Many moons ago, when I attended a college on the East coast, the hallways and parties were filled with the eerie, hypnotic, music of Pink Floyd. It was the favored psychedelic sound for those who partook heavily of acid (LSD) and mushrooms (psilocybin). Many students speculated about the Pink Floyd band’s own druggy experiments and the schizophrenia/premature death of band member, Syd Barrett, only lends credence to the alleged narcotic indulgences. So, that has always been my own pet theory about what caused Roger Waters (74), songwriter, bassist, and lead singer, to awake one day and decide to become a leading anti-Israel advocate….the poor fellow simply fried his brains on bad drugs!
In fact, if that is not the case, then one must conclude that Waters is merely a mercenary opportunist who, in search of a political cause to make Pink Floyd seem more “edgy” or “relevant,” determined that his very successful album, “The Wall,” could be extrapolated to the renowned security wall in Israel, a barrier on the West Bank constructed to prevent terrorist attacks. Or maybe Waters’s strange targeting of Israel simply originates from that old fashioned hatred of Jews, best explained by a gentile named, Jean-Paul Sartre, the renowned French existentialist philosopher; in his book, “Anti-Semite and Jew,” Sartre incisively observed, “Antisemitism is first of all a passion, without any rational point of view.” Sadly, it all adds up to Roger Waters now serving as a key advocate for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), a fierce political movement that strives to prevent consumption of any form of Israeli products or services. In his role as Chief Musical Executive for BDS, Rogers constantly contacts the worlds leading artists in order to persuade/intimidate them, earnestly hoping that they will have nothing to do with Israel. The bad news is that, thanks to the success of Waters’s famous lyric, “We don’t need no education,” our society is overpopulated by quasi-illiterates who can not fathom the absurdity of his political rants…and that Is particularly true of several leading artists (e.g., Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Diana Krall, Annie Lennox, etc); although their hearts may be in the right place, in their desires to prevent human suffering, they sadly lack any education about Israel, and are easy targets for those, such as Waters, who dispense invalid analogies of Israel to apartheid South Africa or preposterous comparisons of Nazi Germany to Israel.
Seeking to expose Waters for the silly albeit dangerous personality he has become, the investigative journalist, best-selling author, and Jewish-Canadian documentarian, Ian Halperin (53), now unveils his new film, “Wish You Weren’t Here” (WYWH), a title that is a cute perversion of one of Pink Floyd’s hit songs. Halperin’s main claim to fame is his celebrity focus, from Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson. By the very nature of celebrity, there is an inevitable flippancy that attaches to any portrayal of such famous types. So it is quite a stretch for Halperin to transition from quaint musings about a hot babe wearing meat costumes to an earnest exposé of a musical hatemonger who champions the vilification and ostracism of an entire nation. As a son of a Holocaust survivor, Halperin sprang into action out of pure disgust. But the the central question demanding an answer is this: was Halperin up to the formidable task? That is because Waters is the antithesis of “flippant.” In his sold-out stadium performances, Waters mimics Hitler, unleashing theatrical spectacles that make a Nuremburg Nazi rally seem pale by comparison. We are talking about giant TV screens with incendiary political images….super-sized pictures of a growling President Trump…..flying pigs adorned with Stars of David…..and at the center of all this furious razzle-dazzle, stands Roger Waters, a musical demigod, who fills the spiritual vacuum of youthful Atheist worshippers, most having rejected the biblical gods of yore, but nevertheless aching to venerate something…anything…even if it’s only a grouchy, ill-informed, septuagenarian with a talent for song.
This documentary is certainly admirable in terms of its educational value, and the filmmakers merit applause for addressing the boycott against Israel, if for nothing other than their brave willingness to take substantive remedial action in the face of much hostility from BDS, Waters, and his many fans. That said, the film suffers in its impact owing to several key shortcomings:
1. WYWH is unbearably lengthy. It was director, Alfred Hitchcock, who famously stated that, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” Unfortunately this particular reviewer, straining to “hold it in,” finally capitulated, then raced for the bathroom some 15 minutes before the end credits. At least 30 minutes of material should be expunged from the movie in order to make the entire experience “survivable.”
