Eytan fox, israel's premier gay director takes a surprising turn with 'mary lou' - hartfordadvocate.com

Eytan Fox, Israel's Premier Gay Director Takes a Surprising Tu.
www.hartfordadvocate.com/entertainment/movies/ht-eytan-fox-israels-premier-gay-director-takes-a-surprising-turn-with-mary-lou-20110520,0,1945618.story hartfordadvocate.com
Eytan Fox, Israel's Premier Gay Director Takes a Surprising
Turn with 'Mary Lou'

For Eytan Fox, the American-born Israeli filmmaker who tackled gays in the military in Yossi & Jagger,sent a straight Mossad agent sightseeing with a Nazi'sgay grandson in Walk on Water and reimaginedRomeo and Juliet as a boy-meets-boy at a West Bankcheckpoint in The Bubble, the jukebox musical “MaryLou,” a cable miniseries screening at the ConnecticutGay and Lesbian Film Festival on Sunday at 3 p.m.,seems like quite a departure. But if Fox has asignature scene, it's when a character pops in a CDand says, anxiously, “Do you know this song?” Fox'scharacters are defined by their musical tastes, whetherit's Yossi revealing Jagger's favorite song to hismother, or the Springsteen vs. Eurodivas squabbles inWalk on Water, or The Bubble's record store clerkintroducing his Palestinian boyfriend to Belle and Sebastian.
“Music is a very central element in my life,” says Fox, who is currently directing a sequel to Yossi andJagger. “I'm always thinking, when we have dinner this will be the musical score, or when my partnercomes in, this is the music I want him to hear because he's in such-and-such a mood or I'm insuch-and-such a mood. So maybe that's the director in me.” And doing a musical in which almost allthe characters are ardent fans of Israeli singer-songwriter Svika Pick has one advantage: “If I have onescene like this in every film, here I get a chance to do it every five minutes.” Even so, “Mary Lou,” in which a young man (Ido Rosenberg) travels to Tel Aviv in search of hismother and finds himself, is the first project Fox has directed that he didn't initiate. It originated atIsrael's National Theatre, which wanted to replicate the success of Mamma Mia! with homegrownsongs. Svika Pick, a Polish immigrant who parlayed a starring role in the Israeli cast of Hair into '70ssuperstardom — Fox ponders his American equivalent: Neil Diamond? Barry Manilow? — was forseveral years a judge on “Israeli Idol” (on which Fox's partner, screenwriter and producer GalUchovsky, has played Simon Cowell). One might assume that Fox would be too cool for Pick's Eytan Fox, Israel's Premier Gay Director Takes a Surprising Tu.
Eurovision corn, but no. “I grew up on his music. A little bit tacky, a little disco, but a very goodsongwriter. My first slow dance with a very sweet, cute girl in fifth grade was to a song by Svika Pickand then we went behind the curtain and I gave her a kiss on the cheek. So that's a very strongmemory.” But the story was another matter. “It was the most clichéd story in the world,” recalls Fox. “This girlcomes to Tel Aviv, all these bad men take advantage of her, and then she becomes a star.” The HOTnetwork hired Shiri Artzi, a novelist with whom Fox has since become close friends, to write a newscript. “She did not really know the songs, which is like you saying ‘I don't know any MichaelJackson songs.’ She used them only for the words, and she used the lyrics to somehow create a storythat made sense. And that's why I think in this case, as opposed to Mamma Mia! or other musicalsbased on one person's songs, it doesn't feel random. It's a way to get into the story, really using musicto define character.” Much of the new story is set in a drag queen cabaret (featuring an actual troupe, the Holy Wigs) wherethe protagonist becomes an overnight sensation while searching for his mother (Maya Dagan), whomhe believes ran off to become one of Pick's backup singers (Pick, who these days looks like aRogaine-challenged Gene Simmons, plays himself) and was subsequently abducted by white slavers.
He's also carrying a torch for his best friend's boyfriend (Alon Levi), a soldier who treated himhorribly in high school and is the only character who doesn't care for Pick. Fox was worried thataudiences who didn't grow up with Pick's songs might feel the same way. “What the music does toyou is so central, but I had one of my first international screenings of ‘Mary Lou’ two weeks ago inParis, and French audiences were completely taken by it. I hope Americans can connect in a similarway.” Filmmakers move between film and television easily in Israel, where the entertainment industry issmall; Yossi & Jagger was made for television, and Fox's late-'90s series “Florentine,” a show about20-somethings in Tel Aviv that featured the first gay couple on primetime Israeli television, got himmeetings with Hollywood agents and Homicide creator Tom Fontana, who wanted to remake theseries in New York. “I started researching, going to clubs with hip-hop and rap and at some point said,‘This is not my music. It's not the music I slow danced to when I was 10 years old.’ And I need thatmusic, I need my childhood memories.” Hollywood proved equally alienating. “I realized that all thethings that I care about — my Jewishness, my homosexuality, my affection for Israel, for the MiddleEast — I'm supposed to put them in a drawer and say 'I can make the next Superman film, I'll bewhoever you want me to be.'“ Fox hadn't yet seen “Glee” when he made “Mary Lou,” but he's now a fan. “You have this verycommercial format and you manage to bring in all this subject matter and characters that are not easyto handle for a large audience in America. The gay character [played by Chris Colfer] is not this verystraight-acting character — he's a flamboyant queen, and people love him.” Fox has been criticizedfor the opposite — his gay characters tend to be handsome, straight-acting men, nice Jewish boys youcould bring home to mom. “I think in ‘Mary Lou’ I'm pushing the envelope a little further.” As on “Glee,” the gaybashers in “Mary Lou” are actually deeply closeted. “In Israel men fight eachother, kill each other, that's what men do,” he says. “They certainly don't love each other. They don't Eytan Fox, Israel's Premier Gay Director Takes a Surprising Tu.
have emotional, physical relationships — if they did they'd beat each other up. So to be able to moveIsraeli men from beating up each other to being willing to say 'I love you' is, I think, something good.”

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