The Tablet on Jewish Influences in ‘Dirty Dancing’
Posted on August 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm
Dirty Dancing (1987) is an iconic and enormously influential film, now scheduled for a remake, directed by the choreographer of the original film. (We will not discuss the awful sequel, though you should listen to “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me’s” Peter Sagel tell his story about it how he accidentally sort of wrote it.) Jezebel called “Dirty Dancing” the greatest movie of all time. The Jewish publication The Tablet has a piece by Stephanie Butnick called “Is Dirty Dancing the Most Jewish Film Ever?”
She is speaking of cultural Judaism rather than theological or spiritual Judaism. Butnick says:
A week ago, I told Eleanor Bergstein, the writer and co-producer of the incredibly popular film Dirty Dancing, that when I first saw the film years ago, I hadn’t realized how heavily influenced it was by Jewish culture. She beamed, as she had the entire evening, and assured me it was a seriously Jewish movie. So Jewish, in fact, that none of the characters ever need to explicitly mention their Jewishness—they’re spending the summer at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills, after all, and, Bergstein pointed out proudly, milk and meat are never served in the same scene. It’s a Jewish film, she explained, “if you know what you’re looking at.”
Calling Dirty Dancing “a very American film,” Bergstein described it as the story of a young girl who took her life in her hands and ran with it, no matter what it cost her. (As Carmon helpfully contextualized long before the screening, “The daughter of the first generation of American Jews to read widespread upper-middle class prosperity, if not elite cultural acceptance, she is swathed in a pre-Kennedy assassination liberalism.”)
11 Replies to “The Tablet on Jewish Influences in ‘Dirty Dancing’”
I can’t imagine a “sequel” to what has to be one of my favorite movies! How does one do that without Patrick? You can’t!
I want to see Jennifer Gray cast as Baby’s mom:)
THE SEQUEL COULD BE FRANCES LIFE AFTYER THAT SUMMER: BECOMING A HIPPIE; ANTI WAR PROTESTER, BOY DIES IN VIET NAM; MARRYING; DIVORCING; MARRYING AGAIN; HAVING KIDS; VISITING THE OLD KELLERMAN’S WHICH IS IN BAD SHAPE AND ON THE BRINK OF CLOSING; ONE OF HER CHILDREN ASKING HER ABOUT JUDAISM AND WHY SHE REJECTED IT; THEN THAT SON EMBARKS IN RABBINICAL SCHOOL WITH THE BIG DANCE FINALE BEING THE HORA.
‘DIRTY DANCING’ PREPRESENTS THE ULTIMATE IN JEWISH ASSIMILATION, WITH THE JOHNNY CHARACTER BEING THE MOST DESIRED NON-JEWISH MALE AND THE JEWISH GIRL’S NEED TO FIX HIM.
Great ideas, CRGS and Alan! I had some thoughts along the same lines. I figured Baby would join the Peace Corps and the women’s movement and her teenage daughter would rebel in her own way.
I recognisednthe ‘Jewish’ theme immediately when I saw the movie when it first came out. The Catskills and the hotels were a place to go. My husband and I used to frequent The Stevensville, and Brinkmans. It’s a shame the eruption of Atlantic City put an end to the hub of all the hotels in the Catskills. Only place left now is Kutshers. I just wish they would leave the movie the way it is and not do a remake.
I really enjoyed the information you provided about what Eleanor Bergstein said about DD being a Jewish movie. I ahd the opportunity to visit Mt LAke Hotel and wa sinformed of some of the things that were placed in the kitchen during filming to give a Jewish flavor.
I am really disappointed that a remake is being made. Patrick Swayze had been offered a sequel to do on DD and had refused to do it unless the other prinicipal original cast members were included.
I really do not think the magic of the one and only DD will be captured.
God bless Patrick Swayze. No one will ever fill his shoes in a remake.
Upon further review, this year 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the move EXODUS. In a similar vein, I see the unspoken theme of assimilation. In DD, the jewish girl girl falls for the Johnny non-Jewish hunk where in Exodus the handsome Jew falls for the blondie WASP Kitty played by Eva Marie Saint.
How the attraction of those out of the tradition is that which is bring Judaism to its very end.
Alan, While it is true that some fall away from Judaism through assimilation, there are others who seek and embrace Judaism from other religions. I was one of the WASPy girls who embraced Judaism and converted much to the dismay of my Christian parents. It goes both ways.
Thank you Robyn. I am very glad to hear you found a spiritual home in Judaism.
YES, ROBYN, I AM GLAD TOO THAT YOU FOUND A SPIRITUAL HOME IN JUDAISM. I WORRY EVEN MORE SO OF THE LACK OF PARTICIPATION OF THOSE WHO WERE BORN JEWISH. THE VALUES SEM TO BE MOVING THEM AWAY FROM PARTICIPATING IN SOME FORM OF JUDAISM. MY WORK IS TO FIND WAYS TO ACCESS JUDAISM FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT CONNECTED. I AM NOT REALLY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF JEWISH PRACTICE IN THE US. IT SAYS IN THE TORAH NOT TO BE LIKE CANAAN AND EGYPT….BUT IN THIS COUNTRY WE ARE CAUGHT UP IN THE AMERICAN IDEAL WHICH IS SIMILAR, WHICH IS LACK OF CARING FOR OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS AND A STRONG DESIRE OF MATERIALISM.