The history of the American entertainment industry and the history of the Jewish people in the United States are inextricably intertwined. Jews have provided Broadway and Hollywood with some of their most enduring talent, from writers like Arthur Miller, Wendy Wasserstein, and Tony Kushner; to directors like Jerome Robbins and Woody Allen; to performers like Gertrude Berg, John Garfield, Lenny Bruce, and Barbra Streisand. Conversely, show business has provided Jews with a means of upward mobility, a model for how to "become American," and a source of cultural pride.
Acting Jewish documents this history, looking at the work of Jewish writers, directors, and actors in the American entertainment industry with particular attention to the ways in which these artists offer behavioral models for Jewish-American audiences. The book spans the period from 1947 to the present and takes a close look at some of America's favorite plays (Death of a Salesman, Fiddler on the Roof, Angels in America), films (Gentleman's Agreement, AnnieHall), and television shows (The Goldbergs, Seinfeld), identifying a double-coding by which performers enact, and spectators read, Jewishness in contemporary performance-and, by extension, enact and read other minority identities. The book thus explores and illuminates the ever-changing relationship between Jews and mainstream American culture.
"Fascinating and original . . . Bial's command of sources is impressive, and his concept of 'double-coding' is convincing . . . the book should have no trouble finding a large audience."
-Barbara Grossman, author of Funny Woman: The Life and Times of Fanny Brice
Henry Bial is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Film, University of Kansas. He is editor of the Performance Studies Reader and co-editor of the Brecht Sourcebook.
American Jewish Filmmakers
David Desser and Lester D. Friedman University of Illinois Press, 2003 Library of Congress PN1998.2.D47 2004 | Dewey Decimal 791.430233092273
Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Sidney Lumet, and Paul Mazursky, all sons of East European Jews, remain among the most prominent contemporary American film directors. In this revised, updated second edition of American Jewish Filmmakers, David Desser and Lester D. Friedman demonstrate how the Jewish experience gives rise to an intimately linked series of issues in the films of these and other significant Jewish directors.
The effects of the Holocaust linger, both in gripping dramatic form (Mazursky's Enemies, a Love Story) and in black comedy (Brooks's The Producers). In his trilogy consisting of Serpico, Prince of the City, and Q&A, Lumet focuses on the failure of society's institutions to deliver social justice. Woody Allen portrays urban life and family relationships (Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters), sometimes with a nostalgic twist (Radio Days).
This edition concludes with a newly written discussion of the careers of other prominent Jewish filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Brian Singer, and Darren Aronofsky.
Like the haggadah, the traditional “telling” of the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt that is read at the Passover seder, cinema offers a valuable text from which to gain an understanding of the social, political, and cultural realities of Jews in America. In an industry strongly influenced by Jewish filmmakers who made and continue to make the decisions as to which films are produced, the complex and evolving nature of the American Jewish condition has had considerable impact on American cinema and, in particular, on how Jews are reflected on the screen. This groundbreaking study analyzes select mainstream films from the beginning of the sound era to today to provide an understanding of the American Jewish experience over the last century.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Hollywood’s movie moguls, most of whom were Jewish, shied away from asserting a Jewish image on the screen for fear that they might be too closely identified with that representation. Over the next two decades, Jewish moviemakers became more comfortable with the concept of a Jewish hero and with an overpowered, yet heroic, Israel. In time, the Holocaust assumed center stage as the single event with the greatest effect on American Jewish identity. Recently, as American Jewish screenwriters, directors, and producers have become increasingly comfortable with their heritage, we are seeing an unprecedented number of movies that spotlight Jewish protagonists, experiences, and challenges.
Anti-Heimat Cinema: The Jewish Invention of the German Landscape studies an overlooked yet fundamental element of German popular culture in the twentieth century. In tracing Jewish filmmakers’ contemplations of “Heimat”—a provincial German landscape associated with belonging and authenticity—it analyzes their distinctive contribution to the German identity discourse between 1918 and 1968. In its emphasis on rootedness and homogeneity Heimat seemed to challenge the validity and significance of Jewish emancipation. Several acculturation-seeking Jewish artists and intellectuals, however, endeavored to conceive a notion of Heimat that would rather substantiate their belonging.
This book considers Jewish filmmakers’ contribution to this endeavor. It shows how they devised the landscapes of the German “Homeland” as Jews, namely, as acculturated “outsiders within.” Through appropriation of generic Heimat imagery, the films discussed in the book integrate criticism of national chauvinism into German mainstream culture from World War I to the Cold War. Consequently, these Jewish filmmakers anticipated the anti-Heimat film of the ensuing decades, and functioned as an uncredited inspiration for the critical New German Cinema.
