Bespectacled and bowtied, James Schamus introduced his movie, Indignation, his directorial debut from Philip Roth's novel, at MoMA, with the observation that a premiere at MoMA makes up for not having had a bar mitzvah. Hold that Jewish joke. In fact, the film starts with a brief image of war, and a Jewish funeral, a shiva--you can tell by the smoked fish at the buffet--for a fallen soldier. The grieving family is related to the Messners, the Newark butchers at the story's heart, and their only son Marcus who goes off to college in Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson's fictional domain) where he falls hopelessly in love with a blond shiksa, Olivia Hutton, from a divorced family with a penchant for oral sex and self destruction.
Schamus also introduced his actors, including Danny Burstein who goes from playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof before and after the Indignation celebration. With the formidable Linda Emond as the mother, he plays the over-protective father, but the movie belongs to the young couple with outstanding, break out performances from Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon.
At the Yale Club dinner, Lerman and Gadon each told me the most difficult part of making this period movie set in the 1950's was the dialogue. Toronto-based Sarah Gadon said saying the words and making them feel real was a challenge. And Logan Lerman noted the penultimate, lengthy scene with Winesburg's dean, a perfect Tracy Letts, was difficult, requiring many takes, each one going from beginning to end. That scene was like a poetic pas de deux, thanks not only to Schamus' excellent direction, but his superb adaptation.
Tovah Feldshuh, Ang Lee, Lena Hall, John Krokidas were among the many guests, as was Erica Jong, who with Philip Roth came to prominence as an author in the 1970's, he with Portnoy's Complaint, and she with Fear of Flying. She is now developing a television series with Julie Taymor based on her 1980 novel Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones, a retelling of Fanny Hill. Leaving MoMA for the party, she opined, of the many Roth books turned to film (think Goodbye Columbus, The Human Stain, The Humbling), "Indignation is the best movie ever made of a Philip Roth novel."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.