Saturday, September 29, 2012

Film & Literature Tutorial

I have a love hate relationship with writing. I love to aspire to it, but I hate how difficult it is for me to do it. I don't know why, but it's always been that way for me. Perhaps it's like my fear of singing solo in front of an audience as opposed to speaking in front of an audience. The former is horrific even after years of classical voice training, yet I am fine singing in a choir, but ask me to speak in front of a large audience, and I have no problem. Anyway, I'm here now getting to my writing for a tutorial, the name of which reads on my transcript as Blog Writing on Film and Literature, and which I developed in consultation with my colleague, friend, and mentor Professor Lenny Cassuto. This study was derived from a list I created of over 30 books and their film adaptations. In deciding on this initial list of works and their film adaptations, while conducting some online research, I found a wonderful resource within the Mid-Continent Public Libary (Kansas-Missouri) called Based on the Book. It enables look-up of over 1000 adaptations since 1980 by movie name or release year, book or story or author name. From that initial list of 30+ films, I was asked to weed it down to 10 and then to 6 and then to find a through-line.

I couldn't help but be interested in continuing my studies from the Victorian Gothic as, also earlier in the summer, I took a course "Monsters and Maidens: The Victorian Gothic" with Dr. Leah Richards. The final book in that course was Dracula by Bram Stoker so I was naturally thinking of beginning the tutorial with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Further research for authors led me to other woman authors (think through-line) and their works that had been adapted for film, many having do with horror or crime. Last, I was asked to put the films in an order resulting in the following six books and their film adaptations,  year, and director in parenthesis:
  1. Frankenstein (1918) by English author Mary Shelley (Frankenstein, 1931, James Whale; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, 1994, Kenneth Branagh),
  2. Lady Audley's Secret (1862) by English author Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Lady Audley's Secret, 2000, Betsan Morris Evans),
  3. Don't Look Now from Not After Midnight (1971) a short story collection by English author Daphne du Maurier (Don't Look Now, 1973, Nicolas Roeg). du Maurier is actually much more well known for other works of fiction such as The Birds (1952) which was adapted by Hitchcock in the film of the same name in 1963, as well as for her story Rebecca (1938) which was also adapted by Hitchcock earlier in 1940;
  4. The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by American author Shirley Jackson (The Haunting, 1963, Robert Wise);
  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by American author Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999, Anthony Minghella). Highsmith also had one of her works Strangers on a Train (1950) adapted by Director Hitchcock in 1951; and 
  6. Wise Blood (1952) by American author Flannery O'Connor (Wise Blood, 1979, John Huston).
What I would like to address from these works is the theme of creation and the responsibility inherent therein and how that theme is complemented or detracted from in the novels and their adaptations. However, before I begin, I must say that I found that to write about horror or crime was to continue the study of the Gothic, beginning with the Victorian Gothic in Frankenstein through to Flannery O'Connor's American Southern Gothic in Wise Blood. Although we certainly don't have the happy endings in most of these stories, there is an abundance of tropes from the Victorian Gothic from the juxtaposition of the rise of revolutionary scientific information (think Darwin's 1859 Origin of The Species) with Catholicism and other organized religious beliefs to hold fast in the public's mindset starting with Frankenstein; to ineffectual or absent fathers and mothers, or orphaned characters in The Haunting of Hill House and the Talented Mr. Ripley; to class differences and the effect of female beauty and objectification or education to usurp these differences in Lady Audley and Ripley; to places and the architecture of structures that feature a creepiness to them or take on living, breathing qualities, inhuman of the human--wholly represented in The Haunting of Hill House and which focus on the house and its representation of the Gothic could be written on alone, and in Don't Look Now's English country house estate, then in movement to the street maze knitted city of Venice; to including the theme of inheritance or lack of one among these works explored (Audley, The Haunting, and Ripley). In addition, to continue to study the Gothic was to also continue with the theme of death and decay and that makes a great segue into the most obvious of the stories chosen for this study that has to do with creation, Frankenstein.

