Life imitates art, the old saw goes. Writers and other creators draw on their experiences or events they find in the world, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find fiction eerily similar to real life. Art has always imitated life; that is why we find it so compelling.
I just finished watching the television show The Offer, which tells the story of the making of the epic film The Godfather. While critics and some of the real-life players in the story have disputed the accuracy of the depiction, many of the stories it portrays are well known behind the scenes anecdotes about the classic movie. The show takes great pains to draw a connection between the making of The Godfather and The Godfather itself.
It all gets very meta. Here is a show about how the mafia interferes with the making of a mafia movie in which the mafia interferes with the making of a movie (In The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone tells his godson not to worry, that a Hollywood producer will put him in a movie after receiving “an offer he can’t refuse”). The characters in The Offer even slip lines from the movie into their conversations, like when a studio executive says, “It’s just business; it’s not personal.”
What’s interesting about The Offer is that in seeing how The Godfather was made, we gain a deeper understanding of its seminal impact on our culture. Before the movie, gangster films were somewhat unrealistic, but Francis Ford Coppola, the director, turned mafiosos into relatable human beings with families and internal conflicts. And we the audience, by identifying with these characters, have adopted their mannerisms and phrases into our everyday lives.
This week there was another example of life imitating art when a production of the play Indecent at a Florida high school was canceled almost exactly 100 years to the day after the original play it as based on was banned. The 1923 play, God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, featured the first depiction of a lesbian romance on Broadway. While so much has changed for the LGBTQ community in the century between the two productions, fear and prejudice remain.
I saw Indecent on its last day on Broadway. It’s a powerful and unique exploration of Yiddish theater, the Holocaust, and the way that ideas can be both liberating and dangerous. It also happens to have been co-produced by Dana Lerner, who grew up at Adath Israel.
In response to the Florida school board’s decision to cancel the high school production of Indecent, the playwright, Paula Vogel, showed support for the student actors on social media and plans to visit the community and present the play to them. Her proposal reminded me of another play, The Prom, in which Broadway actors go to a small conservative town to defend a lesbian high school student who has been banned from her prom.
The Prom also has an Adath connection as it was produced by Jane Dubin, sister of our member Scott Dubin. A group from the synagogue attended that play, which took a satirical and comic look at the ways in which different cultural groups in America stereotype each other. The Broadway people think they can fix the small-town folk but end up learning their own lessons.
I don’t know if Vogel is familiar with The Prom, but I hope she does not make the same mistake of presuming she knows better. No one wants to be lectured to. If life imitates art, we would do best to learn from fiction. Maybe that is the most effective way to avoid the fate of that other old saw, “those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”