‘Golda’s Balcony’ movie is much more than a filmed play, says star Harper | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

‘Golda’s Balcony’ movie is much more than a filmed play, says star Harper

The spotlight at last week’s Democratic Party convention in Denver may have been on nominee Barack Obama and other politicos. But an associated event little remarked in the news media foreshadowed something that will be happening in Milwaukee this weekend.

That event was a meeting of the National Jewish Democratic Council on Aug. 24 at Auraria Campus, home to three Denver colleges and to a Golda Meir House Museum that recalls the two years that Israel’s Milwaukee-raised fourth prime minister spent going to high school in that city.

And it was only appropriate that at that site, NJDC members and their guests saw “Golda’s Balcony,” the film of the celebrated William Gibson play about Meir.

They also met Valerie Harper, a staunch Democrat who starred in both the touring production of the play — which ran in Milwaukee in 2005 — and the film.

Milwaukeeans will get their own chance to do both on Sunday, Sept. 7, 7:15 p.m. at The Pfister Hotel. Harper and the film will help to inaugurate the 2009 Milwaukee Jewish Federation campaign.

Drama and documentary

The film that participants will see provides a very different experience from the play, even though it preserves the play’s text.

As Harper explained in a telephone interview just after she returned home from the convention, her husband, Tony Cacciotti, the film’s producer, decided early in the 2005-06 tour that the play needed to be filmed.

Gibson based the play “on so much history, it is a great educative tool” as well as a “piece of artistic work that needs to be somehow documented and made permanent,” she said.

But, according to Harper, Cacciotti also said, “I don’t want a filmed play. I don’t want to film Valerie walking around talking to people, to an audience. That is a theatrical experience. I want to make it filmic.”

Cacciotti and his partner David Steiner, who served as the film’s executive producer, hired Jeremy Kagan (“The Chosen”) to be the film’s director. Kagan, Harper said, conceived that the film of the play should show how Meir’s life “absolutely chronicled” 20th century Jewish history.

“Because there’s such a richness of possible imagery, he wanted to have documentary footage of those events of which she speaks,” Harper said.

Harper said her part of the movie was filmed in five days and out of chronological sequence. She would stand in front of a green screen, and perform, say, all the scenes with Golda in her bathrobe; then later all the scenes of Golda as a younger woman with darker hair, etc.

As in the play, Harper doesn’t just play Meir, but also presents Meir “imitating” other characters important to her story, from her parents to her husband to such history-making figures as Israeli Defense Minster Moshe Dayan and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

After filming Harper, Kagan interwove that footage together, giving multiple images of “Golda” speaking to and for the other characters, plus documentary footage in the background or alongside.

When Meir describes her memories of a pogrom in Russia, behind her the viewer sees a documentary film of a pogrom. When she recounts what Dayan said at a cabinet meeting during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a photo of Dayan appears next to Harper as she speaks his words.

When Meir recalls an argument she had with her husband Morris in their Jerusalem house, Harper portrays them both in front of an impressionist-style painting of the interior of a house.

The 90-minute result is a “hybrid,” as Harper put it, part drama and part documentary. “It’s really powerful because you see the documentation of what she is saying,” Harper said.

During the Milwaukee run of the play, Harper said she had a chance to visit the school Meir attended and to see the Pabst brewery building that Meir spoke of in her (ghost-written) autobiography. “I’m very excited” to be coming back to the city “to present the movie,” she said.

Cost for admission to the campaign opening event is $18 plus a gift to the annual campaign. Movie snacks will be served (dietary laws observed). Betty Chrustowski and Mike Maistelman are the event chairs.

For more information, visit the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Web site, www.milwaukeejewish.org.