How does this idea to create another human being from dead body parts and electricity begin in this tale? For Victor Frankenstein, the son of a doctor and man of science, pressures to be a success in his own right are only a seed. This son's enthusiasm for science is introduced in Branagh's adaptation Mary Shelley's Frankenstein when on the mountaintop, he and his cousin/sister/lover and their housemaid's daughter, Justine, experience the affects from Victor's experiment with lightening. Even before this though we are introduced to the obsession and inhumanity created amidst the pursuit of glory in the name of science. The opening of the film begins with a ship tossing and turning in stormy, icy waters at night with screen text that says Arctic Sea 1794, and then the captain of the ship is shown hounding his men to keep chopping the ice to get the ship released from the iceberg. This is a dramatic beginning and evokes the power of water which men can't live without as a symbol of fluidity and cleansing, but here with the power that it holds as nature's freezing temperatures make it destructive and deathly. Victor Frankenstein arrives on his sled with dogs and after he and the Captain hear the Victor's dogs die at the hands of the monster he is chasing, they have words. Frankenstein says "do you share my passion?" This is a beautifully executed start because it immediately sets up the parallel of the Captain's obsession to make it to the North Pole with Frankenstein's to create human life outside of the womb. This film version of Shelley's extraordinary novel is much closer to her story-line and the opening of the film is just one instance. Although there are areas in the film in which Branagh takes creative license, even then he is consistent with the ideas and themes of Shelley's work. James Whale's 1918 version of Frankenstein is a classic work in its own right; it is a first in talking horror feature films just after the silent era, and stands on its own (refer to my post on my philosophy of film adaptation). What it does not do, however, is provide a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the story as written by Shelley. Branagh's version does that and more, by providing a dramatic environment of the visual and sound media to further enhance an already fantastic tale, as well as filling in some of the holes in Shelley's story.

Victor's obsessive nature is expounded upon in the scene with his mother in the attic where he is working and she scolds him for being too serious, but the real depth of his obsession is born with his mother's death which creates within him, a guilt-ridden, selfish desire to deny his loss and his mother's mortality, a desire that is also masked by his endeavor of academic scholarship in the sciences and the pursuit of a cure for human death and decay. This altruistic concern for the welfare of the human race and its fight against disease is the premise for Frankenstein to whole up in a lab for days and hours on end without caring for himself or others in order to create life.

Frankenstein fails to see past the monstrous appearance of his creation and denies his responsibility in having to educate his newborn who has extraordinary strength. He abhors his creation and his reaction is his disgust with himself and what he believes is a monster, creates and sustains a rippling effect of destruction to both of their ends. Victor runs away and uses the creation itself as his excuse for doing so. He turns into a coward and can't see past his creation's appearance to be responsible for what he has made. Even when the creature begs him to make him a companion, Frankenstein fails. This is one of the areas where Branagh takes creative license, but in doing so he also complements the false idea that to be human one must be beautiful and not show any signs of decay.


Lady Audley's Secret opens with a description of the Audley Estate (Name), this detail to an inanimate object is striking, but is left out of the story in the film, in fact, the only object besides Lady Audley herself as the objectified perfect wife and woman that stays in the film from the novel is Lady Audley's portrait. This adaptation is a poor one as it changes some central details from the book, yet tries to replicate the same story. It works on its own as a fluff Victorian novel recreation piece that fails to have anywhere near the depth of the novel. Perhaps because this novel was considered a sensation novel and was part of the serialized writings of Braddon, who though she wrote well, did write for the money, not for the critical acclaim. Human life is created in various ways, not just through birth. The behavior among human beings to each other from family to friends to strangers as an effect on our creation on who we become, to those reactions we humans have in response to societal, economic, and psychological factors. Why does one person's reaction to horrifying circumstances take them on a spiral downhill to their demise while another will resist and then follow an upward path toward personal growth and fulfillment? Circumstances reveal that Lady Audley suffered from a quagmire of monstrous treatment from her own family and that she was immersed in horrid circumstances during her developmental years. She had no loving or caring familial relationships. while Robert Audley her protagonist, on the other hand, is born into wealth and privilege. This man is able to resist his temptations to become a better, more productive man, Lady Audley reactions to her situation and to become a “good” woman, on the other hand grows into a monster herself. Whose responsibility is that? Her father maybe could have provided a better upbringing, but he was a Navy man ill-prepared to be left with the care of a young child by his wife who was mentally ill and who had to be sent to what they called a "mad house." The woman who he had stay with his daughter, who was “disagreeable” and who had no real interest the child, and who vented her rage upon when her father was behind in remitting her pay? Her mother and those who shielded her from the knowledge of her mother's illness with lies. When LA grew old enough to understand the meaning of the word death, she asked if her mother was dead, and she was told – ‘No, she was not dead; she was ill, and she was away.’” The result of one of housekeeper's rages on LA was the revelation made to her that her mother “is in a madhouse and that she is mad.” Lady Audley herself admits that this had a devastating effect upon her, one that lead her to a childhood depression where she “brooded horribly and was haunted day and night with the thought of her mother’s madness.” (Braddon, Mary, 6958-6959).  She had nightmares and overwhelming anxieties that she would be killed by her own “mad mother.”  LA's downfall was the result of severe defects of from her childhood, the desertion of both her mother and father, one from mental illness and from drink, then the desertion of her husband when she had a young infant to care for, and her desire to live a different, better life. Her resulting reactions as monstrous as they are in themselves are only mirrors of the same treatment she experienced from others; secretive and self-centered. Lady Audley chooses to create a new life for herself. She is unable to resist the temptation of Sir Michael’s marriage proposal even though it makes her legally and religiously amoral, turning her into a bigamist, a law-breaker not only breaking the law of the state, but of religion.  It is Robert Audley in what he believes is a responsibility to his good friend, Lucy's first husband, and to his uncle, that effect her destruction in the end. While Robert Auley is able to further develop—leaving behind his former laissez faire qualities and persisting in a cause that in turn transforms into a more fully developed “man” and attorney. If one is to grow into positive, productive, loving, and functioning human being, one must experience being treated in a way that respects that facility, in a way that does not hide the monstrous, but fosters one’s faith in others and the knowledge that we will be protected when we are at our most vulnerable.

