TV’s The Office to open a Petach Tikva branch

April 13, 2009 - 4:20 PM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Business, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Movies, Pop Culture 

The OfficeExciting Israeli pop culture news has reached us with the recent announcement that the local satellite TV provider, Yes, will soon be running its own version of the landmark satirical half-hour comedy series The Office. A full 15 episodes have already been contracted, set to air in about a year from now, with the Israeli firm July August, which was behind the recent success of The Band’s Visit, handling production.

Co-creator Ricky Gervais was quoted in The Guardian‘s piece announcing the project saying,

“I am thrilled and amazed that Israel are making The Office with local writers, directors and actors. I mean, who ever heard of Jewish entertainers?”

Ha’aretz reported shortly thereafter that screenwriting will be handled by B’tipul‘s Uzi Weill and the director will be Eitan Tzur, who also had a hand in that Israeli television export’s success.

When Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant developed The Office as what would become a two-season sitcom for the BBC, they had no idea what levels of universal appeal their odd sense of humor had the potential of reaching. Sure, Gervais’ portrayal of oblivious, over-the-top, tasteless paper company branch boss David Brent was arguably grounded primarily in esoteric British dry humor stylings and in specifically British office culture-inspired mishaps. But the show also managed to tap into the universal phenomenon of “cubicle angst,” and its mockumentary-inspired packaging, complete with uncomfortable silences, helped rocket it into global cult favorite status.

Soon the BBC was licensing local versions of the show to markets outside England, with France, Russia, Chile, Canada and the United States (pictured) creating their own takes. While the US version got off to a rocky start (its short first season was more or less a remake of the original British one, just with some local flavor and accents added), it hit its stride towards the beginning of season two and is now enjoying its fifth successful season on NBC.

It can be argued that one of the reasons that the American Office has been as much of a creative success as it has been is that the writers have allowed for the characters to take on lives of their own in ways that are distinctively American. The action all takes place against the backdrops of corporate booze cruises, office outings to Chili’s (where family members’ drinks might or might not be comped), ridicule of those who count Legally Blonde as an all-time favorite movie, peeking at one another’s high school yearbooks – you know, American office culture type stuff.

Having watched both the British and American versions of The Office for several years, I have wondered many times how an Israeli version might manifest itself. Israeli office culture has its own cultural mores and archetypes.

Also according to The Guardian:

….Giyora Yahalom, head of production at the Israeli satellite broadcaster Yes, added: “We are sure that the universal experience of contemporary office life will speak to Israeli viewers. There is no doubt that our viewers will enjoy the same jokes as their contemporaries in the UK.”

And the Ha’aretz piece makes a good argument that the creators are taking the proper approach, reporting that the show

…will take place at the dreary workplace of “Super Office,” a fictional office-supply firm in Petah Tikva.

….The cast will include a variety of Israeli types – an Arab warehouse manager, an ultra-Orthodox saleswoman and a bitter Russian accountant. The Israeli answer to David Brent, the obnoxious boss of the U.K. program, will be named Avi Meshulam, though an actor has yet to be pegged for the role.

Exciting stuff. Hopefully the creative team will have enough self-depreciating perspective to do it right.

Overdue kudos for winged communicators

April 10, 2009 - 7:54 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: History and Culture, Israeliness, Politics, Technology, War 

Soldiers with pigeonsAfter reports surfaced that Hezbollah had succeeded in eavesdropping on IDF soldiers talking on their cell phones during the Second Lebanon War, the army began investing heavily in creating its own proprietary, super-secure cellular network, dubbed Afik Rahav (“Wide Channel”).

But even in the “resounding success” of the latest round of military action against our enemies, this past winter’s Gaza operation against Hamas, was marked by some cellular communication backfirings, as both the IDF and Hamas attempted to rile up the general public on the opposite side by placing calls to random numbers.

But back in the day, communications among and with forces in the field were even trickier. Pre-state Zionist military forces used the low-tech method of carrier pigeons to get messages around the land, and recent Ha’aretz coverage of the aviary units has succeeded in prompting the IDF to honor its communications-minded predecessors.

In December, the newspaper reported that the Haganah’s dovecote at Kibbutz Givat Brenner was in danger of being destroyed and petitioned to preserve it, following Shaul Sapir, 81, who delivered the Haganah’s pigeons, and Aharon Landsman, 73, who trained them, as they visited the dovecote. This would have been a shame, since the Tzrifin base’s “monument to the unknown pigeon” (for real) was retired long ago, with few testaments remaining to remind us of the once-crucial section, which was incorporated into the IDF in the Fifties.

Then, a few weeks ago, the paper reported with glee that amid great fanfare and top-brass attendance,

Pigeon trainers who dispatched carrier pigeons for the Palmach and Haganah, the Yishuv’s military forces, were invited to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Israel Defense Forces Teleprocessing Branch at Tel Aviv University….

