A Romanian rediscovers Communism – at Columbia University

Columbia University

If the name of Columbia University has cropped up so often on this website, it’s because few American institutions of higher education are so crammed with tyranny-loving ideologues. It was Columbia, let’s remember, that invited then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address its students. Columbia economist Joseph Stiglitz has enriched himself by serving as a “consultant” to corrupt regimes such as the Kirchner thugocracy in Argentina – regimes that, in turn, he has then publicly praised as being on the up-and-up. (Can you say “quid pro quo”?) Hamid Dabashi, who teaches Middle East and Asian Languages, equates Gaza to Auschwitz, downplays the Holocaust, and calls Zionists “hyenas.” Sociologist Saskia Sassen, an outspoken enemy of capitalism and Israel, commutes weekly between her luxurious homes in New York and London while also flying constantly all over the glove to scold audiences for the size of their carbon footprints. As we noted the other day, Kathy Boudin, the cop-killing mother of San Francisco’s newly elected DA, teaches at Columbia. So does Jamal Joseph, who was sentenced to over a decade for his role in the same crime. Joseph Mossad is a gay man who serves as an apologist for the brutal treatment of gay man in the Muslim world. And Gil Anidjar teaches a course in which, ignoring Arabic autocracy throughout the centuries, and dropping down the memory hole the monstrously aggressive Muslim wars of conquest against Europe and other Christian lands, he presents Arabs as having consistently, throughout history, been Europe’s victims – period.

Andrei Serban

It’s gotten so bad that Andrei Serban, a film, theater, and opera director who in 1969 fled communism in Romania – where he was director of the Romanian National Theater – and who is a longtime tenured professor in Columbia’s theater department, has now decided that it’s time to flee Columbia, too, which he describes as being “on its way to full-blown communism.” One example: he had felt pressured to cast a male-to-female transgender student in the female lead of Romeo and Juliet, even though he felt the individual in question wasn’t up to the job. One example: during a departmental search for a new faculty member, a dean insisted that the vacancy couldn’t be filled by the person Serban considered most qualified, because the candidate in question was a white male heterosexual. “I felt like I was living under communism again,” Serban commented.

Meryl Streep in The Cherry Orchard

Serban is hardly an old fogy. In Paris he studied under Peter Brook, whose radical, experimental stagings of new and classic works of theater revolutionized the art of modern theater directing. Serban brought his innovative approach to the U.S., where he directed Meryl Streep in a Lincoln Center production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Liev Schreiber in a Public Theater staging of Hamlet. Serban has also directed numerous classics, ranging from The Merchant of Venice to Lysistrata, at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, directed operas at the Met in New York and the Opéra Bastille in Paris, and plied his trade at other prestigious venues around the Western world. Throughout his career, his name has been a byword for cutting-edge theater, making him a darling of the high-cultural establishment. All the more ironic, therefore, that such a figure should feel compelled to quit a plum job at an American academic institution because he felt that the guiding political ideology of that institution had shifted too far away from classical liberalism in the direction of the lockstep collectivist groupthink that he thought he had escaped half a century ago in totalitarian Romania.

A further irony: Serban he explained his decision to quit Columbia in an October 26 interview with a TV station in his formerly Communist homeland, which is now a free country.

Hollywood follows Hemingway to Havana

Yesterday we talked about the newest Fast and Furious movie, which according to a January article in the Hollywood Reporter is “the first Hollywood studio film to shoot on the island since the embargo was set in the 1960s.”

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Adrian Sparks and Joely Richardson as the Hemingways

But hey, then there’s the just-released Papa Hemingway in Cuba, which the same publication described in 2014 (when it was being filmed) as “the first full-length feature with a Hollywood director and actors to be shot in the country since the 1959 revolution.” Apparently the key word is “studio”; while the car-chase franchise is owned by Universal Studios, the Hemingway picture was an independent Canadian-American production.

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Bob Yari

The film is directed by Bob Yari, a real-estate mogul turned big-time Hollywood money guy, who has bought himself producer credits on a number of major Hollywood releases (such as Prime, starring Meryl Streep, and The Painted Veil, starring Edward Norton). During his fifteen or so years in the business, he’s landed in more than his share of legal messes; according to the Boston Globe, he’s “perhaps best known for unsuccessfully suing the Academy over not getting producer credit on the 2005 best picture Oscar-winning Crash.” Papa, his only directorial credit other than 1989’s Mind Games, is based on an autobiographical script by Denne Bart Petitclerc, who died ten years ago and who, when he was a young newspaperman, was taken up by Hemingway, then living in Cuba, as a sort of sidekick and protégé. Adrian Sparks is Hemingway, Joely Richardson is his fourth wife, Mary, Giovanni Ribisi is the admiring cub reporter, and Minka Kelly is Ribisi’s love interest; Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel, who, a half a lifetime ago, played Woody Allen’s love interest in Manhattan, has a cameo. 

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Giovanni Ribisi and Minka Kelly

The reviews, to put it mildly, haven’t been stellar. Variety called the movie “formulaic” and “plodding”; the writer for RogerEbert.com complained that “the storytelling continuously keeps us at arm’s length, never allowing us to fully understand the bond that developed between these men….Here’s a film about one of the greatest writers in history that reduces the iconic man’s mind to the canned insights of a fortune cookie.” Calling the picture “a missed opportunity,” Stephanie Merry lamented in the Washington Post that it “doesn’t leave much of an impression.” Several critics have complained that Sparks utterly lacks Papa’s charisma, and that Ribisi, whose character is supposed to be a starry-eyed twenty-something, is, in real life, 41 years old, with thinning hair.

But almost all of the reviewers have exulted in Yari’s supposed coup – getting the Castro regime to let him film at Hemingway’s Cuban home, La Finca Vigía. Indeed, there’s been plenty of predictably stoogerific commentary about this supposed “milestone.” We’ll look at some of it tomorrow.