The other adaptation of the short story by du Maurier, Don't Look Now, I to be an interesting pretty well made film, but lacking just a bit, though the cinematography by Anthony Richmond, acting by Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania as the two sisters, as well  as original music score are quite good. Perhaps this is why Hitchcock did not choose to adapt this work of du Maurier, yet adapted her two other works The Birds and Rebecca. Had I the time to change the selection here, I might. This is though an example of how sometimes, the simpler the piece, the more difficult it is to adapt. While Hitchcock's work on the short story The Song of the Dragon by John Traitor Foote was elaborate and did result in a smashing hit with the film Notorious, I'm not sure that Don't Look Now would or could have resulted in a similar success. The story's ending is premiere in it's effect of irony and I'm not sure the power of the ending could have been done more effectively in film and as well as in the words on a page. Bringing this back to the conversation focus of creation and responsibility without creating a spoiler for those of you who would like to see the film, where the idea of creation unfolds is in the marriage of this couple and the division of their faith ultimately seals their fate apart. It's the least example of my thesis and The Birds certainly would have fit better, but I'm still glad I chose to read this less well known work of du Maurier and it's film counterpart. I have chosen a clip below that won't spoil the film for you, should you decide to watch the complete film which I would recommend.

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House adaption by Robert Wise into the 1963 film The Haunting is a revelation. The story provides for a perfect protagonist in Eleanor Lance also known as "Nell" as a creation. Her father past away when she was a young girl, and she is a girl that never turns into a woman, denied a life by her mother and then sister. She cared for her sick mother for years and was left with nothing after her death: homeless, living with her sister and her family, and with she must ask permission to use the one possession she has, an automobile, that she and her sister purchased after their mother died. During the time when her mother was alive, she received no relief from her sister or and no kind words or appreciation from her mother. Wise stays close enough to the original story, though there were a couple of pieces missing that I would have liked to see in the film and that I believe had particular meaning. For example, in the novel there is mention of a cup with stars on the bottom that a little girl is without when she is away from home. This is an important prop that is missing from the film, though Julie Harris is superb in her effluence as a disturbed, lonely, forlorn young woman. The time element makes necessity of edits to the story-line and this was one choice that a director or screenwriter would make. Wise though not only does a fine job creating a great adaptation of a wonderful piece of literature as well as a work unto itself within the film horror genre, he also distinguishes himself by using some revolutionary techniques such as his aging of the daughter into an old woman.
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The next selection The Talented Mr. Ripley is a story of an awkward, floundering young man, Tom Ripley, who meets an elite ship builder while subbing for a singer's accompanist and while wearing a Princeton jacket. Unintentionally at first, the shipping magnate, is fooled into thinking that Tom went to Princeton with his son and he wants Tom to bring his son back home to America from Italy where he is living the good life with no responsibility. Tom, who we learn is an orphan and who experienced torment at the hands of his mother's sister during his upbringing with her after his parent's death, becomes excited about the idea and takes on the quest, arriving in Italy and putting himself literally in front of Dickie Greenleaf on the beach in his dayglo green speedo. He develops a relationship with the Dickie, but things turn ugly when he is ulimately rejected by him. This film is also very close to Highsmith's story-line, though like Frankenstein, it does make some interpretive changes. Matt Damon does a wonderful job though of showing the complexity of this young man's character, wanting to be loved, and in trying to hard, is found to be a fraud He, in what could be interpreted as accidentally on purpose, becomes a