Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Year 8, Day 244 - 8/31/16 - Movie #2,439

BEFORE: First, allow me to explain why this film is even on the Watchlist.  When I started this project, I took inventory of every DVD and VHS tape in the house that I had not seen, no exceptions, including those belonging to my wife - she's the Streisand fan, not me.  But I never really intended to watch this, I just kept it on the list for the sake of being a completist.  In fact if I ever got to the end of my watchlist except for this film, I'd be content to call the project over and walk away - so that's always been the hidden goal, to get the watchlist down to one film, "Yentl", and call it a day.  

But then as I got my turn-around time down to about 4-6 months on average, sometimes I'd look at my list and realize that of the 450 (or so) films that I started with on my list, only one from that original list still persisted.  Then I got myself in a bit of a linking jam - films like "Paper Moon" just won't connect with anything except two other Ryan O'Neal films, it turns out.  And that led me to "The Main Event", and that allowed me to link here.  Oh, I'd passed on this film many times, like I could have watched it after "The Guilt Trip", but that would have been a dead end.  It's only recently that I've been able to connect this film to TWO films instead of one (I didn't realize that Mandy Patinkin made a cameo as a pool cleaner in "The Big Fix", mea culpa...)

More about the outro link tomorrow, but suffice it to say, watching this gets me one step closer to posting my review of "Captain America: Civil War".  So I've got that to look forward to, and help power me through.   Barbra Streisand carries over from "The Main Event", obvi.  

THE PLOT:  A Jewish girl disguises herself as a boy to enter religious training.

AFTER: There's a scene in one of my favorite films, "Beerfest", where the U.S. men's drinking team is training for the big competition at Oktoberfest, and their German grandmother suggests that they train by drinking ram's piss.  Why?  Because if you can drink ram's piss, you can drink ANYTHING.  So "Yentl" is, to me, a bit like the ram's piss of movies.  If I can make it through this one without falling asleep, I can watch just about anything.  

You know what, I was a little light on back-to-school movies this year, anyway, it's all good.  Sure, I had "Pitch Perfect 2" and "Breaking Away" that were set at colleges, but they came too early in August.  And I've got two films set in high-schools, but they're part of the October horror chain.  So I guess this year it's "Back to Shul" as Yentl cross-dresses to get into the yeshiva and study the Talmud.
And it's forbidden for girls to study the Talmud, which she would have known, if only she could read about that in the Talmud.  Which she can't, but she does anyway.  

Ugh, more father issues tonight - in hindsight this whole week should have 

I don't have to love this film, or even like it, but I do have to acknowledge the feminist message and the hot-button (now, anyway) issue of gender fluidity - with regards to the religious angle, obviously there are outdated orthodox rules about what women could and couldn't do.  As director I think Streisand walked a really fine line, promoting her religion while at the same time pointing out that so many of its rules are annoyingly passé.  I mean, I don't harbor any bias against Judaism, other than it's an organized religion, and I don't care much for any of those.  At least I'm consistent, I think if you want to discount one religion, whether that's Islam or Judaism or Greek mythology, then you have to throw ALL of them out.  You're either all in or you're all out, you can't just pick and choose the parts of an orthodoxy that appeals to you.

Someday someone will put together a transvestite/transgender film festival, if they haven't already, and they can screen "Tootsie", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "The Birdcage", "Rocky Horror Picture Show", "Mulan", "Some Like It Hot", "Dressed to Kill", "Boys Don't Cry", "Victor/Victoria" and "Just One of the Guys" in rapid succession.  It goes all the way back to Shakespeare, and no doubt before that.  But since I've got "The Danish Girl" coming up in a week or two, it's a fine time to start addressing the topic.  You can't really see how Yentl fooled anyone, because at all times she just looks like Barbra Streisand with short hair, wearing a hat.  Hey, maybe back then that's all it took.  (But, also the actress was 41 at the time, playing a character who was supposed to be 17!!)

But if this society of Polish Jews thought a woman was a "demon" just because she read the Talmud, one can only imagine how they would consider a woman who dressed like a man, or who then shared a bed with a man without being married, or entering into a sham marriage with another woman!  I mean, there was simply no gay rights movement back then, or really much understanding of same-sex marriage or even same-sex attraction at all, especially in religious communities.  It might have been more daring if the film had further explored the possible attractions between Avigdor and Anshel (Yentl's name when dressed as a boy), or for that matter, between Yentl and Hadass.

The author of the original tale, Isaac Bashevis Singer, reportedly did not like the (relatively) upbeat ending, the way that the film Hollywoodized his story.  In the original tale, the moral price that Yentl pays for masquerading as a man was to be forever trapped in that new identity, and be condemned to a life of pain and alienation.  That has a more "religious" feel to it, since it involves a karmic balance and makes the character do a form of penance for going against Talmudic law.  But I don't think that would have sold a lot of movie tickets, so I guess I see the inherent need to change it. 

I think the secondary goal here was to create one of those "impossible" love triangles, where it seems like there could be no possible resolution - he loves her, but she's married to him, but that him is really a her, who loves the first guy.  Ugh, this could go around and around for weeks without ever getting resolved.  The only reasonable answer is probably for everyone to say "whatever" and get freaky together, throwing all morals out the window and just have a good time together.  But again, it's a very religious community so you just know they're not going to do that.  Not in this movie, anyway.  (Was there ever a porn parody of this film?  Because that's got some potential...)

I would like to catch that Glenn Close film, "Albert Nobbs", which told a similar story, I think.  But no channel seems to want to run that one.  I swear, sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason to when films premiere on cable.  A film can take four or five years sometimes to hit the premium channels, and what's all that about?  Why does a stinker alien invasion film like "The Fifth Wave" hit cable a few months after its theatrical release, but I'm still waiting for films like "Drive" and "Nightcrawler" to be on the premium channels?  Can we just get organized, please? 

OK, now please, can I just watch "Captain America" or something... 

Also starring Mandy Patinkin (last seen in "The Big Fix"), Amy Irving (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Nehemiah Persoff, Steven Hill (last seen in "Eyewitness"), Allan Corduner (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), Ruth Goring, David de Keyser, Miriam Margolyes (also last seen in "The Guilt Trip"). 

RATING: 3 out of 10 prayer shawls

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