Friday, March 19, 2010

CHUTZPAH from Lionsgate

The noun chutzpah may be Hebrew in origin, but its spirit is decidedly Yiddish. If its entry does not make for the most-thumbed pages in Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, it certainly ought to do so, since Rosten's usage examples are priceless. Thus, when an instance of chutzpah arises that actually resonates with its Yiddish roots, it deserves recognition, even if that instance is not chutzpah at its most outrageous. This was my reaction to a dispatch that Mike Fleming filed yesterday on the Deadline New York Web site:

Lionsgate has acquired North American rights to Dibbuk Box, a thriller in the vein of The Shining that will be written by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White. Ghost House Pictures partners Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert will produce. The jumping off point is a true story culled from the Leslie Gornstein-bylined Los Angeles Times article A Jinx In A Box. In the film, a family finds itself in possession of a haunted box, and struggles to get rid of its evil curse. Using even a tenuous tie to a true story has been a fright fare staple, and helped films that include The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville Horror and Psycho.

The writers' credits include Knowing, remakes of Poltergeist at MGM, and The Birds at Universal, as well as Boogeyman for Ghost House. Dibbuk Box becomes the second project for Ghost House and Lionsgate, which are also developing Burst 3D. In case you didn't know, Lionsgate Motion Picture president Joe Drake was a Ghost House founder.

Now dybbuk has its own entry in Rosten's lexicon. However, it is not just one of the more important Hebrew words to migrate into Yiddish; it is also the title of a major work of Yiddish theater, the play The Dybbuk written by Sholom Ansky (the pen name for Shloyme Zanvi Rappoport). This was made into a film in 1937 in Poland (in the Yiddish language); and, while there have been two more recent film versions, they are both in Hebrew, which significantly undercuts the impact of the original Yiddish text. There is thus more than a fair share of chutzpah in appropriating the dybbuk concept for an Amityville clone that will ultimately be rendered in the sort of goyish English that is the stock-in-trade of the commercial film industry. Such an attack on Yiddish itself should be grounds enough for giving the Chutzpah of the Week award to Drake as the highest-level representative of this project; but more appropriate would be for a dybbuk to disrupt the production in the same spirit (pun intended) with which Ansky's dybbuk disrupted a wedding!

No comments: