by Joe Dorinson
As I write, an excellent film, Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskill Resort is playing in the background. It is the third time today that I have watched this wonderful if ultimately sad saga. In 1963, during Passover week, I ended my career there as a waiter. The $270 that I earned that memorable week helped to underwrite my graduate school education at Columbia University. Subsequently, I returned to Kutsher’s Country Club for various alumni reunions and stimulating conferences in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007: all organized by Phil Brown, a former student at Long Island University, currently a distinguished Sociology Professor at Northeastern University, and a vital participant as “talking head” in your film.
The film’s opening sequences provides a mixed message. A news anchor announces that a wrecking ball will demolish the main buildings. Then, to dull the edge of sadness, Freddy Roman offers much-needed comic relief. Along with Roman, Phil Brown and Larry Strickler, former social director qua tumbler convey historical and cultural context. A kaleidoscopic cornucopia of food and entertainment follow. And this viewer was hooked so to speak. Roman deplores the anti-Semitic road mayvens who confine Jewish travelers to a single lane minus the promised improvements. While he astutely frames the Catskill experience as the third act of that hairy-dairyman Tevye, the farmer, in a minor miscue, Strickler refers to the surge (rather than scourge) of tuberculosis on the Lower East Side that prompted a mass summer exodus to the “Borscht Belt.” He more than atones with luminous commentary and a song at the film’s end that breaks your heart with a poignant rendition of “What I Did for Love.”
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