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October 19, 1990 - Image 89

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 1990

Dreams And Memories
Are Foundation Of 'Avalon'

MICHAEL ELKIN

Special to The Jewish News

G

entle dreams and
misty memories
make for a moving
movie about the Jewish im-
migrant experience in
Avalon.
Barry Levinson, the film's
director and writer, literal-
ly lights up the screen
with this memory-swept sen-
timental journey to his old
hometown, which harbors
stories both sweet and sim-
ple in their beauty.
As Sam Krichinsky (Ar-
min Mueller-Stahl) steps
onto the sod of his new-
found nation, arriving in
Philadelphia and then pro-
ceeding promptly to
Baltimore, the Russian
emigre is escorted by a
colorguard of fireworks —
reds, whites and blues illu-
minating his every step.
He has arrived in the
Baltimore neighborhood of
Avalon on Independence
Day, and for an immigrant
liberated from the shackles
of Russian repression and
hardship, the holiday seems
more a specially planned
personal salute and celebra-
tion than an annual event.
Walking the Baltimore
streets, Mr. Krichinsky feels
they are more carpet than
pavement, plushly lined
paths to opportunities de-
nied him in his native land.
Settling into the Balti-
more family business as a
wallpaper hanger — he has
been brought over by his
brothers, each of whom paves
the way for the next —
Mr. Krichinsky becomes a
gentle giant of a patriarch: a
patient parent, benevolent
husband and, ultimately,
beloved grandparent whose
tales of the past still
mesmerize.
As the story starts, Mr.
Krichinsky is creating the
spell that all good
storytellers weave. His
grandchildren are gathered
at his knee, awaiting his
every word of what it was
like to arrive in a country
where liberty and justice are
promised for all.
Sam is interrupted by his
son, Jules (Aidan Quinn), an
agreeable, ambitious young
man hoping to claim a piece
of American prosperity for
his own pocket.
Michael Elkin is an
entertainment writer for the
Jewish Exponent in
Philadelphia.

The Krichinsky family enjoys a parade in Avalon

The grandchildren, Jules
affectionately admonishes his
dad, stopping him in mid-
reverie, have already heard
the story over and over again;
it's enough, Jules affec-
tionately tells Sam.

But, as audiences soon
realize, it is a story worth
repeating — especially when
the one telling the oft-told
tale of the immigrant expe-
rience is film-maker Levin-
son.
He reels in his audiences
deftly, mixing haimish
humor with heartfelt drama.
Avalon is Mr. Levinson's
paean to his past and an
acknowledgement of how
assimilation embraces the
immigrant eager to make
good in a strange land.
At 48, Mr. Levinson has
pocketed his share of the
American dream, garnering
acclaim and an Academy
Award as director of Rain
Man.
Mr. Levinson recalls that
his grandfather, the inspira-
tion for the character played
by Mueller-Stahl, was a
wonderful storyteller who
would recount his days in
Mother Russia to a brood of
grandchildren who would
marvel at his memories.
While he claims that
Avalon is not truly
autobiographical ("A movie
is a movie; it's not some kind
of document"), Mr. Levinson
readily concedes there is a
real bond between the
Baltimore families on and
off the screen.
"My upbringing is very
close to what is portrayed in
the film,"says Mr. Levin-
son."Those family circles
really did take place," he
says of the film's depiction of
the hilarious gathering of
the clan to plan formal fami-
ly outings.
And like the kids' antics in
Avalon, the young Levinson

was not above being some-
what of a troublemaker.
"My cousin and I used to
build model planes and put
down glue tracks, which we
used to light," Mr. Levinson
said. The track would lead to
the wooden model plane,
which would go up in flames.
"We were always warned
not to do that," just like
Michael, the film character
based on the young Levin-
son. "We were always told
that a real fire could start."
As in Avalon, a major fire
played a devastating role in
Mr. Levinson's background
— the family business went
up in smoke.
"And just like in the film,
there was no insurance,"
Mr. Levinson said
a cinematic
Avalon,
statement about the dissolu-
tion of the nuclear family, is
a form of insurance for the
film-maker, a reminder that
one should cherish family
ties. It is, in the best terms
possible, a professional home
movie about the importance
of home.

"I have two kids, but there
are no uncles and aunts
wandering through the
house like there was when I
grew up," Mr. Levinson said.
But there were relatives of
his wandering the set of
Avalon; some were cast in a
family funeral scene.
When Levinson started to
direct them, they would
have nothing of it. "They put
up their hands and said,
`Barry, we were at the real
thing. We know how we
felt.' "

Jewish rites and rituals
don't take center stage in
indeed, they are
Avalon
somewhere out of camera
range. But Mr. Levinson,
who had his bar mitzvah a
year late ("I was sick when I
was 13"), says Judaism has



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