27 March 2005

Sorry if I spoil Yentl for you

It seemed fitting that DCD and I should rent Yentl on the eve of Easter. We had long wanted to watch the Jewish, ostensibly feminist musical, pardon, “film with music” per the video sheath.


The story goes that Yentl (Babs Streisand), inappropriately studious as a woman in 1904, disguises herself as a Yeshiva boy so she can continue to study. While donning the cultural accoutrements of manhood, Yentl still appears distinctly feminine to viewers, so as not to fuck with our heads too much. But that makes it difficult to suspend our disbelief at how she can so easily fool the other characters.

Now I enjoy musicals and accept their often weak grasp on plausibility. However, and perhaps it was the cynical influence of Ms. DCD, I couldn’t help my incredulity.

Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin*) quickly befriends Anschel (aka Yentl) and Yentl quickly falls for the Jew-froed hottie with whom she can verbally spar over Talmud. Fine enough, but troubling are the scenes in which a come hither look toward Anschel flashes across Avigdor's face

The gender fuck in this movie is not going to be addressed, is it? I asked.

Never. It only gets more convoluted when Avigdor convinces Anschel to marry his beloved Hadass because he is unable. Hadassah begins to fall in love with Anschel, who continually rebuffs her romantic advances. Eventually Yentl reveals her identity to Avigdor, who reacts in anger until she confesses she loves him. With a snap of the fingers, he softens and whispers how he has felt affection for her. And they should run away and marry, blah blah blah. It does not bother him that he felt this way toward one he thought a MAN. Doesn’t he want to question his sexuality or something?

From what I read, it seems Isaac Bashevis Singer, the author of the short story on which Yentl is based, wanted to question gender. Yentl is allegedly written as a transgender character. And, unlike in the movie, Yentl does not resume life as a woman, setting off for America. In the original story, Yentl continues living as Anschel, pursuing her passion--her studies.

My modern mind wanted to see the repercussions of and/or questions raised by the gender bending but all I got were sappy songs and a pseudofeminist conclusion.

* See tomorrow's post about Old or Dead Men Who You Might Not Have Thought Were Hot When They Were Young but They Were

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