September 27, 2003

Shana Tova

In honor of Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year, Cinecultist thought we'd mention the extensive contribution of Jews to the movie industry. Though we missed the exhibition at the Jewish Museum that closed a week or so ago, Entertaining American: Jews, Movies and Broadcasting curated by the Village Voice critic J. Hoberman and Jeffrey Shandler, we've flipped through the accompanying catalogue which is a trove of information. A few little factoids:

The Jazz Singer, the first synched sound film which followed an immigrant Jewish performer, Al Jolsen, wherein he sings in blackface, had its world premiere a day before Yom Kippur at the Warners' Theatre in New York, running there for twenty-three weeks.

The originator of the Vamp character, an "implacable seductress," Theda Bara was born Theodesia Goodman and after she retired in 1926, she described herself in a newspaper interview as "just a nice Jewish girl."

In the 1990s, Jewish characters crowded the television airwaves, with the most famous being the NBC hit, Seinfeld. "Although of the four main characters only Jerry Seinfeld was identified as a Jew, all the characters have been understood at least by many Jewish viewers as crypto-Jews deliberately, playfully, and transparently disguised."

For more J. Ho writing on Jews in the movie industry, check out his earlier book on Yiddish film, Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds. Though it's still early in the season, the lyrics to Adam Sandler's Hannukkah song detail many more famous performing Jews. Visit the Barbra Streisand Museum in San Francisco, though now closed they still have a website for the Funny Girl's fans.

Posted by karen at September 27, 2003 2:31 PM