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The American Jewish Story through Cinema

ERIC A. GOLDMAN
Copyright Date: 2013
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/744301
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    The American Jewish Story through Cinema
    Book Description:

    Like thehaggadah, 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74431-8
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE FILM AS HAGGADAH: TOWARD A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF AMERICA’S JEWS
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: A CENTURY OF AMERICAN JEWISH LIFE
    (pp. 1-16)

    Throughout the early years of cinema, the first decades of the twentieth century, Jewish moviemakers focused largely on stories of successful assimilation into American society. As Neal Gabler asserted, “The grand theme of Hollywood, both in terms of films and in terms of the lives of its moguls, is idealized assimilation.”¹ Such assimilation was often expressed through the intermarriage of a Jewish child with a child from another immigrant group. The resulting union celebrated the successful melding of different ethnicities and religions, a “melting pot” producing a couple that would turn out “all-American” offspring.

    Silent film was often the entertainment...

  5. CHAPTER 2 THE JAZZ SINGER: OUT OF THE JEWISH GHETTO (THE 1920S)
    (pp. 17-49)

    In 1883, twenty-six-year-old Binyumen kissed his wife Perele Leah and said good-bye to his two children, Anna and Hershele. According to his granddaughter Cass Warner Sperling, he was preparing to leave his shtetl of Krasnashiltz in the Pale of Settlement, hoping to make his way safely to the German border and from there to the port of Hamburg. Before he left, Perele had sewn a secret pocket into the waist of Binyumen’s pants. “It is for your watch,” she said. “To keep it safe.” The watch was a family heirloom, passed down to him by his father. With that, his...

  6. CHAPTER 3 GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT AND CROSSFIRE: FILMS THAT TOOK ON ANTI-SEMITISM IN 1947 (THE 1940S)
    (pp. 50-96)

    Two years after World War II, Twentieth Century-Fox releasedGentleman’s Agreement, a well-anticipated movie that focused on the question of social anti-Semitism in America. Although the film was championed by Darryl F. Zanuck, its crusader producer, most in Hollywood were fearful about its reception by American audiences. Just a few months earlier,Crossfire, a mystery about the puzzling murder of a Jewish veteran of the U.S. Army, had been released, and there was tension within the film community about why such films were being made. In fact, strong efforts had been exerted on a number of fronts to keep both...

  7. CHAPTER 4 THE YOUNG LIONS: GUARANTEEING ACCEPTANCE (THE 1950S)
    (pp. 97-124)

    Irwin Shaw’sThe Young Lionsis considered one of the best novels about World War II of the immediate postwar period. At the time of publication, it joined Norman Mailer’sThe Naked and the Dead, a book that also dealt with the war, on the bestseller lists. Shaw, a New York City native and Brooklyn College graduate, drew from his own experiences as a soldier with the U.S. Army Signal Corps and from his adventures in North Africa, London, and Paris. Random House published the novel in October of 1948. The film, directed by Edward Dmytryk and released by Twentieth...

  8. CHAPTER 5 THE WAY WE WERE AND THE PRINCE OF TIDES: BARBRA STREISAND AND THE EVOLVING AMERICAN JEWISH WOMAN (THE 1970S AND 1980S)
    (pp. 125-151)

    The Barbra Streisand phenomenon looms large in the annals of twentieth-century popular culture. Hers is the story, set in the late 1950s, of an unabashed sixteen-year-old Jewish woman who, after graduating high school, left Brooklyn for Manhattan in search of a dream. Barbara Joan Streisand, like many of her time, wanted to be an actor and set her sights high. Her story, or rather the story of her generation, is captured in such films as Paul Mazursky’sNext Stop, Greenwich Village(1976) and Sidney J. Furie’sSheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York(1975), adapted from Gail Parent’s...

  9. CHAPTER 6 AVALON AND LIBERTY HEIGHTS: THE SPIRIT OF FAMILY—REMEMBERING BETTER (THE 1990S)
    (pp. 152-180)

    InAvalon, a highly acclaimed film released in 1990, audiences and reviewers alike saw a saga of Jewish immigrants who arrived in America as part of the great wave of European newcomers during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Initially, writer-director Barry Levinson emphatically repudiated thatAvalonwas a film about the immigrant experience. In interviews, Levinson consistently pointed to his picture as a film about “the importance of family and the inevitability of leaving the nest.” “It drove me nuts,” he said at the time. “Why do they keep going on?”¹ Some twenty years later, he looked back:...

  10. CHAPTER 7 EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED: A NEW DIRECTION IN FILM—SEARCHING FOR A USABLE PAST (THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY)
    (pp. 181-202)

    InEverything Is Illuminated, Liev Schreiber’s 2005 narrative film drawn from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, a young American Jewish adult travels to Ukraine in search of identity and self-understanding. Both the twenty-five-year-old Foer and Schreiber, a dozen years older, had a grandparent that led each to a journey—a grandparent representing a connection to some kind of Jewish existence that for each growing up was absent in their home. For Foer, it had been Friday night Shabbat with his grandmother; for Schreiber, Passover seders with his grandfather.

    Jonathan Safran Foer’s first published fiction, the story “A Very Rigid...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 203-224)
  12. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 225-232)
  13. SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 233-234)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 235-246)