NEW YORK–The Jewish Anti-Deprecation League picketed the New York premiere of Woody Allen's latest film, Waltzing With Schopenhauer, Monday, arguing that it "perpetuates misleading stereotypes of Jewish self-deprecation that do not reflect the modern Jewish-American experience."
The JADL is decrying Allen's portrayal of the film's lead character, Reuben Hirschhorn, a Columbia University creative-writing professor who, despite achieving considerable personal and career success, is plagued by severe self-doubt, hypochondria, perceived sexual inadequacies, an inability to commit to long-term relationships, existential angst, an obsessive fear of death, and disturbing dreams involving his overbearing mother making chicken soup for Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels.
"Mr. Allen has made a career out of presenting his own foibles and insecurities as characteristic of all Jews," JADL executive director Howard Klosterman said. "Jews are tired of seeing themselves routinely represented as neurotics who can't enjoy their lives, no matter how successful, and Mr. Allen is one of the primary perpetrators of this offensive cliche."
Continued Klosterman: "Contrary to what Mr. Allen would have you believe, not all Jews are twice-divorced, self-loathing urban types suffering from deep existential angst. I, for one, have not spent my life tormented by a crippling lack of self-esteem. But thanks in no small part to the images presented in the films of Mr. Allen, non-Jews continue to perceive us as manic-depressive nebbishes who wallow in our own despair and misery."
Though Klosterman acknowledged that he had not yet seen Waltzing With Schopenhauer, he said that based on what he knows of the film, "it looks like Allen is up to his old tricks."
"In the trailer, Allen is berated by his two ex-wives, moderates an imaginary debate in his bathroom between Bix Beiderbecke and Sidney Bechet, and whines about how his favorite deli hasn't been the same since it was purchased by a Japanese investment group," Klosterman said. "If that doesn't tell you something, nothing will."
In the film, Allen's lead character is forced into retirement when Columbia replaces him with a younger, non-tenured professor. Attempting to make the best of the situation by indulging in his favorite pastimes, reading Kafka and attending Bergman film festivals, Hirschhorn soon grows bored and doubtful, eventually questioning his long-held perceptions of life. Vowing to "strip away all those silly old beliefs and start from scratch," he takes a job as a clerk at a Coney Island amusement park. While there, he is tormented by vivid flashbacks and recollections of his childhood and previous marriages.
The supporting cast includes Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Minnie Driver, Kathy Bates, Gretchen Mol, Alan Alda, Louise Lasser, Carol Kane, John Glover, Bob Balaban, Bill Paxton, Laura San Giacomo, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Janeane Garofalo, Miriam Margolyes, Judy Davis, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Peter Fonda, Forest Whitaker, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Anne Heche, Jason Alexander, George Segal, Dianne Wiest and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
Appearing on PBS' Charlie Rose Monday, longtime Allen producer Jean Doumanian defended the film.
"The fact that the JADL hasn't even seen Waltzing With Schopenhauer makes its condemnation all the more absurd, because the movie is actually a string of charming vignettes about life in New York," Doumanian said. "For example, there's an absolutely delicious scene in Washington Square in which Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo dance to Bunny Berrigan's 'King Porter Stomp.'"
Nevertheless, according to an inside source speaking on condition of anonymity, Waltzing's distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, has threatened to withhold the film from release unless Allen removes or alters several scenes that could be construed as offensive to Jews.
"Sony is pressuring Allen to make significant script changes, including a totally new ending, in which an old high-school friend runs into Reuben and convinces him to move to his Jewish, upper middle-class Denver suburb. Freed from the angst that dominates his Manhattan life, Reuben opens a bookstore/coffee shop, which becomes very popular. Energized by his newfound success, he marries his attractive blonde assistant and overcomes his destructive obsessions with existentialism, art and early jazz, abandoning such longtime heroes as Freud and Marx for more positive, contemporary Jewish role models like Steven Spielberg and Calvin Klein."
Allen issued a brief statement about the controversy.
"Jesus," Allen said. "This is ridiculous. I mean, did they tell Kierkegaard, 'Hey, lay off on that 'existence precedes essence' stuff–it won't play in the suburbs and besides, there's no merchandising hook'? I mean, Calvin Klein? Why not Aaron Spelling? Or the Golem? Or, better yet, Albert Speer? Jesus."