arts & entertainment
Jewish milieu, characters infuse Fading Gigolo.
Special to the Jewish News
y big thing was to not have him
wear khaki pants and an Army
coat:' John Turturro says with
a broad smile. "And I got him out of that.
I said, 'That's not in my color scheme. I'm
an Italian director:"
This dash of bravado might sound
pretentious, or even ludicrous, on paper.
But when it comes from a tall, impeccably
groomed man in an elegant blue velvet
suit (double-breasted, shirt buttoned to
the top, no tie), it seems perfectly reason-
For his fifth feature behind the camera,
Fading Gigolo, the renowned actor and
filmmaker solicited ongoing (and ruthless)
feedback from another New York icon,
Woody Allen, during the lengthy screen-
writing process. Allen accepted a rare
acting assignment in the film, hence the
discussion of his costume.
Allen plays a newly retired Manhattan
bookstore owner who, in need of money,
convinces his friend, floral arranger
Fioravante (Turturro), to provide sexual
services to affluent women. Murray claims
a fee for arranging the liaisons, which take
Fioravante in an unexpected and ultimate-
ly poignant direction.
Fading Gigolo starts out as a slightly
absurd sex comedy and deepens into a
mature, empathetic study of big-city lone-
liness against a backdrop of cross-cultural
and ethnic identity.
The crucial relationship in Fading
Gigolo is between Fioravante and Avigal
(French actress Vanessa Paradis), an astute
mother of six and the widow of a Chasidic
rabbi. Sex isn't part of the equation, but
Dovi, a protective and covetous neighbor-
hood Satmar watchman (a touching Liev
Schreiber), can't know that.
"I met all these people who've left the
[Satmar] community" in the course of
research, Turturro says in a recent inter-
view in a San Francisco hotel.
"They're like the strays of the commu-
nity. They gather in this place, people who
left, and people who hadn't left who just
went there to see what was going on:'
Paradis got to know one woman in par-
ticular who had left the Satmar commu-
nity and explained the various directives,
such as keeping her hair concealed under
"All these things are made up by men:'
Turturro declares. "Women didn't make
these rules. And to me, that says it all:'
Fading Gigolo is unambiguously respect-
ful toward observant Jewish practice while
inviting us to empathize with a woman
trying to reconcile autonomy and confor-
"Avigal's not looking to escape Turturro
explains. "She's just looking to receive:'
Fading Gigolo climaxes with a religious
trial, where Murray is confronted with the
query, "Are you proud to be a Jew?"
It's the question we've long wanted
Woody Allen to answer onscreen, and at
that moment, it's difficult not to conflate
the character and the actor.
Turturro's experience of Judaism goes
well beyond growing up in New York and
now living in the Park Slope neighborhood
of Brooklyn. His wife is Jewish, his son
went to Hebrew school and Turturro con-
fides that he's spent a fair amount of time
in Reform synagogues.
He has played several Jewish characters
onscreen, most famously in the Coen
Brothers' Miller's Crossing and Barton
Fink, and immersed himself in the life of
Primo Levi to portray the Italian-Jewish
Filmmaker-actor John Turturro, right,
directs Woody Allen, left, in Fading
Holocaust survivor in Francesco Rosi's The
"If you're raised a Catholic, you realize
there's not a debate that goes on:' Turturro
says. "And if you're raised a Jew, there's
a debate that goes on. And I really like
that. Therein lies one of the greatnesses of
At Allen's behest, Turturro brushed up
on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short stories
while he wrote the Fading Gigolo screen-
play. But after all his various and diligent
research, certain things came down to
intuition — and style.
"I only chose Satmar because I liked the
hats the best:' Turturro says. "I don't want
the Borsalino. I'm Italian. It's an aesthetic
choice, understand. That's how it goes
with me. The hat dictates. That's it:'
As of press time, Fading Gigolo, rated
R, is scheduled to open Friday, May 9,
in Detroit. Check your local listings.
Michigan Horror Story
Local musician celebrates first novel.
osh Malerman and his band, the
High Strung, have entertained in
libraries to draw young people to
Soon, the musicians will be entertain-
ing in bookstores and other spots to draw
a wide range of readers to Malerman's
just-released novel: Bird
Box: Don't Open Your Eyes
The horror tale, about
a destructive presence that
must not be seen, will be
introduced with the group
acting out a segment using a
format similar to a radio play.
Based in Michigan, with
settings close to the author's
Ferndale home, the novel will
be discussed during sessions in
Ferndale, Ann Arbor, Lansing and other
May 8 • 2014
"The horror genre is so ripe for imagi-
nation:' says Malerman, 38, whose pre-
sentations will include his fiancee, Allison
Laakko, an artist and classical guitarist
portraying Malorie, the main character,
who boats down a river with two children,
all of them blindfolded, to find sanctuary.
"A genre that enables writers to express
whatever they want fits right in with my per-
sonality, which is free to imagine:'
Malerman, whose book has
been adapted into a movie script
for production by Universal
Studios, recently appeared at a
convention of librarians in San
Antonio. He gave a speech as
part of a panel on horror tales.
"In my younger years, I
tried to write songs with
messages, and they'd
come off sort of preachy:'
explains Malerman, a
guitarist-vocalist who performs with
Derek Berk on drums, Chad Stocker on
bass and Stephen Palmer on guitar.
"If I don't try to have a mes-
sage, my songs come off with more
meaning to them, and I think the
same thing happened with the
Malerman, who describes his
work of fiction as having "a Twilight Zone
feel," connected with Berk and Stocker
in seventh grade at Orchard Lake Middle
School in West Bloomfield.
The friendship and performing con-
tinued through West Bloomfield High
School and while he majored in English at
Michigan State University.
The quartet's latest release is I, Anybody
on New Fortune Records.
Malerman, who had his bar mitzvah
at Temple Israel, hosted a recent seder in
his home, with dad Stephen Malerman of
West Bloomfield leading the service. His
mom is Debbie Sullivan of Eastpointe.
"I've been enamored with the horror genre
my entire life:' says Malerman, a steady read-
er whose favorite author is Stephen King. "I
like the fun, the color and the ideas.
— Josh Malerman
"I went on a kick when I only read clas-
sic novels. That lasted a couple of years
and dropped me off at Dracula. I realized
that someone can write a horror novel and
be part of high art, and that's what I'm
Josh Malerman appears in support
of Bird Box at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May
13, at the New Way Bar, 23130
Woodward, Ferndale, (248) 541-
9870); 7 p.m. Thursday, May 15,
at Schuler's, 2820 Towne Centre
Blvd., Lansing, (517) 316-7495; 9
p.m. Thursday, May 15, at Mac's Bar,
2700 E. Michigan, Lansing, (517)
484-6795; and 7 p.m. Tuesday, May
20, at Nicola's Books, 2513 Jackson,
Ann Arbor, (734) 662-0600.