Arts & Culture

Good, or Just Jewish? “Orthodox Stance”

A lot of Jewish art – books, movies, whatever – is terrible. Of course, a lot of art is terrible, period, and I say this as someone who has never managed to remain dry-eyed through a movie about troubled teens … Read More

By / February 8, 2008

A lot of Jewish art – books, movies, whatever – is terrible. Of course, a lot of art is terrible, period, and I say this as someone who has never managed to remain dry-eyed through a movie about troubled teens solving their problems through dance. But Jewish cultural products are often marketed and reviewed as if their Jewishness trumps any concerns about quality. The amount of readily available funding in the Jewish community makes the problem immeasurably worse, because even if your idea is half-assed, you’ll probably be able to find someone to spend a lot of money to produce it as long as you mention the J-word. As a result, the bar gets lowered, Jewish culture gets crappified, and people like me give up entirely and go watch Step It Up 2 The Streets.

I don’t think movies, books, or music deserve any kind of free pass just because their ethnic affiliation is my ethnic affiliation, though, so I’m going to start playing compare-and-contrast with reviews. Welcome to “Good, or Just Jewish?” – a weekly look at how mainstream and Jewish papers reviewed the books, movies and music aimed at you because you’re a Jew.

“Orthodox Stance” is a documentary about Lubavitcher boxer Dmitriy Salita, so it seems like perfect Jewish film festival bait. And indeed, it’s traveling the country right now on the festival circuit. But is it any good? Rotten Tomatoes says reviewers gave it an average of 6/10 stars, but they only collected 15 reviews.

Suspiciously, both The Jewish Week and Bangitout avoided reviewing the movie entirely. The former profiled filmmaker Jason Hutt; the latter interviewed Salita after a gushing introduction filled with sentences like:

Salita, based on skill, dedication, and commitment to both boxing and Judaism, makes him someone I feel compelled to support. He is our brother in the truest sense of the word. We share with him the most elemental, eternal bonds that any two people on this planet can share – history and belief. Plus, he is a menace as a prizefighter.

You could be forgiven for a certain skepticism at this point, but the mainstream media mostly seems to agree. The New York Times called the film “intriguingly layered” and The New York Sun says it “quickly outgrows any sensationalist ‘one man-two worlds’ narrative myopia.”

The Onion’s AV Club, on the other hand, gives the film a C. Their justification:

[B]oxing and Orthodox Judaism have more in common than most people imagine. Both rely heavily on faith, traffic in rituals and repetition, and encourage rigid self-discipline and Spartan self-denial. Yet the film never makes this association between seemingly antithetical entities, instead coasting way too heavily on the superficial novelty of a godly man making his living by beating the crap out of strangers.

And Variety says: “Excellent ringside coverage doesn't show much genuine tension, unless keeping kosher in a Puerto Rican hotel room qualifies as high drama.”

The verdict? If you like boxing or movies about faith, you could do worse. But for genuine excitement, if you happen to be in NYC, skip the film and just watch Salita fight in the Roseland Ballroom on February 28.