David Mamet does not answer questions directly.
A linear Q&A would be too boring for the actor, director and playwright, who enjoys and revels in the art of storytelling.
Ask him a question about casting, and he launches into a joke about St. Peter at the pearly gates. Ask him the best way to direct a movie and he explains that the art of film is essentially a long con game with the audience, where deception is key.
But ask him about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and he’s surprisingly frank. “It’s an obscenity. The BDS movement is an absolute obscenity,” the Pulitzer prize winning writer and director lamented in a discussion at the Jerusalem Ma’aleh school of television, film and arts last week.
“It’s just another example of anti-Semitism, and in America it’s been accepted. The Jewish contribution is great and vast, but nobody likes us. Young kids would ask ‘why?’ and I’d say, ‘you don’t have to answer that.
That’s not your problem,’” he said bluntly.
Mamet lays the majority of the blame for the movement’s popularity on liberal Reform Jews in the US who he says have lost sight of the religion and focus too much on mitzvot or good deeds.
“The BDS movement is an outgrowth of a pseudo- religious consciousness. A liberal, Western Jewish consciousness divorced from religion,” he explained.
“The Jews have been at the forefront of the good deeds, so to our shame, a lot of people in the BDS movement are Jews,” he asserted, claiming he has even lost friends over the movement, specifically after an incident when some of his peers boycotted the Toronto Film Festival for screening an Israeli film in 2009. “It’s people I knew, ex-friends of mine, who boycotted the Toronto film festival for showing an Israeli film,” he said.
Such views set him at odds with some in Hollywood who don’t speak often about their Jewish background or visit Israel and certainly don’t openly identify as Zionists as Mamet does. In Israel, he was on home ground, proudly speaking of his connection to Judaism.
He admitted, though, that he doesn’t read Hebrew well and isn’t an avid watcher of Israeli movies.
The writer, famous for such plays and films as House of Games, State and Main, The Spanish Prisoner and Glenglarry Glenn Ross, has lived a life steeped in Judaism and was comfortable speaking to an audience in Israel, which he had spent the past week touring. “My father was an immigrant from Poland,” he told the audience of aspiring filmmakers.
Born in 1947, he said he recalled a time when hotels wouldn’t admit Jews, and law schools had Jewish quotas.
“Jews invented divorce law and entertainment law; Jews couldn’t get into the publishing business so Jews invented crossword puzzles and comics.”
There is something very Jewish about the movie business, which Mamet says is still very much a Jewish industry in the US. As for the industry today, Mamet seems less than impressed.
Mamet, who admits he’s never seen Terrence Malik’s tedious film Tree of Life, said he couldn’t make it through the first three minutes of the remake of Ben- Hur. Mamet panned the film, saying it lacks surprise, is not interesting and that he felt the opening scene could be almost entirely cut. Perhaps replacing Ben- Hur’s horses with porcupines to pull the chariot would at least make the movie surprising, he suggested. The joke is certainly typical of Mamet’s acerbic wit, but like most of his amusing anecdotes, comedy is used as a way to camouflage a truth.