Ken Sutak Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2012 Library of Congress PN1995.9.J46S88 2012 | Dewey Decimal 791.436529924
A unique look at how these Jewish-themed movies prepared Americans for war with Nazi Germany, rallied the Allies to victory, fought anti-Semitism, portrayed the Holocaust in Europe, and captured the refugee exodus to Israel. Featuring 200 rare movie posters, publicity stills, and other images in full-color. An ebook companion volume to the acclaimed exhibit.
As part of its effort to forge a new secular Jewish nation, the nascent Israeli state tried to limit Jewish religiosity. However, with the steady growth of the ultraorthodox community and the expansion of the settler community, Israeli society is becoming increasingly religious. Although the arrival of religious discourse in Israeli politics has long been noticed, its cultural development has rarely been addressed. Directed by God explores how the country’s popular media, principally film and television, reflect this transformation. In doing so, it examines the changing nature of Zionism and the place of Judaism within it.
Once the purview of secular culture, Israel’s media initially promoted alternatives to traditional religious expression; however, using films such as Kadosh, Waltz with Bashir, and Eyes Wide Open, Yaron Peleg shows how Israel’s contemporary film and television programs have been shaped by new religious trends and how secular Israeli culture has processed and reflected on its religious heritage. He investigates how shifting cinematic visions of Jewish masculinity and gender track transformations in the nation’s religious discourse. Moving beyond the secular/religious divide, Directed by God explores changing film and television representations of different Jewish religious groups, assessing what these representations may mean for the future of Israeli society.
Most early Western perceptions of the Holocaust were based on newsreels filmed during the Allied liberation of Germany in 1945. Little, however, was reported of the initial wave of material from Soviet filmmakers, who were in fact the first to document these horrors. In First Films of the Holocaust, Jeremy Hicks presents a pioneering study of Soviet contributions to the growing public awareness of the horrors of Nazi rule.
Even before the war, the Soviet film Professor Mamlock, which premiered in the United States in 1938 and coincided with the Kristallnacht pogrom, helped reinforce anti-Nazi sentiment. Yet, Soviet films were often dismissed or even banned in the West as Communist propaganda. Ironically, in the brief 1939–1941 period of Nazi and Soviet alliance, such films were also banned in the Soviet Union, only to be reclaimed after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, and suppressed yet again during the Cold War.
Jeremy Hicks recovers much of the major film work in Soviet depictions of the Holocaust and views them within their political context, both locally and internationally. Overwhelmingly, wartime films were skewed to depict Soviet resistance, “Red funerals,” and calls for vengeance, rather than the singling out of Jewish victims by the Nazis. Almost no personal testimony of victims or synchronous sound was recorded, furthering the disconnection of the viewer to the victims.
Hicks examines correspondence, scripts, reviews, and compares edited with unedited film to unearth the deliberately hidden Jewish aspects of Soviet depictions of the German invasion and occupation. To Hicks, it’s in the silences, gaps, and ellipses that the films speak most clearly. Additionally, he details the reasons why Soviet Holocaust films have been subsequently erased from collective memory in the West and the Soviet Union: their graphic horror, their use as propaganda tools, and the postwar rise of the Red Scare in the United States and anti-Semitic campaigns in the Soviet Union.
First Person Jewish
Alisa S. Lebow University of Minnesota Press, 2008 Library of Congress PN1995.9.J46L43 2008 | Dewey Decimal 791.436529924
Documentaries have increasingly used the first person, with a number of prominent filmmakers finding critical and commercial success with this intimate approach. Jewish filmmakers have particularly thrived in this genre, using it to explore disparate definitions of the self in relation to the larger groups of family and community.
In First Person Jewish, Alisa S. Lebow examines more than a dozen films from Jewish artists to reveal how the postmodern impulse to turn the lens inward intersects provocatively (and at times unwittingly) with historical tropes and stereotypes of the Jew. Focusing her efforts on Jewish filmmakers working on the margins, Lebow analyzes the work of Jonathan Caouette, Chantal Akerman, and Alan Berliner, among others, also including a discussion of her own first person film Treyf (1998), made with Cynthia Madansky. The filmmakers in this study, Lebow argues, are confronting a desire to both define and reimagine contemporary Jewishness.