murderer. The love triangle between Ripley and Greenleaf, and anyone else Dickie is paying attention to at the time, most of time Marge Sherwood, is really interestingly explored and enhanced in the film. While the story-line from Highsmith is leading, suggestive of  homosexual inclination, but really asexual, the late great Anthony Minghella takes a direct line to this sexuality that Highsmith whether intentionally or not implied in her work. So how does the idea of creation and responsibility come into play here? Well, the young handsome heir, Dickie Greenleaf, is a self-absorbed ass, and, as Marge Sherwood puts it, the thing with Dickie... it's like the sun shines on you, and it's glorious. And then he forgets you and it's very, very cold." A true friend doesn't do this to his good friends. He mocks and uses Tom Ripley and then when he's done with him for his own pleasure and entertainment, he gets the creeps from him and wants to get away from him. He forms a false friendship and he takes no responsibility for its creation, its continuation or its ending. This is not to say that it's right and responsible of Tom Ripley to kill Dickie, but that it makes us understand why he loses it and does, and moves us to not feel so bad for Dickie Greenleaf. The other way that Minghella provides for a compassionate understanding of Dickie's demise is his knock up of the local Italian girl and subsequent denial to help her when she comes to him, then drowns herself. I've chosen a clip here that is more fun than anything, but that does show Ripley's admiration and love for Dickie and how Tom might misinterpret Dickie's mutual feelings for him.


Last, and certainly not least, is Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood and its adaptation of the same name by another late great director, John Huston. Huston also appears in flashbacks the protagonist has in the film back to his boyhood and his grandfather's (Huston) preaching. This shows the affect his grandfather had on him. Hazel Motes is played by Brad Dourif who aside from Wise Blood being his largest role as the main character is probably most well known and received most critical acclaim for his role of Billy Bibbit in the film adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) from the book of the same name by Ken Kesey (1962). Dourif's performance is outstanding and the film is great. Watching it made me recall that Huston has done outstanding work on adaptations from literature. I have seen and love the film adaptations he made of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (B. Traven) and The Dead (James Joyce), and now know that I must put on my watchlist his 1964 The Night of the Iguana (1948, Tennessee Williams) and his 1967 Reflections in a Golden Eye (1947, Carson McCullers) among other works of his that I have not seen.



But I digress and I am almost done, so let me get back to Wise Blood and the reasons why this film complements the literature that it was born from. Again, I can't say enough about Dourif's performance. He really makes an unbelievable character real and Huston's supreme touch with his direction make this film breath with life from the pages on which the story was written. In the Author's Notes to the 2nd Edition, O'Connor declares that Wise Blood "is a comic novel...and that as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death." In firm agreement, I urge you to read this book. Then after you have read it, I ask that you to go back and read the rest of the Author's Note to the 2nd Edition. I hope that it will make you sigh as it did I, for the relevance here is to the idea of creation and that it is so grand a thing that it can not be taken for granted. We must take responsibility for it both in its first steps and then in its fostering [toward salvation and improvement] of humanity, for ultimately the responsibility of creation lies in our deepening influence, not in the control of it.

Peace out,
Martine

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary Woolstonecraft. Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. 1918. (Annotated) DB Publishing House. Kindle Edition. 2011.

Shelley, Mary Woolstonecraft. Frankenstein. 1918. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, CA. 2008. Book.

 Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 1865. Lady Audley's Secret. Kindle Edition. 2005. Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. 1955. New York: Penguin Classics. Kindle Edition.

Highsmith, Patricia. The Talented Mr. Ripley. 1955. New York: Norton. Kindle Edition.

O'Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood. 1952. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Paperback. 2007.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Not So Pretty After All

Since its release in 1990, Pretty Woman has grossed $463,406,268 worldwidei and was the biggest hit for Disney at that time.ii The working title of the film was originally $3000iii, the amount of money that Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), who plays opposite Julia Roberts as the ruthless tycoon, pays for Vivian to be at his “beck and call”iv for a week’s time. I've watched Pretty Woman many times, and each time I seem to get caught up in its ability to entertain me. Yet, therein lies the very problem. It is not easy to recognize the destructive messages it contains. The success of Pretty Woman is representative of a morally irresponsible attitude that it’s okay to misrepresent social issues and foster destructive stereotypical myths in the name of entertainment.

One of the reasons the film was so successful is that the acting is superb. Julia Roberts is believable in an unbelievable role as Vivian, a street walking prostitute. As stated by Vincent Canby in his New York Times review on Jun 3, 1990, “It’s about a prostitute who really isn’t…she is instead a bright, funny, incredibly healthy young woman - who looks gorgeous, almost drop-dead chic when walking the Hollywood streets.”v  While this film is categorized in the film genre of a romantic comedy, the original screenplay by J.F. Lawton would have been categorized as a drama. The story was a dark satire about “a drug-addicted prostitute who gets tossed back into the streets when her romantic fling with a sophisticated gentleman ends”vi and culminated with her bound for Disneyland with a fellow prostitute.” The part of Vivian, which many well-known actresses turned down for the very reason that she was not a “nice girl,”vii ironically “turned Julia Roberts into the most beloved smiling sweetheart since Annette Funicello. The story was shot by director Garry Marshall three ways--sad, straight, and happy, and only until screened in the editing room did he decide to go with “happy.””viii As a result, Marshall, successful TV sitcom director, and a great cast smoothed the path for another Hollywood cinema happy ending: this time with the dream come true for a prostitute. Pretty Woman’s portrayal of fantasy that” is “this movie’s strength and its biggest selling point.”ix The film is a dream for sale. The cost: the price of a movie ticket, video rental or purchase, and the time it takes to watch it. The destructive messages it contains become hidden to the naked eye amidst the props of beauty and materialism. The cry is blatant, yet at the same time, sneaky, as it is yelled by the hustler on the street corner. “Welcome to Hollywood”, “What’s your dream?”x It suggests that anything’s possible here. So now I can imagine my readers saying, why is that so bad? My answer is twofold. Not only does the film misrepresent the serious social issue of prostitution, but its victim is used to promote a fairy tale myth. The knight in shining armor comes to rescue the princess in distress, except in this story the princess is a prostitute and prostitution is really “no laughing matter.”xi

This is a video clip of the film's fairy tale ending. 


Pretty Woman’s false portrayal of this serious socioeconomic issue abuses its most vulnerable population of its viewers: uneducated teenage girls and young troubled women. It is as if, this very population, the victims should be the ones to see to the survival of this self destructive occupation. Of the many strata of prostitutes which includes, but is not limited to the street-walker, escort service hostess, club employee, and high-end service self-employed, Vivian is portrayed as the street-walker. This is the very level of prostitute most likely inclined to drug abuse and victimization from the violence of having a pimp. The magic curtain upholds the narrative when it is revealed that Vivian is just a small town girl from Georgia without a high school diploma who landed in Hollywood because she is, what she says her mother called her, “a bum magnet.” That she tried to work in some fast food joints and as a valet parking cars, but that she couldn’t make the rent. Does this mean that all small town girls without a high school diploma and skills should take up streetwalking? I guess only if they get $3,000, a new expensive wardrobe, and a ring at the end of the week. American girls are being coerced and lured into prostitution due to poverty or manipulation by adults. Many of these girls are crime victims, exploited by individuals who use violence, death threats and drugs to control them.xii
It’s estimated that 40% to 85% of prostitutes were drug users only that among higher class prostitute women, prostitution tended to precede substance abuse, while in lower class prostitutes, the reverse tended to be true (Goldstein, 1979).xiii  
Just as implausible is Vivian’s sudden transformation from selling her body to make the rent into a girl who gets it all and deserves it. She would be more likely to continue the bratty behavior she exhibits in the beginning of the film. When she enters the hotel with Edward and he puts his raincoat over her. They are standing next to a mature conservative couple waiting for the elevator and Vivian pretends to have a rip in her stocking. She puts her long beautiful leg up and less than coyly states out loud,  Why, I don’t even have any pantyhose on.


