In celebration of Film Forum’s upcoming screenings of The Long Goodbye, J. Hoberman writes incisively (and with lots of exclamation points!) about one of our all-time favorite thespians, Elliott Gould. We especially liked this meditation on the nature of Jewish humor:
Bensonhurst was a fertile field for cultivating Jewish neurosis—or, as Lenny Bruce biographer Albert Goldman once said, Bensonhurst was to stand-up comedy as the Mississippi Delta was to country blues. Goldman, a young professor of English at Brooklyn College in the ’50s, recalled hanging out with his wise-guy students and their pals: “They had developed an indigenous humor, wild and fantastic, collectively inspired but individually performed.” Their comic jam sessions, with each striving to top the others, were frenzied riffs on sex, family, and the neighborhood, delivered in a fantastic showbiz argot.
Analyzing their humor, Professor Goldman noted that while Jews imagined themselves “clever and knowing, scorning the goyim as dumb and slow-witted,” they also identified themselves with “weakness, suffering, and disaster,” attributing “health, physical strength, and normality to the gentiles.” The free-form spritz was a defensive narcissism run wild: “Instead of swallowing or disguising their emotions, these young Jews—consumed with self-hatred or shame—came out in the open and blasted the things that hurt them.”
Another interesting tidbit: apparently Gould turned down the Dustin Hoffman role in Straw Dogs! We think that if he’d taken the part, that could have been our favorite movie ever.