Now Oscar-Campaigning Rabbis Come to Inglourious Basterds' Aid


Last week's commandeering of the Oscar zeitgeist by the Inglourious Basterds team might have seemed too-little-too-late for a vote that ends tomorrow. But if you can imagine and even more obvious, desperate campaign strategy than all that troop-recruiting, Hurt Locker-slamming action of late, it would probably look and/or sound like Operation Rabbi, which apparently has been quietly underway since last fall.

Back then, following a private screening and Q&A for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the board's executive vice president blogged about the similarities between Basterds and the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim (which, not coincidentally to Oscar, commenced Sunday). "With apologies to my traditional friends, I see the Biblical Book of Esther as an ancient Jewish fable of justice and revenge," wrote Rabbi Mark S. Diamond. "To wit, what would happen if the tables were turned and we had power over our enemies? With all the merrymaking and child-centered focus of the Purim holiday, we tend to forget that the Jews of Shushan kill 75,000 of their foes toward the end of the narrative."

You really just need to go read Scott Feinberg's recap of how the Weinsteins have run with the Purim ball since then, carefully positioning Basterds among the Jewish community. After all, while we already knew it was a Holocaust revenge fantasy that Jews and gentiles alike could get behind at the box office, who could have known that the revenge angle was just Phase One in Basterds' awards-hungry spiritual crusade?

[O]n February 20, 2010, Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue -- who is also on the Board of Directors of the aforementioned Board of Rabbis of Southern California -- introduced a screening of Basterds at her synagogue's sanctuary, which hosts the the Malibu Film Society, a recently-established group of local cineastes (many of whom work in the film industry and some of whom are Academy members). HaLevy, with whom I spoke by phone on Saturday evening, told me that Roth was scheduled to attend the Basterds screening but had to cancel at the last moment.

One person who was in attendance that night was Dick Guttman, a Malibu resident and veteran publicist who has worked on Weinstein films in the past. Upon hearing HaLevy's introduction to the film -- in which she, too, connected it to Purim -- she says Guttman urged her to put it into writing, suggesting that he could get it published in the Malibu Times or even on The Huffington Post. HaLevy told me she was happy to oblige and wrote a piece, entitled "Fantasy Time," that did not end up being published anywhere but was provided to me by publicists working on the Basterds campaign:

"This is the season of two great Jewish holidays in Malibu -- the Academy Awards and the Festival of Purim. Who knew that Inglourious Basterds, a front-runner for top honors, is actually a classic retelling of the Purim tale? What do Nazi scalps have to do with the Purim carnival, with its rides and prizes, or children dressed as kings and queens delivering baskets of sweet-filled pastries called "hammentashen"?

And on and on. Fucking. Insane. For the non-Jewish Oscar voter, meanwhile, the Basterds apparatus at the L.A. Times has your convenient history of Nazis on film, culminating in the "multi-Oscar-nominated" Inglorious Basterds. What, no history of American soldiers on screen? How about showcasing the first Iraq drama that actually works? Or is that coming out after ballots are due? End, Oscar season, end.

· As Purim Begins/Voting Ends: Jews for Basterds? [And the Winner Is...]