jüdische Kultur und Geschichte
Die Chronologie des Jiddischen Films
Misrech un Majrev (East and West / Ost und West)
This delightful comedy opens as Morris Brown, a New Yorker better acquainted with his checkbook than his prayerbook, returns to Galicia for a family wedding. He brings along his very American daughter, played by the irrepressible Molly Picon. Director Sidney M. Goldin's film is filled with classic scenes of Molly lifting weights and boxing, teaching young villagers to shimmy, and stealing away to gorge herself on Yom Kippur.
Austria / 1923 / B&W / 16mm / 85 minutes / Silent with English and Yiddish intertitles
Jevreiskoje Stschastje (Jewish Luck / Menakhem Mendl)
Based on Sholem Aleichem's series of stories featuring the character Menakhem Mendl, a daydreaming entrepreneur who specializes in doomed strike-it-rich schemes.
Directed by Alexander Granovsky, the film features some of the finest artistic talents of Soviet Jewry during the period, including the great actor, Solomon Mikhoels. It has been speculated that the cinematography done by Eduard Tissé inspired scenes he shot in his later project, Eisenstein's Potemkin.
USSR / 1925 / B&W / 35mm / 100 minutes / Silent with English intertitles
Jevo Prevoschoditelstvo (His Excellency)
Also known as Seeds of Freedom, this is the first Soviet-Jewish film to be produced after a demand by the Central Committee's Department for Agitprop that fictional films be made.
The film is based on the life of Hirsch Lekert, a shoemaker and militant Jewish Labor Bund member who attempted to assassinate the Vilna governor in 1902 to avenge the flogging of workers.
USSR / 1928 / B&W / 35mm / 76 minutes / Silent with English intertitles
Skvos Slesy (Laughter Through Tears)
Like Sholem Aleichem, on whose "Motl Peysi, the Cantor's Son" and "The Enchanted Tailor" stories this film is based, director Grigori Gricher-Cherikover leavens pathos with humor in his earthy portrait of pre-revolutionary shtetl life.
In accordance with then-official Soviet policy, the film emphasizes the poverty and repression of Jews in Czarist Russia.
USSR / 1928 / B&W / 35mm / 92 minutes / Silent with English intertitles
His Wife's Lover (Zayn Vaybs Lubovnik)
Based on a Yiddish stage hit and billed as the "first Jewish musical comedy talking picture", director Sidney M. Goldin's film reverses roles and twists love triangles as if reincarnating Moliere at the corner of Orchard and Rivington. Made at the height of the Depression, this farce benefits from the presence of Ludwig Satz, "the gifted tummler who prefigures such mainstream American clowns as Sid Ceasar and Jerry Lewis" (Richard Corliss, Time)
USA / 1931 / B&W / 16mm / 80 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Based on a novel by Sholem Asch, Uncle Moses stands as one of the finest examples of Yiddish cinema. "[This is] the first Yiddish talkie engaged directly [in] the progressive currents of the day, political and aesthetic." (J. Hoberman, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds) The magnificent Maurice Schwartz portrays a despotic Jewish factory boss who takes pleasure in seeing the "tables turned" on the former leaders of his European shtetl by employing them as tailors in his American sweatshop.
USA / 1932 / B&W / 16mm / 87 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Yidl mitn Fidl (Yiddle With His Fiddle)
Director Joseph Green creturned to his native Poland to produce this classic, the best loved and most commercially successful musical in the history of the Yiddish cinema. Molly Picon, the consumate comedienne of Yiddish theater, vaudeville and film, stars in this comic tale of a penniless man and his daughter who decide to become travelling musicians. Poet Itzik Manger contributed the folksy lyrics to accompany the memorable musical score by Abraham Ellstein.
Poland / 1936 / B&W / 35mm / 92 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Der Dibuk (The Dybbuk)
Based on the play by S. Ansky, this is, "the most ambitious Yiddish movie of its day" (J. Hoberman, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds). Boundaries separating the natural from the supernatural dissolve as ill-fated pledges, unfulfilled passions and untimely deaths ensnare two families in a tragic labyrinth of spiritual possession. In addition to its artistic merits, this powerful film testifies to the cultural richness of Polish Jewry on the eve of World War II.
Poland / 1937 / B&W / 35mm / 123 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Green Fields (Grine Felder)
An orphaned Lithuanian scholar leaves the yeshiva to find "true Jews", learning some unexpected lessons from the Jewish peasants who take him in. With a cast from the Artef and Yiddish Art Theaters, a script based on Peretz Hirschbein's semi-autobiographical play, and music by Vladimir Heifetz, director Edgar G. Ulmer created an instant classic. The film was so well regarded upon its initial release that it won an award as the Best Foreign Film in France for 1938.
USA / 1937 / B&W / 35mm / 95 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Frejleche Kabtsonim (Jolly Paupers)
In this musical comedy, the famous comic duo of Shimon Dzigan and Yisroel Shumacher play two small town "entrepreneurs" who believe they have struck oil in a local field. The whole town finds out and thus begins a comedy of errors, including millionaire investors, American schemers, and insane asylums, not to mention a little matchmaking on the side.
Poland / 1937 / B&W / 35mm / 62 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
This musical comedy embraces the entire gamut of interwar Jewish life in Lodz, with tenements and unemployed Jews, nightclubs and gangsters, and religious Jews celebrating Succoth. But the film belongs to Molly Picon, who romps undaunted through her dutiful daughter role, saving siblings, keeping the family intact, singing (including her trademark song "Abi Gezunt"), and acting her way through the stages of a woman's life from childhood to old age.
