rod Steiger and Barbra Streisand and Gregory Peck from the other films. From the cast of Avalon, I know Joan Plowright who was Lady Olivier, the wife of legendary actor Laurence Olivier, and one of the movies’ funniest comediennes as well as the stages’ classical actresses. Perfect. Plus, I know Barry Levinson, the director and writer who is dealing here with his own family history. He is one of the funniest men I have ever met. I never tire of hearing his stories about his mother.”
But Avalon came only after several other options were rejected: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (too vulgar), Portnoy’s Complaint (maybe, too satirical?) and hundreds of other comedies that maybe weren’t ethnical enough for a Jewish Film Festival. “I have interviewed Woody Allen numerous times, but couldn’t settle on which one. Neil Simon’s entire work is a candidate, but later. Avalon is perfect,” he says.
The cast includes, in addition to Joan Plowright, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Elizabeth Perkins (Big) Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall), young Elijah Wood (famous from Lord of the Rings) and veteran character actors Lou Jacobi and Kevin Pollak.
The film, delightfully, captures the eccentricities of a Polish Jewish family in Baltimore in the early years of the 1900s as they emerge, and grow, with the television industry and their television store. There are mishaps aplenty and laughs galore as Vincent finally finds his comedy.
The evening will begin with a reception catered by Tidewater Community College’s culinary department at 5:30 pm followed by Vincent’s comments on the film, the director Barry Levinson and the actress Joan Plowright.
Tickets for the reception, presentation and film are $20 with discounts for groups and can be purchased on line or at the Roper box office at 340 Granby Street in downtown Norfolk. For further information, contact the Simon Family Jewish Community Center at 757-321-2341.