In an interview with Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the celebrated writer/director spoke of the deep sorrow at the condition of film today. There are no values. Some of the films pretend to be moral. Bull. Maybe the good guys win in the end . . . get to go home to the wives in the last reel ... have destroyed the villain ... but there have been ten reels in which the bad guys have had a ball." They've killed people, they’ve humped people, they get all the money ... they get all of everything. That’s what the young person watching the film is going to remember . . . not the final fade ... the ‘morally’ happy ending.xiv Whatever happened to love stories? I can’t remember the last time I saw a love story. Even that Pretty Woman, I liked that film, but it was about a guy falling in love with a prostitute! It may have been picking up crumbs, but there was a human relationship there. 
I say the film Pretty Woman is picking up crumbsxv; there is no human relationship; it is pure fantasy and it conveys destructive messages about women. Two examples which sum up the distortion in this film are in lines from Vivian to her former hooker colleague – 
It’s easy to clean up when you have money.
Who does it really happen for, Kit? Tell me one person you know?
Kit’s response “Cinderfunkinrella!”

If we believe that viewers have an experience when they watch film, then filmmakers ought to work not just to entertain, but should consider ways to produce a more constructive meaning of experience to benefit the ills of this world. Instead there is a continuation of destructive, subjective messages that manipulate our laughter. The truth is covered up and bathed in a wash of commercial success without thought of its impact.xvi  The glossed over reality of a prostitute in the Pretty Woman narrative is melted down to a romantic and comedic Hollywood sentimentality which entertains moviegoers with another fairy tale myth. The reality of women who are prostitutes and men who purchase their services are closeted in Pretty Woman’s wardrobe, putting a blight upon a higher level development of messages this romantic comedy might send. The truth is, there is nothing funny at all about prostitution, and despite this film's commercial success, Pretty Woman is not so pretty [or funny] after all.

Thanks for reading. Peace out.



i    “Pretty Woman” summary page on Box Office Mojo, www.boxofficemojo.com,  http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=prettywoman.htm. Web. 29 Dec. 2009.
ii   Miner, Madonne. “No matter what they say, it’s all about money.” Journal of Popular Film & Television 20.1 (1992): 8. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 29 Dec. 2009.
iii  Brown, Scott. “Tale of Two Endings.” Entertainment Weekly 589 (2001): 72. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 1 Jan. 201 0.
iv   Caputi, J. “Sleeping With the Enemy as Pretty Woman, part II? (cover story).” Journal of Popular Film Television 19.1 (1991): 2. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 1 Jan. 2010.
v    Canby, Vincent. “What the Beauty And the Beasts Have in Common” New York Times (1857-Current file); Jun 3, 1990; ProQuest Historical Newspapers New York Times (1851-2006) w/ Index (1851 1993) pg. H13
vi  “The nineties.” Entertainment Weekly 504 (1999): 102. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 29 Dec. 2009.
vii “Trivia for Pretty Woman” on www.IMDB.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100405/trivia Web. 1 Jan. 2010.
viii Purtell, Tim. “Apples and origins.” Entertainment Weekly 267 (1995): 73. Film & Television; Literature Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 29 Dec. 2009.
ix   Cooks, Orbe and Bruess, “The Fairy Tale Theme in Popular Culture: A Semiotic Analysis of Pretty Woman” Women’s Studies in Communication Vol. 16, Issue 2 (1993)  86-104.
x    Marshall, Garry, et al. Pretty Woman [videorecording] I Touchstone Pictures in association with Silver Screen Partners IV; produced by Arnon Milchan and Steven Reuther; directed by Garry Marshall; written by J. F. Lawton. Touchstone Home Entertainment, (2005). BIR Entertainment. EBSCO. Web. 1 Jan. 2010.
xi   Killion, Erin. “Prostitution is no laughing matter.” Green Left Weekly 20 June 2001: Gender Studies Database. EBSCO. Web. 1 Jan. 2010.
xii  PRNewswire The hidden crisis: commercial sexual exploitation of girls. 2008. Gender Studies Database. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2009.
xiii Potterat, John J., et al. “Pathways to Prostitution: The Chronology of Sexual and Drug Abuse Milestones.” Journal of Sex Research 35.4 (1998): 333-340. Gender Studies Database. EBSCO.  Web. 26 Nov. 2009.
xiv Laffel, Jeff. “Joseph L. Mankiewicz.” Films in Review 42.7/8 (1991): 238. Film & Television  Literature  Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 1 Jan. 2010.
xv  Laffel, Jeff. “Joseph L. Mankiewicz.” Films in Review 42.7/8 (1991): 238. Film & Television  Literature  Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web.1 Jan. 2010.
xvi Cooks, Orbe and Bruess, “The Fairy Tale Theme in Popular Culture: A Semiotic Analysis of Pretty Woman.” Women’s Studies in Communication Vol. 16, Issue 2 (1993)  86-104.