Poland / 1938 / B&W / 16mm / 100 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Two Sisters (Zwaj Schweßtern)
Is this domestic tragedy or new comedy? Maybe it helps to think of it as Jewish General Hospital. No matter which way you look at it, make sure there's a hanky nearby. The dying mother of two small daughters instructs the elder sister to be both sister and mother to her younger sister. Given that set-up, is it any doubt that the story will end in betrayal and acrimony. Jennie Goldstein delivers a terrific performance as Betty, the arch-martyr older sister.
USA / 1938 / B&W / 16mm / 82 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
A Brifele der Mamen (A Letter to Mother)
One of the last Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion, this film's tale of family disintegration and poverty serves as a metaphor for the displacements facing European Jews in 1939. While her husband is in America, a mother tirelessly supports her family through separation, severe poverty, and the turmoil of war. A superb tearjerker, this was director Joseph Green's last film, and, reportedly, his favorite from among his own films.
Poland / 1939 / B&W / 35mm / 106 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
The Light Ahead (Fishke the Lame)
Based on Mendele Mokher Seforim's story of love frustrated by small-town ignorance, this luminous allegory of escape marries Edgar G. Ulmer's masterful direction with superb acting by members of New York's Artef and Yiddish Art Theatres. Helen Beverly and David Opatoshu play impoverished and disabled lovers Fishke and Hodel, dreaming of life in the big city of Odessa, free from the poverty and stifling old-world prejudices of the shtetl.
USA / 1939 / B&W / 35mm / 94 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Berta Gersten gives a memorable performance as Mirele, a wealthy and pious woman whose devotion to her children extends to handpicking a wife for her eldest son. This "Jewish Queen Lear" mistakes the young woman's character, and the resulting conflict between the noble Jewish matriarch and her self-serving daughter-in-law provides both a cautionary tale and a lesson in the value of filial piety. Director Joseph Berne's film is based on the play by the Ukranian-born Jacob Gordin, an enormously influential Yiddish playwright.
USA / 1939 / B&W / 16mm / 80 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
On a Hejm (Without a Home)
When the eldest son of the Rivkin family is drowned, the father leaves his family in Europe to go to America. There he finds only financial hardship and loneliness, struggling to find a way to bring the rest of his family over. The last Yiddish feature made in Poland before World War II, this 1939 film was based on a 1907 play by the prolific playwright, Jacob Gordin. The stellar cast includes stage actress Ida Kaminska and the comic duo, Dzigan and Schumacher.
Poland / 1939 / B&W / 16mm / 88 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
A renowned Yiddish theater and stage actor, Maurice Schwartz wrote, directed, and stars in this adaptation of the classic Sholem Aleichem novel. This film version centers on Tevye's daughter, Khave, who falls in love with and marries a Ukranian intellectual, testing Tevye's deep-seated faith, loyalty to tradition, and his love for his daughter. In 1991,Tevye became the first non-English language film to be included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
USA / 1939 / B&W / 35mm / 96 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
American Matchmaker (Americaner Schadchen)
In his last Yiddish-language feature, director Edgar G. Ulmer married his experience of the Yiddish theater with the urbane romantic comedies Hollywood made in counterpoint to the Depression (i.e. Swing Time). East European shtetl customs enter into gentle negotiations with New York sophistication in the lives of second-generation American Jewish immigrants. Leo Fuchs, the "Yiddish Fred Astaire, stars in this fascinating portrait of a community in transition.
USA / 1940 / B&W / 16mm / 87 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Overture to Glory (Der Wilner Balebesl)
Beginning with Rosh Ha-Shanah and ending on Yom Kippur, this story of a Vilna cantor seduced by the opera resonates with the voice of Moishe Oysher, one of the best-known cantors of his day. Carefully lit cinematography, well-shaped dialogue and Alexander Olshanetsky's musical score steer director Max Nosseck's film clear of melodramatic excess.
USA / 1940 / B&W / 35mm / 77 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
Lang is der Weg (Long is the Road)
Made by and about Jewish displaced persons, the film was shot on location at Landsberg, the largest DP camp in U.S.-occupied Germany. Effectively mixing neorealist and expressionist styles, the film follows a Polish Jew and his family from the thriving Jewish community of prewar Warsaw, through the horrors of Auschwitz, to the frustrations and instability of refugee life in the DP camps, and culminates in the emergence of a hope for rebirth and renewal in Israel. 1996-Spirit of Freedom Award, Jerusalem Film Festival.
US-occupied Germany / 1948 / B&W / 35mm / 77 minutes / Yiddish, German and Polish with English subtitles
Undsere Kinder (Our Children)
Our Children, "is not only among the first films about the Holocaust, it is also the first to critique its representation." (J. Hoberman, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds) In this, Poland's last Yiddish feature, comedy duo Dzigan and Schumacher play all the parts in a Sholem Aleichem story for an audience of children who survived the Holocaust. The children outdo the performers, though, when they exchange roles, demonstrating the healing power of art.
Poland / 1948 / B&W / 35mm / 68 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles
God, Man and Devil (Got, Mentsch, un Tajbl)
A wager between God and Satan has dire consequences in this allegory, based on a play by Jacob Gordin, and directed by Joseph Seiden. Hershele Dubrovner has a life that glorifies God until Satan, disguised as a business partner, turns him into a greedy dishonest factory owner. "[the film] was likely the costliest production of Seiden's career, and, thanks to his choice of material, also his best." (J. Hoberman, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds)
USA / 1949 / B&W / 16mm / 100 minutes / Yiddish with English subtitles