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Around the World With Oscar - 2/2/2012
Remind Me
,Lies My Father Told Me

Lies My Father Told Me

Twentieth century American literature is filled with famous writers who examined both their country's strengths and pitfalls via distinctly Jewish voices. But Canada also has a tradition in Jewish literature, with Mordecai Richler (whose award-winning novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, was made into a successful film in 1974) and Ted Allan standing as perhaps the best known chroniclers of Canada's uniquely skewed Jewish experience. Lies My Father Told Me (1975) began life as a short story by Allan, who wrote it at the behest of The Canadian Jewish Chronicle. He based the narrative on his own upbringing in the largely Jewish St. Lawrence Boulevard section of Montreal.

Set in the 1920s, the story follows David Herman (Jeffrey Lynas), a young boy whose worldview is being formed via the competing perspectives of his father (Len Birman), an inventor with a materialistic bent, and grandfather (Yossi Yadin), a tradition-loving immigrant who earns a meager living as a rag and scrap collector. Grandfather schools David in patience and spiritual belief while taking the boy on weekly carriage rides behind his trusty horse, Ferdeleh. Over time, David instinctively finds his heart and soul being won over by the aged, persistently old-fashioned man.

There is warmth and good humor to spare in Lies My Father Told Me, enough, in fact, that Allan was nominated for a 1975 Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The picture also remains the only Canadian production to ever win Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards. Not too shabby for an unassuming little story that was originally shot for Canadian television.

Producer Harry Gulkin said that he was attracted to Allan's story because Gulkin himself grew up in the Jewish section of Montreal, and clearly remembered the teams of horses that would charge down the streets, pulling carts full of ice and assorted wares. He also remembered standing with his brother and watching blacksmiths shoe the peddlers' horses. Pivotally, though, he was fascinated by the love between David and his grandfather, which isn't loaded with the types of conflicts that can be found between a father and a son.

Gulkin met Allan through a mutual friend. When he told Allan he was interested in trying to adapt Lies My Father Told Me into a movie, Allan thought little of Gulkin's chances, so he optioned the material to the producer for one dollar (not an unheard of practice in indie film circles.) Gulkin then took the short story and Allan's first draft of the screenplay to the Canadian Film Awards, where he managed to draw the interest of Czech filmmaker Ján Kadár, who was serving on that year's jury.

Things really took off when Kadár approached Zero Mostel about starring in Lies My Father Told Me, but it turned out that Allan and Mostel hated each other after having a falling out over the production of a play Allan had written years earlier. Mostel's involvement, however, connected a lot of dots with important people in pre-production, and the picture was finally able to get made even though Mostel was never officially connected to the picture.

Years later, Gulkin admitted how cocky he was about the material when he was putting the movie together. He felt the picture absolutely deserved its Golden Globe Award, and he probably didn't appreciate the win as much as he should have because of his confidence. That's the kind of belief you have to have, though, if you're hoping to create a worthwhile movie with a starting point of a single dollar!

Director: Ján Kadár
Producer: Anthony Bedrich, Harry Gulkin
Screenplay: Ted Allan (based on his short story)
Cinematographer: Paul Van der Linden
Editor: Edward Beyer, Richard Marks
Music: Sol Kaplan
Art Direction: Francois Barbeau
Production Design: Michel Proulx
Sets: Normand Sarazin
Sound: Henri Blondeau
Principal Cast: Yossi Yadin (Grandfather Zaida), Len Birman (Harry Herman), Marilyn Lightstone (Annie Herman), Jeffrey Lynas (David Herman), Ted Allan (Mr. Baumgarten), Henry Gamer (Uncle Benny), Barbara Chilcott (Mrs. Tannenbaum), Carol Lazar (Edna), Mignon Elkins (Mr. Bondy), Cleo Paskal (Cleo).

by Paul Tatara



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