Interview with a Woman Who Survived the Holocaust - My Mother

This is an interview with my 89 year old mother, Ida Stern (maiden name Nissenbaum), and it also includes information from a video taped interview about family and their experience from the Holocaust. My mother resides in West Palm Beach, Florida and though she has Alzheimer's, due to the great care of my sister she remains in her own home with daily care and visits from her three children- Toby the eldest daughter from NY, Jack the middle son from Oregon, and me, the youngest daughter from NY. My mother is an artist, though it was not her profession, and though this story is filled with sorrow, I've interspersed it with my mother's beautiful watercolors and pastels.


Please tell me about your family, Mom:

My great grandparents were religious Polish-born Jews. Israel Nissenbaum was a shammus, a caretaker (custodian) in a synagogue, and studied the Talmud. Tauba Greenberg ran a service for customers that brought her chickens; she slaughtered, plucked and dressed the chickens for a fee. The two were married by a Matchmaker and had nine children with all but one born in Poland. The children named here from eldest to youngest are Chiel (pronounced “heel”), Sarah, Beryss (prounounced “berish”) and my father, Fanny, Phillip, Abraham (Abe), Anna, Gussie and Jacques. Sometime before 1912, the family lived in Odessa, Russia where Abe was born. They immigrated back to Poland and in 1912 they immigrated to Antwerp, Belgium, and this is where I was born in 1922.

How was the family affected by first World War:

In 1914 when the Germans entered Belgium for World War I, the family immigrated to London. There the children either attended public schools or worked odd jobs. In 1917, the third eldest child, my father was inducted into the British armed forces to fight the Germans with a contingent sent to the Russian front. This was the beginning of a painful life for him (Grandpa as you called him). In Russia, he witnessed grave atrocities committed by both the white and red Russians. Indiscriminate slaughter took place and amidst the chaos he fled back to Poland. While Beryss was in Russia, his sister Fanny died in 1918 from Influenza when the epidemic took hold in London.

What was your mother's name, where was she from? 

In Poland, Beryss met Chaja Perla Chiosnowka, a Polish-born Jew, and they were married. Meanwhile, the rest of the family immigrated back to Poland after the armistice in 1918.

What was your father's profession? Did your mother work?

Three of the sons including my grandfather worked in the diamond trade. Beryss, my father, was a versteller; the versteller positions and sets the diamond on the sutter for the polisher. Chaja was a university student; she was considered very intelligent and may have become a professional. Tragically, two years after my mother’s birth in 1922, Chaja hemorrhaged to death from a miscarriage. My grandfather and mother moved several times after Chaja’s death. The rest of the family had immigrated back to Belgium and eventually my grandfather and mother also moved back there.

What happened to your grandparents?

Sometime before the beginning of World War II, Israel, my great grandfather, died a fairly young man from Leukemia. My great grandmother, Tauba lived with her daughter, Sarah, who had married Salomon Mitulitsky (nickname Mon). He was also employed in the diamond trade.

When were you first aware of the dangers from the second World War?

I remember a time as very tense with the family discussing and rediscussing what to do in the wake of the Germans entering Belgium. There were not many options, but were trying to decide whether to remain in Belgium or to go to France and how this could be done. Tauba, Sarah, and Salomon decided to remain in Belgium. Jacques who was a bachelor and worked in electronics also chose not to leave.

Where there other things that you remember about being Jewish?

Both the siblings and children of my great grandparents, Chiel and Anna had married outside of the religion. Chiel married a German Christian woman named Thea (last name unknown). Even though none of the children were religiously inclined, he was resented by the other brothers and sisters because he revealed the nature of this marriage to the mother, Tauba. Anna married Charles Gruss, a French officer and citizen, which she kept a secret from her mother. Abe had married Ida Chariton, a Belgium born woman of Polish parents. Even though Ida was born in Belgium she had never applied for Belgium citizenship. Beryss remarried a Czechoslovakian born non-Jew, Elizabeth Helma who was a practicing nurse. She was not, however, entitled to practice nursing in Belgium because she was a foreigner. Thinking it would be safer, the two brothers, Abe and Beryss, decided to move us to the south of France.

