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‘Camp Stories’ Recalls Bittersweet Youth in the ‘50s

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Summer camp movies usually spell hilarity and nostalgia, but Herbert Beigel’s engaging, semiautobiographical “Camp Stories” is bittersweet to the utmost.

It’s set in a fading orthodox Jewish camp in the Poconos in 1958, where 15-year-old David Katz (Zachary Taylor) has been sent much against his will by his parents, who figure their movie-nut son could use some fresh air in a presumably morally uplifting setting. There is some humor and warmth in Beigel’s look back, but his film is mainly a record of misery endured during two long, tedious months, relieved by David’s first experience of love with a pretty Westport, Conn., shiksa (Susan Vanech) vacationing nearby.

Surprisingly, there are no scenes of religious observance and instruction, and “Camp Stories” suffers somewhat from this lack. What we’re left with are some glimpses of desultory sports activities in an overly long tale of ultra-conservative adults constantly hectoring teenagers for the slightest infractions in behavior, while most everybody, adults and kids alike, do an awful lot of nothing much.

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Right from the outset, David, who’s nice-looking, intelligent and self-possessed, is locked into an edgy situation with one of his cabin mates, the unhappy Paul (Kris Park), who’s in his third summer--and whose parents haven’t bothered to visit him since his first. Making matters far worse for David is the hotheaded Chaim (Ted Marcoux), caught in a deteriorating marriage and vying with the gentle, ineffectual Moishe (Paul Sand) to take over the camp upon the impending retirement of its pompous leader (Jerry Stiller). A petty, jealous tyrant, Chaim has mistakenly got it in his head that his attractive, fed-up wife (Talia Balsam) is having an affair with David.

Beigel’s clear commitment to his people and their stories and some good actors--Taylor, especially--keep us involved, even though the film tends to be repetitious and could benefit from some trimming. “Camp Stories” has a prologue and an epilogue set in the present, which gives it a feeling of evening up old scores. Elliott Gould and Richard Council play the middle-aged David and Paul, respectively.

Unrated. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for general audiences, with an incident of adultery implied rather than described and a discreet love scene.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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‘Camp Stories’

Zachary Taylor: David

Ted Marcoux: Chaim

Paul Sand: Moishe

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Jerry Stiller: Schlomo

Elliott Gould: David, in middle age

Susan Vanech: Sally

An Artistic License Films release of a Forensic Films production. Writer-director Herbert Beigel. Producers Robin O’Hara and Scott Macaulay. Cinematographer Paul Gibson. Editor Meg Reticker. Music Roy Nathanson. Production designer Deena Sidney. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

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* Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.


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