I'm working on a blogpost about The Blues Brothers*, another great John Landis film. But in the meantime, I thought I'd share this lovely appreciation of the Jewishness of American Werewolf in London. Author Jon Spira recounts being an awkward 9 year old with little idea of Jewish culture when his dad happens to tape AWiL off the telly.
The story of a man equipped only by his wit (if not his wits) in a country that neither understands nor particularly wants him. A man who is dazed by his recent bloody and brutal ordeal who does his very best to get along, despite being racked by the guilt and self-hatred of knowing what he is inside. I’m not arguing that director John Landis set out to make a hairy Jewish allegory, I’m just saying that there was an incidental subtext that continues to speak to and comfort me almost 30 years later.
And that’s why I love it. An American Werewolf in London is the film that connected me to my Jewish culture. It taught me that one doesn’t need to be religious or dogmatic (it’s a pun, but it’s a good pun) to be Jewish. It gave cathartic release to certain primal fears. It gave me my first proper taste of that delicious New York Jewish humour… And it had WEREWOLVES in it!
One note: A couple years back I was lucky to attend a screening of American Werewolf in London here at Lincoln Center, with John Landis in attendance and taking questions after!!!!!
Yes, it was amazing fun. And, yes, you better fucking believe I asked a question. Specifically, what was with the Jewishness of this werewolf movie?
Landis made it pretty clear that the protagonists, Jack and David, were based on him and his best friend. Of course Jack and David were Jewish. It wasn't a big deal, it just was what it was.
And this is why I adore John Landis. Today I was reading this article from early '50s Commentary magazine. Even then, Jewish self-erasure was a decades old phenomenon in Hollywood. Rare were the times when authors and directors were able to include identifiable Jews just being Jews, without censure, from within or without. I've got a lot more thoughts on this particular topic, and the immense psychic harm it does to all of us, but I will just say it makes me love filmmakers like Landis even more, just for being authentic.
I also have a lot of thoughts on how to make a proper Jewish themed horror/supernatural movie. This is a start...
*The piece is going to be about how deeply problematic the film is and yet how I can still love it. Maybe. Maybe I won't after I finish writing it. I'm not sure.