What happened to the rest of the family?

Those of the family that remained in Belgium, with the exception of Chiel, were deported in 1942. These family members, Tauba my grandmother, Sarah, Fanny, and Jacques, were never heard from again. Anna immigrated with her husband to Paris where she remained until her death in 1991. The youngest daughter, Gussie, married a German born Jew named Itchak Weiner. They immigrated to Israel before the War in the 1930’s. Phillip like Gussie also left Europe before the war, immigrating alone to the United States in 1920 and reuniting later with Albina (last name unknown) whom he had met in Belgium. They were later married in the United States.

What happened to you and your parents?

Not long after we arrived in France, my father, stepmother and I were forced into a detention camp in the south of France. Conditions were very bad; there was little to nothing to eat, beds were bare bunks, and Elizabeth, my stepmother, was pregnant. I cared for the children in this camp which allowed me the privilege of leaving the camp on occasion by obtaining a pass. After Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Leon, he was taken away; all babies and children were separated from their parents. Two weeks later Leon died. There was again much discussion on what to do or on what could be done mostly involving the possibility of my escape. There was a scheduled bus trip taking the children out of the camp with a priest. My grandfather convinced me to go and not return, to go into hiding, which I did. For the next several years, both Abe, my father's brother, and Ida his wife, and I were separately in hiding in France trying to obtain false identity papers. We  lived several places where we were temporarily helped or hidden. I found out later that shortly after my escape from the camp, my father and Elizabeth were deported. Elizabeth was never heard from again, but my father miraculously survived internment in many work camps.

After you were reunited with your father, what happened?

My father and I were reunited in Paris with Abe and Ida too. We all eventually immigrated to the United States. First I went to live with Phillip and Albina in Washington Heights, then Abe and Ida came and settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and lastly my father. We settled in Jamaica, Queens. Ida’s sister who had not survived the war had bore two children in Belgium, a boy named Leon and a girl named Elvira. They also immigrated to the States and were raised by Ida and Abe. My father wrote about his experience in the camps and his story is published and archived in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.


Despite all of the hardships she's suffered, my mom still has a great sense of humor.

Thank you for sharing your story with me mom.  I love you !


It seems that were was no strong national identity afforded to my great grandparents and their children because of the anti-Semitic atmosphere of Europe and the severe effects of the wars and the Holocaust. Their frequent immigration suggests that no country could be legally and/or comfortably called home. None of the children remained religious, despite their stringent upbringing in the Jewish faith. The only exception was Gussie who immigrated to Israel. Out of the children that immigrated from Europe to both the U.S. and Israel the most children and grandchildren were produced who completed college educations and became professionals. The three brothers that immigrated to the U.S. all remained workers in the diamond industry and lived for the remainder of their lives in the New York metropolitan area and West Palm Beach, Florida. My Aunt Ida, who raised her sister's children is adult home in West Palm Beach too, and she has a boyfriend.

My personal note from this history is that I have a developed awareness of the ambiguities of organized religion and a strong passion against racism and crimes against humanity. How I consider my own identity culturally, ethnically, and religiously is mixed. Since I was not brought up within the Jewish faith and was raised in an almost all Protestant and Catholic suburban neighborhood on Long Island, I am not comfortable with the Jewish religion. I do feel a strong cultural affinity to those who are Jewish. To this day, when asked about my heritage, I unfailingly say that I’m Jewish. I grew up knowing more about Christianity than Judaism though. For a time when my children were young, I found a somewhat spiritual home within a Unitarian Universalism congregation. It represented the interfaith inclusiveness I desired and it was a way to find some family medium for me, my children and their father who is Catholic. Today, I find myself drawn to Buddhism. I unequivocally know that my beliefs have been formed in a powerful way from being the child of European Holocaust survivors and from growing up in New York Metropolitan United States among children and families whose Christian based traditions I was exposed.

I love Christmas and I appreciate the teachings of Christ, though nature is my higher power and I'm an American girl: it's only a real tree in my house for the holiday under which the presents are placed. But I am a Jew and I love the celebration of Passover, that of rejoicing the freedom of the slaves.


Thank you for reading. Peace out.