Friday, October 19, 2012


It shouldn't matter, but it does.  Most Canadians with any sort of cultural acumen know Sarah Polley.  As a child, she was Sara in Road to Avonlea, before growing up and becoming first a serious actress, then an astonishingly gifted young film maker, directing "Away From Her", a film about a couple torn apart by dementia.  She also made a fairly good pitch for the title of "authentic", pulling her name out of a short film when she found out it was used as a margarine ad.  I admit to having been a little perturbed when she named her most recent feature film, "Take This Waltz", and ode to the famous Leonard Cohen song.  While I'll admit to being a big fan, I find this fetish with our local poet and song writing hero to be a bit tiresome at times.  Still, I plan to see it.  With this in mind, the mention of her name, even at 5:30 in the morning while I answer anxious student e-mails and chase away hungry cats, still elicits attention.  This morning, my local radio show was discussing her latest effort, the documentary, "Stories We Tell".  In it, Sarah reveals her biological father to be Harry Gulkin, producer of Canadian films such as "Lies My Father Told Me" and "Two Solitudes".  Born in the same Montreal Jewish ghetto as my parents, Harry's brother and sister and law ate at our apartment when I was a child- my parent's friendship with them was not an enduring one, but I always remembered their name and its association with 'Lies", a film  about a boy and his rags collecting merchant grandfather, which closely approximated their childhood   Ok, Sarah is not a Jew, even I know that.  My own son, by the virtue of his Catholic mother is not either, but suddenly there is a feeling that Ms Polley is part of the "club" so to speak.  Cynically, neither of us could not even begin to understand what it was like to grow up in the huddled masses of first generation Jews in Montreal- battling anti-Semitism, the embarrassment of their immigrant parents, poverty, and wondering in awe what life in Mr Cohen's side of town (Westmount) was like.  Only my parents' anecdotes allowed " the light to get in' (thanks Leonard).   Perhaps her biological father told her  stories too- he is still alive and in need of a Wikipedia page as I speak.  Nevertheless,  knowing that we share the same roots and can trace our fairly recent ancestry back to the Shtetls of Russia is an anthropologists dream, demonstrating the phenomenon of kinship.  I once went to a university lecture from a former performance artist turned academic about  collective unconsciousness in Judaism.  I always greet these events with a combination of scorn, intimidation and curiosity. Some academics in attendance slept, while other members of the local Jewish community were there for the free food. Still, maybe there's something to this after all.

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