'Avalon' premiere a family affair Barry Levinson film celebrates Baltimore, immigrant experience

October 01, 1990|By Stephanie Shapiro Sujata Banerjee | Stephanie Shapiro Sujata Banerjee,Evening Sun Staff

ONCE UPON A TIME, the Krichinsky family used to pile ont one bed in their house on Jackson Place, hang a sheet and watch Charlie Chaplin movies together. Last night, the Krichinskys piled into the Senator Theatre to watch a Barry Levinson movie about that very same family.

Like the movie itself, last night's local premiere of "Avalon" at the Senator was not about glitz, but about family. There was a star here or there, but mostly friends, extras, and the sons, daughters, grand and great-grandchildren who came to hear the stories that were nearly discarded in the rush toward the future.

But Levinson -- one of their own -- remembered, collecting those stories into a portrait of a loving, feuding, extended Jewish family.

In doing this, Levinson surprised even himself. Growing up in Forest Park, he never dreamed that his big family had a history worth recounting. "I never ever imagined it," he said, "but it suddenly began to make sense, when you think of the historical sense. This was an average American family, wallpaper-hangers, who were a part of the immigrant experience."

Perhaps one of the few missing family members was Levinson's father Irv, who is ill. But someone was said to be videotaping the revelry so he would not miss it.

Everyone wanted to be a Krichinsky last night, or in the words o Phyllis Krichinsky Press, "I say to people that when you finish the movie, you will feel like you are part of this family."

Larry King, the radio and television talk show host, got into the act as master of ceremonies. Professing his warmth for Baltimore, he confided that Levinson arranged a private screening of "Avalon" for him in August and gave it an advance review as "one of the greatest movies ever made."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, in a chipper mood, offered his feelings about one of Baltimore's kindest chroniclers: "I happen to be very fond of Barry. He's a great, great man, but has never forgotten his roots."

Later, before the crowd, Schaefer anointed Levinson in his inimitable way, "You're Mr. Maryland, Mr. Baltimore, Mr. Film Producer." Schaefer also noted that the "Avalon" production brought $10 million to the state.

Levinson, pink-cheeked and rumpled by rain, also took the podium at the premiere, a sold-out benefit for the Mildred Mindell Cancer Foundation. He wore a tie that was a loud, retro salute to the Krichinsky brothers' fashion moxie. "In my mind, Baltimore is the center of the universe," he said, explaining why he has returned so many times to tell a yarn.

"Barry shows so much of the city that it becomes one of the characters," agreed Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, the pony-tailed Maryland Film Commissioner.

After the movie, guests took the trolley to the B&O Railroad Museum for a cocktail reception. Amid trains and buffet tables, Armin Mueller-Stahl, the patriarch (Sam Krichinsky in "Avalon") held court.

The elegant, silver-haired, actor praised the film. "I love it. It's the best film I ever made . . . It reminds me a lot of my own story, for my grandfather took the first step in emigration, leaving Russia to go to Germany. I wish he had continued on to America."

Brenda Alford, a local chanteuse who sang "You Go to My Head" and "Down on Pennsylvania Avenue" in an exuberant night club scene, said of "Avalon," "I love it. It was gorgeous."

Miles Perman, grandson of Gabriel Krichinsky, plays a ga station attendant in the film. The aspiring actor found the brush with Hollywood unforgettable. "I had a dressing room with my character's name on the door. They treated me like an actor who had come in from California. It was probably one of the greatest days of my life."

But it was topped by the premiere, and Perman's shock at seeing himself and an actor who looked very much like his grandfather on screen. "It was very exciting. My stomach dropped . . . I cried at the end of the movie. I was very close with my grandfather."

Izzy Krichinsky, on whom the film character Izzy Kirk is modeled, spoke of his grandfather, Laib, the sire of many sons and daughters, who arrived in America one day from outside Kiev. "My grandfather -- he was like the king," remembers Krichinsky. "He never worked a day in his life. All he did was pray and that was all."

Nearby, Alvin Myerovich, the tiny, terribly cute man who played the grandfather in a fleeting scene, harvested hugs and compliments.

"You didn't have to be Jewish to like it," said Baltimore's other epic story teller, John Waters. "It was the best of all his movies. If I ever was away from Baltimore and saw this, I would be so homesick." Waters saw his own family in the Krichinskys, and especially liked Elizabeth Perkins, who reminded him of his aunts.

Lou Jacobi, who plays Gabriel Krichinsky, one of the brothers, sat at a table with his wife, munched a beef sandwich, downed Cokes, and raved of Levinson and his movie in one sweeping, impressionistic gush. Like Levinson, he lamented the breakdown family and other contemporary assaults on humanity such as television and muggings. Jacobi called Levinson courageous and "Avalon" his "love letter to Baltimore."

Ina Berman liked "the background, the details, the little episode you could relate to, not just because it was Baltimore . . . I was very glad to see a movie without violence, sex and drugs. It showed how important family is."

"It was the shortest two hours of my life. It was [about] every ethnic family in the world, not just Jewish. It's German, Polish, Italian, Greek: it's every extended family in the world," Jean Lipman said.

Now that his own family's saga has been told, will Levinso return? "I hope it will continue on with Baltimore," he says. "I have some other stories to tell."

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