Senior Field Commander Major General Ami Shafran spoke glowingly of the pigeon corps, giving respect where it was finally due:

“The pigeon trainers from kibbutzim Ramat Rachel, Beit Hashita, Mishmar Hashiva and Negba, and from the dovecote at Givat Brenner, are some of those who laid down the [nation's] infrastructure, and they are a part of the strong foundation on which our present capabilities were built.”

Image courtesy Copper Kettle from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Images of Israel traveling across China

Sally Macklef's CactusPassover in the Far East? Old news. Israelis are known for traversing the world with nothing but backpacks. It was on a trip like this that Tel Aviv’s Sally Macklef fell in love with her camera as a conduit for artistic expression.

Now Macklef’s work has come full-circle, with her images joining those of 59 other Israeli artists to form Inside Israel, an exhibition which opened at the Three Gorges Museum in the Chinese city of Chongqing in December and is set to travel to the region’s leading museums and cultural institutions for the remainder of the year.

This isn’t the first time that Israeli art is being exported to China en masse, and the exhibit comes in the context of increases in Israeli-Chinese tourist and cultural cooperation over the past year.

Macklef’s work often portrays Tel Aviv as a place where the balance of ancient life gets lost in the shuffle of today’s concrete wastelands (pictured is her disaffected work Cactus), but her Inside Israel images of Hassidim performing holiday rituals come decidedly from a place of inspiration and appreciation, as she explained recently to The Jerusalem Post:

“All this happiness fascinates me, this power of community,” Macklef explained. “I realized that when you’re not happy, you can’t believe in God.”

Inside Israel’s 180 pieces depict our country as a place where natural wonders, community, contemporary urban life, ancient ethnicities and architectural marvels can be observed, as curated by Three Gorges Museum staffer Yang Chaupang and Israeli art scenesters Doron Pollack, Iris Elhanani and Esther Dollinger.

Tel Aviv to open new beach – In Vienna

April 7, 2009 - 11:00 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Pop Culture, Travel 

tel_aviv_beach_viennaAt first glance in what can be interpreted as an odd PR move, the Israeli Embassy in Vienna will open a “beach” in the center of the city along the banks of the Danube River. Yes, a beach. In Vienna. Initially the idea sounds kind of stupid but it goes further than just setting up a gimmick-y beach in the center of a large European city. The unique yet temporary structure will have a huge screen (streaming video of the ocean perhaps?) on one side and on the other side beach chairs which will help integrate the feeling of “chilling out” at the beach. But wait, there’s more! The structure will host film nights and other cultural activities such as concerts. There will also be “quiet” nights where yoga workshops will be held as recordings of the surf breaking in the backgrounds plays.

Initiatives such as this are becoming more and more popular in promoting Israel abroad. Israeli is certainly becoming more and more proactive in promoting Israel as a cultural capital rather than being in a consistent position of constant defense of criticism. A good play for sure, but it will be interesting to see how these initiatives play out in the increasingly anti-Israel environs in Europe.

Returning to Israel and jazz again

Jaroslav JakubovicJaroslav Jakubovic, or JJ, as he’s known in some jazz circles, can’t stay away from Israel. And he can’t seem to stay in Israel either.

Jakubovic grew up in Prague and has fond memories of cutting Czech military orchestra rehearsal short to play an impromptu, defiant jazz “welcome” to the Soviet tanks as they rolled in to the city in 1968. At the age of 20, Jakubovic defected two weeks later and moved to Israel.

But soon he was abroad again, studying jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and jamming with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Bobby Rosengarden and Buddy Rich in New York. By the end of the Seventies, he was maintaining a successful career as a saxophonist, doing time in jazz orchestras, releasing solo albums and serving as a session man and accompanist for Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Paul Simon and others.

But in 1980, he moved back to Israel. As he recently told Ha’aretz,

“When I got married, I promised my mother that my children would grow up in Israel and there was no way in the world I wouldn’t keep my promise.”

Jakubovic worked as a producer for CBS records in Israel over the Eighties and Nineties, overseeing landmark rock-pop albums including Shalom Chanoch’s Chatuna Levana (White Wedding), but he also worked on a lot of cheese and crap, if he does say so himself:

“I ran after nothing. To make money I got into all sorts of productions of bullshit that made me want to vomit. Terrible things. And in the end I also didn’t make money.”

He claims that his move back abroad in 2001 is unrelated to these more embarrassing projects, and he regrets the move. The Ha’aretz profile/interview was published on the occasion of a visit to Israel to celebrate the local release of Coincidence, a new project that brought him back to jazz performance, thanks to the cajoling of old Prague friend George Mraz, so JJ still comes to visit regularly.

And he’s trying to find new ways to get back involved with the Israeli industry, including through his own label, VMM, but there are no plans to officially move back here:

“I’m not planning to return and I really don’t miss the industry and the cliques. But I can’t disconnect from this place. The roots have sunk in deep. I miss Israel without realizing. It’s totally missing.”

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