16 December
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Stage and Screen Recommendations

“Avalon”: A Plea for Stories

I was at my neighborhood cocktail lounge last night (everybody should have one!) when a friend of mine brought up Barry Levinson in conversation, which reminded me that one of my favorite film scores of all time is from a Barry Levinson movie.

Randy Newman’s lovely music for Avalon (1990) is heartfelt and elegiac, which also perfectly describes this deft, observant, funny, and ultimately heartbreaking study of three generations of Polish Jews in Baltimore in the early and mid-1900s. (Listen to audio samples of the score here.)

This semi-autobiographical story of immigrants (and children and grandchildren of immigrants), which won Levinson a WGA Award for Best Screenplay, will no doubt hold resonance for anyone who has or who knows someone who has adopted America as his or her new country.

Avalon is a loving portrait of the large Krichinsky clan and its pursuit of the American dream, but that dream comes at a terrible cost. For all its humor and generosity of spirit, the film wants to explore the disintegration of the family, asserts that progress has dark consequences, and blames television of all things for destroying the cohesion that had always been central to the collective identity of the Krichinskys.

Near the end of the film, a character says, “If I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better.” Avalon is a clarion call for us to remember our roots, a plea for us to make storytelling—to make oral history—an integral part of our lives once again.

(By the way, you can watch the trailer here, where you’ll get a glimpse of two terrific actors on opposite ends of the generational spectrum: Armin Mueller-Stahl and a startlingly young Elijah Wood.)

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One Response to ““Avalon”: A Plea for Stories”

  1. Howard Ho says:

    Randy Newman is an underrated film composer, probably because we think of him as that songwriter (his only two Oscars out of 20! nominations were for his songs). But his film scores are actually excellent.

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