2. WYWH has been designed to appeal primarily to the converted…mostly intellectual progressive Jews on the West and East Coasts. As such, it is incredibly verbose, an avalanche of academic words and statistical data, and so any emotional impact is lost. As various leading intellectuals (e.g, Alan Dershowitz) expound on the horrors of anti-Semitism, the non-Jews of the world, and particularly the millions of Roger Waters fans, can only ask one simple question…”Why the hell should I give a f–k?”
3. A lengthy section of WYWH is devoted to an implicit attack upon President Trump. Given that approx. 50% of the nation, mostly heartland states residents, voted for Trump, then any attempts to paint him as an anti-Semite immediately alienate and antagonize a massive segment of the potential audience. An American president who recently recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel hardly seems like any kind of rabid anti-Semite. As such, the negative portrayal of Trump is a senseless strategy for winning favor from multi-millions of his supporters.
4. WYWH badly fails to make non-Jews care about Israel…and that is nothing less than a crime. In reality, Israel is a an amazing nation, a shining light to the entire world (please see a list of Israel’s impressive accomplishments at the tail of this review). Most people have no idea that Israel has been a leader in terms of humanitarian scientific inventions (particularly in the medical/pharmaceutical realm), and Israel spearheaded a litany of global humanitarian interventions (especially in its African involvements to solve persistent drought troubles). How can any film that seeks to undermine the irrational critics of Israel omit such important points? For each and every anti-Israel libel that Waters levels, there should have been corresponding images/info that contradicts his foolish perspectives, thereby portraying him as the bigoted ignoramus he happens to be. But there are no such illuminations to be found in WYWH…just torrents of droning words and tedious data, that only can lull the non-Jewish audience into a dull stupor, if they even choose to remain in their seats.
In the end analysis, no better example of a cultural boycott can be found than Nazi Germany’s war against Jewry. The Nazis demanded that Jewish stores be avoided….they insisted that Jewish books be tossed into the bonfire…..and tragically, as the atrocities escalated, the German Jews remained passive. I once asked an elderly Jewish historian why German Jews seemed to react with such seeming indifference. He explained that, on the one hand, they simply could not believe what was transpiring and, on the other hand, they tended to be religious, so they always felt that God would intercede to save them, in much the same way that, at the last moment, He parted the Red Sea to save the Hebrews from their Egyptians slave-masters. The History professor further stated that the most sensible response from German Jews would have been immediate and forceful retaliatory actions against the Nazis, right from square one, utilizing every measure possible to destroy the Nazi movement before it ever gained any traction. Today, that is what is required of American Jews: nothing short of a ferocious response, fighting fire with fire, in order to extinguish the entire BDS movement, before it might snowball into a truly dangerous thing.
Bottom line: WYWH is a huge disappointment for those hoping for a potent response to Water’s nonsensical anti-Israel tirades. What is needed is a film that provides stunning epiphanies about Israel’s many virtues, since so many non-Jews have no idea…and what is especially imperative is a film that tugs at the heartstrings of a non-Jewish audience, to the point where they are moved to tears, particularly those who have inappropriately judged Israel. WYWH should have shamed the critics of Israel in such a way that they would vow never to place another dollar into Waters fat bank account, nor the wallets of his accomplices. Unfortunately, WYWH is not that film, and any Hollywood producer, faced with such shortfalls, would demand a dramatic re-shoot or, at the very least, a radical re-edit that mitigates the more flagrant errors. Anything short of that will relegate WYWH to a very narrow, parochial, audience, and given the extreme importance of its message, that is a real shame.
Photos: Linda Kasian
Information about more events at the Simon Wiesenthal Center can be found at the wiesenthal website.
LA Premiere – “Wish You Weren’t Here” (WYWH) Simon Wiesenthal Center, December 5, 2017
Filmmaker: Ian Halperin
Running Time: N/A
“Wish You Weren’t Here” (WYWH) – Trailer
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(an important organization made up of music executives, talent agents, and entertainment lawyers that fights against BDS)
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