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  •  REVIEW: SCHMELVIS: SEARCHING FOR THE KING'S JEWISH ROOTS

    Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots

    Stuck on Jew

    Obsessed with the news that Elvis had a Jewish great-great-grandmother, a camper-full of Jews head south to make the documentary "Schmelvis" without any idea why.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    "Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots" is a documentary that should be a lot of fun — and it does feature a few revealing moments — but it just isn't made very well.

      
    SCHMELVIS: SEARCHING FOR THE KING'S JEWISH ROOTS
    Directed by: Max Wallace, Lewis Cohen.
    Produced by: Ari A. Cohen, Evan Beloff, Max Wallace.
    Written by: Max Wallace.
    Cinematography: Mila Aung-Thwin.

    Related links: Official site
     SCHEDULE
    Anthology Film Archives
    32 Second Ave. (at Second Street)
    New Filmmakers Series
    Wed., Jan. 10, 2001
    8 p.m., with shorts starting at 7
    Tickets $5


     RELATED ARTICLES
    New Filmmakers (2003)
  • Make Pretend
  • Schmelvis: The Jewish Elvis
  • Sudor Amargo
  • Official site
  • Anthology Film Archives
  • What's that? Elvis Jewish? Apparently so. The filmmakers, Montreal-area Jews, become fascinated with the possibility after reading a Wall Street Journal article revealing that the King's maternal great-great-grandmama was Jewish, and he seems to have known all about his heritage. (And no less an authority than Jewhoo.com now says so.)

    So they pile into an RV and set off for Memphis to prove it, bringing along a rabbi and a bearded, yarmulked character known as Schmelvis — the Orthodox Jewish Elvis who dresses in white jumpsuit and red cape but otherwise doesn't remotely resemble the King in looks or voice. Why he's coming along is unclear, but no more unclear than anything else on the trip.

    Specifically, the filmmakers have no plan, no concept, no goal — just half a minyan in a trailer. They seem to be counting on southerners to go ballistic over their Elvis-was-Jewish theory, and that would be the movie. But the southerners don't play along. After getting low-key reactions from most everybody, the filmmakers have a moment of realization that perhaps they are the real rednecks for assuming that the South would rise to the challenge of finding northern Jews in their midst and put their ignorance on display. It doesn't happen that way.


      
    The movie is only, maybe, 20 percent about Elvis and 80 percent about the guys with the camera who want to make a movie about Elvis, talking mostly about how badly it's going.  

      
    There are a few discoveries along the way. The crew has a few words with Elvis's Jewish best friend, who gave him a Hebrew "chai" pendant that he was photographed wearing at performances. They track down surprising personal connections in Israel, and hear about his nose job and his huge dollar contributions to Jewish charities. There's an unwittingly funny comment from the Jewish neighbor for whom Elvis was a "shabbos goy," who remembers getting together regularly for coffee and cakes with Elvis's mother, to whom the boy was a severe disappointment for the most classic of Jewish-mother reasons.

    "She always wanted Elvis to be a doctor," the woman recalls. "And I said, 'Gladys, leave him alone.' He wasn't a very excellent student. I said, 'You'll see, he'll bring you happiness someday.' "

    And in the end, when they've stopped looking for it, they actually run smack into the anti-Semitism they were looking for all along, when an Elvis impersonators' contest doesn't want Schmelvis to play because they think that he (compared to other Elvis impersonators?) is making a joke. The film ends with a nice scene in which Schmelvis and his entourage find acceptance elsewhere, probably the same place Elvis would have under the circumstances.

    But the movie is only, maybe, 20 percent about Elvis and 80 percent about the guys with the camera who want to make a movie about Elvis, talking mostly about how badly it's going. That's a mistake, because they aren't that interesting. And they know it, because the credits roll over discussions about whether their movie is about anything. If you've already realized that, that's the point at which you need to work harder or just put your film on the shelf — not release it.

    APRIL 7, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots:

  • Schmelvis a hoot!   from Laura Kreis, Apr 18, 2003
  • Re: Schmelvis a hoot!   from Maurice Colgan, Nov 24, 2004
  • Worthy of Woody Allen   from Jeffrey Cox, Jan 3, 2004
  • Schmelvisers   from MauriceColgan, Nov 24, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots"