seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret

Tradition from ronarfelq on Vimeo.

password: fiddler

For my first Festivid, I made an Arrested Development family ensemble vid to "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof. This was roughly the third or fourth iteration of the idea that I wanted a vid that brought out the covert "Jewishness" (possibly in the Lenny Bruce sense, possibly in the actual tribal sense) of the Bluth family. It started with me pondering a pure hijinks reel to a Klezmer dance, but I was a little time compressed because of NaNo and Yuletide, and that sort of vid requires an attention to the rhythm and internal movement of shots that I think would have taken me more time than I had. I also worried that the concept would go over the viewers' heads, that presenting something with so much pure Yiddish flavor would require more translation than I was prepared to do.* "Tradition" struck me as a great compromise, a statement of Jewish identity that comes with the translation already built in, and its simple musical structure promised less time thinking about the precise timing details.

You develop a strange affection for the Bluths as you watch Arrested Development. The core joke of the show is that its ostensible straight man, Michael Bluth, is just as shallow and petty and vain and spoiled as the rest of his family. The Bluths are bad people who treat other people as pawns in their pursuit of their short-term aims. They can't even muster the mental stamina to pursue long-term goals in this cruel and callous way, which is why their plans always end badly for them. And yet at some level you feel like the world has lied to the Bluths and they have been wronged. It is not the lies that they think they have been told, but nonetheless the world does not work the way they have been led to think it does, and that makes their story a profoundly American tragedy.

The single main running emotional thread through the story is that family is bound together in complicated, messy, inexplicable ways. The show's tagline, which I parody in my summary, is "Now the story of a wealthy family and the one son who had no choice but to keep them together." Of course, being the show it is, the tagline is a lie on multiple axes. Michael is rarely competent at keeping the family together. It's unclear what exactly there was to preserve, as the Bluths in the pilot were barely speaking to each other. And 'no choice', of course, is the choice on which the show revolves.

What compels Michael to keep the family together? At times it's literally a legal compulsion when he is not allowed to leave the state because of the criminal investigation. But at other times it's respect for his son's wishes, or affection for his brothers and sister, at times it's emotional blackmail from his parents. These are the sorts of inexplicable social glues that Tevye refers to as TRADITION ["Why do we do this? I'll tell you. I don't know.]. Michael's "no choice" is an Orange County translation of Jewish guilt, neurosis and family connection.

*In even more "funny only to me" territory I played with a vid centering specifically on the four Bluth children as avatars of one of various popular Jewish sets of four. "B'Shem Hashem" speaks of the four angelic forces that serve as extensions of God's presence. "Ufaratza" analogizes the spread of the Jewish people to the four directions of the compass. Either one of those songs would have been hilarious to try to cast the Bluth kids. For B'Shem Hashem, I had Michael as Micha'el [Who is like God], GOB as Gavri'el [God is Mighty], Lindsay as Uri'el [God is my Light] and Buster as Refa'el [God shall heal]. For Ufaratza I had Buster as Yama (West, toward the Sea, a seal joke), Lindsay as Kedma (East, toward the Sun, a blond hair joke/sunbathing joke), GOB as Tzafonah (North, toward the hidden lands, a magician joke), and Michael as Negba (South, toward the Desert, a Phoenix joke). The more I explain this concept, the more I am glad I didn't make it, even though it totally cracks me up.

Also, in retrospect, how telling is it that I feel that Fiddler on the Roof is not Jewish enough for what I was trying to say? I have really complicated feelings about Fiddler that I keep trying to write out here and failing because the language comes out too strong. As an example, in one version I wrote that I love Fiddler with all my heart, but I think everything it says about Jewish life in Europe is a dangerous and destructive lie. The point is, I feel really strongly about Fiddler and its giddy and treacherous dance with authenticity, and that's probably part of why I associated it with the plastic artifice of the Bluth family.

Also, a commenter on the post mentioned A Fiddler on the Bluth and I feel devastated and ashamed that I did not think of using this as the title of my vid.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-02-09 03:42 pm (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
Oh, you poor man, missing the obvious pun!

I am all sympathy, even as I laugh and laugh.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-02-10 03:31 pm (UTC)
zandperl: A cartoon of the pope chomping down on a wafer, yelling "Body of Christ / So Delicious! / So Nutritious!" (Oatmeal - Body of Christ)
From: [personal profile] zandperl
I'm not a huge Arrested Development fan, but this vid is cute. And watching it and reading your comments, I think I've figured out why: this family is totally dysfunctional, and I have enough of that in my real life, I don't want more in my fun time. :-P Same reason I can't stand Woody Allen films.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-10 07:09 am (UTC)
shallowness: Catwoman looking at the Batsign in the Gotham City night sky (Catwoman watching Batverse films)
From: [personal profile] shallowness
I come to this as an Arrested Development fan with not that much knowledge of Jewish tradition, so I think that unless if it was really overt, a lot of the referenes in the show passed me over, and reading your notes was interesting.

But the most important bit, this vid made me laugh. It definitely works as an appreciation of the Bluth clan in all their fallibilities.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-11-28 04:09 pm (UTC)
brainwane: The last page of the zine (reconcile)
From: [personal profile] brainwane
This vid, and especially your discussion of the lie(s) the Bluths have been told, led me to thinking about the success myth and talking about it with my spouse, and that led us to talking about the analogy:

George Sr : S&Ls :: Michael : housing/mortgage bubble :: George Michael :: internet bubble

So now I have an urge to do a full rewatch of all 4 seasons to see what's there.

Thank you for a thought-provoking vid and essay!


seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)

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