Using a multidisciplinary approach to first person films, Lebow shows how this form of self-expression is challenging both autobiography and documentary and, in the process, changing the art of cinema and recording the cultural shifts of our time.
Alisa S. Lebow is a filmmaker and lecturer in film and TV studies at Brunel University.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Jews and Jewishness in British Film, Television, and Popular Culture is the first collection of its kind on this subject. The volume brings together a range of original essays that address different aspects of the role and presence of Jews and Jewishness in British film and television from the interwar period to the present. It constructs a historical overview of the Jewish contribution to British film and television, which has not always been sufficiently acknowledged. Each chapter presents a case study reflective of the specific Jewish experience as well as its particularly British context, with cultural representations of how Jews responded to events from the 1930s and '40s, including World War II, the Holocaust, and a legacy of antisemitism, through to the new millennium.
What does it mean for someone or something to be Hungarian? People in Hungary grappled with this far-reaching question in the wake of the losses and transformation brought by World War I. Because the period also saw the rise of cinema, audiences, filmmakers, critics, and officials often looked at films with an eye to that question, too. Did the Hungary seen on screen represent the Hungary they knew from everyday life? And-crucially-did the major role played by Jewish Hungarians in the film industry make the sector and its creations somehow Jewish rather than Hungarian? Jews, it was soon decided, could not really be Hungarian, and acts of Parliament soon barred them from taking major roles in cinema production. This book tells the troubled story of that period in Hungarian cinematic history, taking it up through World War II.
The struggle to forge a collective national identity at the expense of competing plural identities has preoccupied Israeli society since the founding of the state of Israel. In this book, Yosefa Loshitzky explores how major Israeli films of the 1980s and 1990s have contributed significantly to the process of identity formation by reflecting, projecting, and constructing debates around Israeli national identity. Loshitzky focuses on three major foundational sites of the struggle over Israeli identity: the Holocaust, the question of the Orient, and the so-called (in an ironic historical twist of the "Jewish question") Palestinian question. The films she discusses raise fundamental questions about the identity of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their children (the "second generation"), Jewish immigrants from Muslim countries or Mizrahim (particularly the second generation of Israeli Mizrahim), and Palestinians. Recognizing that victimhood marks all the identities represented in the films under discussion, Loshitzky does not treat each identity group as a separate and coherent entity, but rather attempts to see the conflation, interplay, and conflict among them.
The Jazz Age of the 1920s is an era remembered for illegal liquor, innovative music and dance styles, and burgeoning ideas of social equality. It was also the period during which second-generation Jews began to emerge as a significant demographic in New York City. In TheirOwn Image examines thegrowing cultural visibility of Jewish life amid this vibrant scene.
From the vaudeville routines of Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, and Sophie Tucker, to the slew of Broadway comedies about Jewish life and the silent films that showed immigrant families struggling to leave the ghetto, images and representations of Jews became staples of interwar popular culture. Through the performing arts, Jews expressed highly ambivalent feelings about their identification with Jewish and American cultures. Ted Merwin shows how they became American by producing and consuming not images of another group, but images of themselves. As a result, they humanized Jewish stereotypes, softened anti-Semitic attitudes, and laid the groundwork for today’s Jewish comedians.
An entertaining look at the role popular culture plays in promoting the acculturation of an ethnic group, In Their Own Image enhances our understanding of American Jewish history and provides a model for the study of other groups and their integration into mainstream society.
Movie-Made Jews focuses on a rich, usable American Jewish cinematic tradition. This tradition includes fiction and documentary films that make Jews through antisemitism, Holocaust indirection, and discontent with assimilation. It prominently features the unapologetic assertion of Jewishness, queerness, and alliances across race and religion. Author Helene Meyers shows that as we go to our local theater, attend a Jewish film festival, play a DVD, watch streaming videos, Jewishness becomes part of the multicultural mosaic rather than collapsing into a generic whiteness or being represented as a life apart. This engagingly-written book demonstrates that a Jewish movie is neither just a movie nor for Jews only.
With incisive analysis, Movie-Made Jews challenges the assumption that American Jewish cinema is a cinema of impoverishment and assimilation. While it’s a truism that Jews make movies, this book brings into focus the diverse ways movies make Jews.
Jewish film characters have existed almost as long as the medium itself. But around 1990, films about Jews and their representation in cinema multiplied and took on new forms, marking a significant departure from the past. With a fresh generation of Jewish filmmakers, writers, and actors at work, contemporary cinemas have been depicting a multiplicity of new variants, including tough Jews; brutish Jews; gay and lesbian Jews; Jewish cowboys, skinheads, and superheroes; and even Jews in space.
