'Avalon' A lovely movie, straight from the heart A lost and lovely place in Levinson's memory

October 05, 1990|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

BARRY LEVINSON'S recall of the immigrant experience is a very sweet one, one that includes no awareness that the Krichinsky dynasty was different from others. His father wasn't made to feel ''different,'' as were so many other immigrants and sons of immigrants.

That, at least, is the way the immigrant experience is dramatized in ''Avalon,'' the film Levinson did in Baltimore last year. Levinson, who was born and raised in Baltimore (his parents still live here), wrote and directed the film, the third he has done here.

''When I went to School 64,'' said Levinson, ''I thought everybody was Jewish. It wasn't a religious thing. It was just that all the people I knew were Jewish. I thought everybody in the world was the same. There was one Chinese boy in the class, but he had a name I thought could pass for Jewish, so I thought he was Jewish, too. Sure, he looked different, but he was Jewish.''

When he went to high school, Levinson discovered that the rest of the world was not Jewish, but none of this is included in the film, one that begins with the arrival in this country of Sam Krichinsky, who was Levinson's grandfather.

Levinson as a child is played by Elijah Wood, whose family, in the film, moves to a section of Baltimore called Avalon. ''There never was such a place, but I wanted to call it that because it suggests something lost,'' said Levinson. ''I know Avalon is the heaven to which the Arthurian knights went, but to me, it was something else. According to Celtic legend, it also means 'home of the heart'.''

Levinson said he would come back to Baltimore to do a film. ''Sure,'' he said, smiling, laughing a little (but just a little) as he did. He knew what was coming next.

''You mean the defoliation,'' he said.

He was referring to the six trees that won him some unfavorable publicity locally. ''There were six tiny trees,'' he said. ''It was close to fall, and if I had shaken the trees, the leaves would have fallen off. Instead, we took them off and were immediately accused of defoliation. You would think we had used Agent Orange.

''I paid the woman $300, and we did not destroy the trees. I got a call from Los Angeles from a friend who asked what was happening. He had heard that we had defoliated a place called Arlington Park. I had never heard of an Arlington Park.''

There was also the fireworks incident. In the early scenes in the film, Sam Krichinsky is shown entering Baltimore through a lighted harbor. As he does, there are fireworks in the background.

''We did shoot in the late hours of the evening and the early hours of the morning, but we had all the necessary permits,'' said Levinson. ''It was really a matter of communication. The city agencies should have made all the residents aware of what we were going to do. It was really their problem. It could have been a block party, something like that. It could have been a colorful and elaborate celebration.

''Well, we did learn something from the experience. Next time, there will be better communication, and we didn't, after all, do some of the things other movie companies do. There were no car chases. There was nothing elaborate. We did very mild things. When we filmed in Roland Park, we had great cooperation. We weren't trying to be abusive.''

He smiles again. ''I was not thrilled by the experience,'' he said.

In the new film, Michael (young Barry) follows the Saturday morning serials, the cliffhangers. In one, someone runs a line of gunpowder outside a building, then when the hero enters the building, the powder, now lit, travels to building and destroys it.

Michael and his cousin decide to try the same thing at home, using lighter fluid and a plane model. By including this scene, Levinson is obviously saying that young minds are impressed by movies and television.

You do realize that most movie makers deny this?

''I suppose they do, but I don't,'' said Levinson. ''We are definitely influenced by those things,'' he said, ''to a much greater degree by television. With movies, you sit there for two hours then leave, but television is incessant, constant. It hammers away. There are things that are happening, things I don't understand, things that make no sense.

''I have two small children, and we let them watch only certain sets in the house, sets that don't have all the channels, but they see enough in the promotions, and they also see the news. That's something else. Television constantly hammers away. It has a real, detrimental effect.

''Something has happened between the demise of the family and the rise of television. It's all out of control. You can sell candy and crime on television but because you are allotted so much time, you can't sell a family film. And you can't sell the savings and loan crisis. It's too complicated, so television doesn't bother. As a result, we have a situation that is terrifying, but no one understands it.''

So what's next for this superstar director, winner of the best director Oscar for his ''Rain Man?''

''I think I'm going to do a film on the life of Bugsy Siegel,'' he said. ''I'm interested in his relationship with Virginia Hill and his dream to build Las Vegas. It was an obsession with him.''

Siegel was killed, gangland style, but Levinson's film will not be a mob shoot-em-up.

''No,'' he said. ''I don't want to do that kind of film. It won't be a gangster movie as such.''

So how did his parents like ''Avalon?''

''Oh, they really enjoyed it,'' said Levinson, ''and on several levels. They had the added joy of seeing themselves in the movie.

, ''Avalon'' opens here today.

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