Tag Archives: david baddiel

The Emperor of America at the Jewish Museum

Reading of The Emperor of America at the Jewish Museum

My brother had a play read at the Jewish Museum tonight. Idiot that I am, I got stuck in traffic and missed the opening scenes, but caught the vast majority of it superbly read by the assembled cast, which included Chinese Elvis amongst their number (seriously, that’s his alias). I’m afraid I’m rubbish at names so couldn’t help with the rest of them, but they did a remarkable job, notwithstanding the fact they had read the play together for the first time at 2pm the same afternoon.

It was a fantastic experience – I felt the usual sense of brimming pride I have whenever I see something my brother has produced or written (in this case the latter), but amplified by the sentiment expressed in this story, which despite being very alien to my practical experience of the world, captures something universal and wonderful about identity, about sympathy, about humanity, about loss and redemption, about love, about friendship.

The story – which Arvind and I discovered in the same place, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel ‘Fables and Reflections‘ – is based on the historical character Joshua Norton, an erstwhile resident of Britain and South Africa. On failing in a massive series of investments in rice, young Mr Norton went off piste and reappeared a half dozen years later in San Francisco, proclaiming himself ‘Emperor Norton I’ and – on gaining the support of a local newspaper and various local businesses and people – became a champion of the American dream. Opportunity for all – rights for all – equality for all. A second chance, your ‘caste’ washed away. Proclamations follow about slavery, about prejudicial treatment of the Chinese, about the Civil War, about a dozen other social issues (and several arguably less significant ones, including prohibiting the shortening of the name of his adopted city to ‘Frisco’). Particularly poignant in the years leading up to the Civil War. It follows his years as Emperor to his death, and the remarkable relationships he had along the way.

Arvind David and David Baddiel

Norton’s a fascinating Character. Arvind noted in the Q&A (ably hosted by his friend, writer David Baddiel) that in many respects he imagined the character Norton was running from something and the persona of Emperor that he created was his way of recovering from his earlier losses and failure – in the business world, certainly, but in the story – from a lost love as well. On feeling that the moment of destiny was upon him – he seized the totem of his redemption (a tall beaver-skin hat) and embraced the salvation of the American dream in his role as Emperor of America. His visions of Universal Suffrage, of heavier-than-air flight, of a bridge spanning the San Francisco Bay – were remarkably prescient. 20,000 people attended his funeral and there is a plaque to his memory at the base of the Golden Gate bridge.

Astonishingly, a distant descendant and family historian of the Emperor attended the reading and gave my brother some vital pointers on the facts behind the story in the Q&A – which Arvind duly appreciated and will no doubt incorporate some of into his next draft – but minor factual inaccuracies aside, it was a wonderful and entertaining performance, and a great story well told. Rough edges, to be sure, but that’s what this sort of thing is for.

Look for it next summer – it’ll hopefully have had the few bits of rewriting it needs and the production support it warrants and be on at a theatre in London somewhere. The Jewish Museum people were lovely and offered to host the after party (it’s a great venue), so that part’s sorted.

Proud of you, Arvind.

Postscript: Just discovered at least three Emperor Nortons on Twitter. The legacy lives on…

Infidel on DVD and Blu-Ray from tomorrow!

Buy it! Buy it! Buy it! Buy it! I promise you won’t make my brother rich, but you will a) be entertaining yourself, and b) helping out a little bit. If you don’t remember, it’s the film Arvind produced that came out to vast amounts of press and warm reception from the critics earlier this year. It tells the tale of a moderate British muslim who one day finds out he is really Jewish, was written by David Baddiel and stars Omid Djalili et al.

More commentary on The Infidel

Chris Hasting at The Sunday Times writes about The Infidel and another film, weighing up humour against the risk of causing offence to the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Over at the Independent, Arifa Akbar interviews David Baddiel giving him the opportunity to explain some of what he was trying to achieve with the film:

“I wasn’t interested in writing about Muslims and Jews per se, but I am always interested in tackling subjects that aren’t being tackled, just for the sake of newness,” he told The Independent. “Because people have become terrified of giving offence, religion and race are now rather left out of comedy.

“For me, it becomes fertile ground. It’s very much about race and culture and ethnicity, in a very gloves-off way. But it’s not trying to cause offence: I’m very uninterested in that as a writer.”

Sideways News and The Daily Telegraph talks through similar issues, whilst George Pitcher, The paper’s Religion Editor, calls it “…almost the most important film of the year,” in a blog post.

I’m totally excited. For those who haven’t been keeping up, this is my brother’s latest film, starring Omid Djalili and Richard Schiff, written by David Baddiel. It’s out in April and should be awesome. My review, such as it is, lives here.

The Infidel Movie – Baddiel, Djalili, Schiff & co…

…and not forgetting my brotherThe Infidel Movie is is the next film due for release from Slingshot’s slate, and tonight we got invited to the first UK screening of it – for ‘cultural influencers’, and apparently siblings who blog incessantly about soup…

I was honoured, as ever, to be included in the audience which included not a small number of celebrities, luminaries, writers, producers, directors and friends, and delighted and proud to enjoy this wonderfully heartwarming, funny, tightly orchestrated, beautifully soundtracked film.

For those not in the know, it’s the story of MAHMUD NASIR (Djalili), the ‘Homer Simpson’ of Islam, finding out that he has to impress his son’s father-in-law-to-be (a fundamentalist Islamic cleric) within an hour of discovering that he was adopted, and his real/birth parents are actually Jewish. He seeks council from his nemesis, Yank Jewish London Cabbie LENNY (Schiff), and tutelage in what it means to be a good Jew.

As controversial as that might potentially sound, the film manages to handle the tension and controversy without descending into twee-ness; it delivers a happy ending without a Deus Ex Machina, the music and pacing and humour is wonderful, the characterisation is compelling and the story is heartwarming in the extreme. I find myself wanting to go to both a muslim wedding and a bar mitzvah, befriend Richard Schiff and go drinking with Omid (although as a Baha’i he probably doesn’t drink…)…

Anyway, needless to say I recommend it, and I hope you all go and see it in the cinemas when it is released, around April time I think (become a Facebook Fan to get the news as it comes), and buy it on DVD or Blu-Ray when it comes out later in the year.

It is a wonderful movie…


…is the next film from Slingshot, and I didn’t even realise that the website is up! Well, ish, you can register for more info… but expect blood curling trailers to follow…

… for those who don’t know, it’s a teen horror movie featuring zombies aplenty. And apparently an inhaler (I’ve only seen a few outtakes). It stars Alex Pettyfer, the actor from the Stormbreaker film a few years ago.

Clearly Tormented will be awesome (but not for the squeamish)… so there are three films awaiting release from the Slingshot stable to look forward to in the next year or so: Faintheart, French Film and Tormented… and more in development, including movies from comic book legend Mike Carey and comedian David Baddiel.