The New Jew in Film is grounded in the study of over three hundred films from Hollywood and beyond. Nathan Abrams explores these new and changing depictions of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism, providing a wider, more representative picture of this transformation. In this compelling, surprising, and provocative book, chapters explore masculinity, femininity, passivity, agency, and religion in addition to a departure into new territory—including bathrooms and food. Abrams’s concern is to reveal how the representation of the Jew is used to convey confidence or anxieties about Jewish identity and history as well as questions of racial, sexual, and gender politics. In doing so, he provides a welcome overview of important Jewish films produced globally over the past twenty years.
Even people familiar with cinema believe there is no such thing as a Soviet Holocaust film. The Phantom Holocaust tells a different story. The Soviets were actually among the first to portray these events on screens. In 1938, several films exposed Nazi anti-Semitism, and a 1945 movie depicted the mass execution of Jews in Babi Yar. Other significant pictures followed in the 1960s. But the more directly filmmakers engaged with the Holocaust, the more likely their work was to be banned by state censors. Some films were never made while others came out in such limited release that the Holocaust remained a phantom on Soviet screens.
Focusing on work by both celebrated and unknown Soviet directors and screenwriters, Olga Gershenson has written the first book about all Soviet narrative films dealing with the Holocaust from 1938 to 1991. In addition to studying the completed films, Gershenson analyzes the projects that were banned at various stages of production.
The book draws on archival research and in-depth interviews to tell the sometimes tragic and sometimes triumphant stories of filmmakers who found authentic ways to represent the Holocaust in the face of official silencing. By uncovering little known works, Gershenson makes a significant contribution to the international Holocaust filmography.
Rochelle Wright provides the first historical overview and analysis of the manner in which Jews and other ethnic outsiders have been depicted in Swedish film from 1930 to the present.
Focusing on films produced in Sweden for primarily Swedish audiences, Wright analyzes how the portrayal of the relatively small Jewish minority has evolved over the years. She compares the images of Jews in Swedish film with those of other ethnic subcultures: long-term resident communities such as tattare (‘travelers’, an indigenous pariah group often confused with gypsies), Finns, the Sami, and recent immigrant populations such as Greeks, Italians, Turks, and Yugoslavians.
Wright’s cross-disciplinary approach to interrelated issues of ethnicity and national identity enables her to take advantage of the methodologies of historians and sociologists as well as those of literary and film critics. She bases her study on a detailed analysis of the films, but, by way of comparison, she examines filmscripts and literary sources. She also consults contemporary reviews, interviews with actors and directors, and biographies and memoirs as well as critical discussion among film historians.
Wright confronts important—and exceedingly difficult—social questions. She deals head-on with xenophobia, anti-Semitism, immigration, assimilation, ethnicity, multiculturalism, and the national self-image of Swedes as reflected in their cinema. She also analyzes the manner in which Swedish film represents the persecution of Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe.
From immigrant ghetto love stories such as The Cohens and the Kellys (1926), through romantic comedies including Meet the Parents (2000) and Knocked Up (2007), to television series such as Transparent (2014–), Jewish-Christian couplings have been a staple of popular culture for over a century. In these pairings, Joshua Louis Moss argues, the unruly screen Jew is the privileged representative of progressivism, secular modernism, and the cosmopolitan sensibilities of the mass-media age. But his/her unruliness is nearly always contained through romantic union with the Anglo-Christian partner. This Jewish-Christian meta-narrative has recurred time and again as one of the most powerful and enduring, although unrecognized, mass-culture fantasies.
Using the innovative framework of coupling theory, Why Harry Met Sally surveys three major waves of Jewish-Christian couplings in popular American literature, theater, film, and television. Moss explores how first-wave European and American creators in the early twentieth century used such couplings as an extension of modernist sensibilities and the American “melting pot.” He then looks at how New Hollywood of the late 1960s revived these couplings as a sexually provocative response to the political conservatism and representational absences of postwar America. Finally, Moss identifies the third wave as emerging in television sitcoms, Broadway musicals, and “gross-out” film comedies to grapple with the impact of American economic globalism since the 1990s. He demonstrates that, whether perceived as a threat or a triumph, Jewish-Christian couplings provide a visceral, easily graspable, template for understanding the rapid transformations of an increasingly globalized world.