St. Patrick’s Day lands on March 17 of the Gregorian calendar. Purim lands on Adar 15 of the Jewish calendar. They’re only days apart this year. Traditionally, people tend to get plastered on these days.
Throughout 2019, I’ll be writing articles about holidays and the most appropriate movies to help get into the festive mode.
St. Patrick’s Day
I’m not sure about Ireland itself, but St. Partrick’s Day is a big deal in parts of the United States. Even those without Irish ancestry often wear green that day.
The obvious movie for St. Patrick’s Day would be John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) – the director’s celebration to the country of his parents’ birth. John Wayne plays an Irish American who returns to his homeland and finds stormy but romantic love with a fiery Irish lass (Maureen O’Hara).
The Quiet Man
The problem is that I saw The Quiet Man 30 or so years ago and didn’t like it.
Instead, I’ll pick a work from another Irish-American auteur: John Sayles, a filmmaker who’s known for making films about how places form the people who inhabit them. Celtic fables, Irish music, and beautiful, rugged scenery saturate Sayles’ only family movie, The Secret of Roan Inish (1994). Young Fiona (Jeni Courtney) comes to live with her grandparents. From them and others, she learns about her mysterious family history. Along with Fiona, we learn why the family no longer lives on the nearby island of Roan Inish, how her baby brother was lost to the sea, and why one local seal takes such an interest in Fiona. I give it an A.
The Secret of Roan Inish
I’m Jewish, so I’m covering Jewish holidays along with the others. Besides, Purim is my favorite holiday – Jewish or otherwise.
Purim celebrates the (probably mythical) events in the Book Esther. Basically, a young Jewish woman marries the King of Persia and thwarts an attempted genocide. Celebrations involve wearing costumes, listening to a very rowdy reading of the Book of Esther, a comic play called a Shpiel, drinking, and dancing.
This year, Purim starts Wednesday, March 20 at sunset, and ends sunset on the 21st.
The obvious movie to watch before Purim would be one based on the Book of Esther. There are several, but the only one I’ve seen is Raoul Walsh’s unintentionally hilarious Esther and the King (1960). Walsh was a great director, but even the best filmmakers occasionally walk into open manholes. I suspect the other films based on the Book, like most films based on Bible stories, are just as bad.
Esther and the King
The original, 1950 movie version of Born Yesterday has something of a Book of Esther vibe (I don’t know about the remakes). Set in Washington D.C., it’s about a beautiful, ignorant, young woman (Judy Holliday) engaged to a wealthy, coarse, cruel, and corrupt man. Like Esther, she learns that she’s more than her looks (although, since it’s from 1950, a handsome William Holden guides her into being a better person). A heavy reliance on dialog and the way most of the action is set around one main set, constantly reminds you that the movie is adapted from a stage play. But the speeches about how most congressmen and senators are honest sound strange today. But it’s funny and charming. I give it a B.
Is there a real Purim connection? There’s no proof, but both playwright Garson Kanin and film director George Cukor were Jewish. They may have gone to Purim events as children.
And let’s not forget Christopher Guest’s mockumentary For Your Consideration, about the making of a fictitious movie called Home for Purim.
But if you really want to get into the holiday’s spirit, skip the movies and go to Ashkenaz on March 20 for the big Purim party there. Full disclosure: I wrote and am directing the shpiel.