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September 23, 1988 - Image 93

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-09-23

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Success came to those who could
deliver the final reel and bring in the
greenbacks. It was, as Friedman ex-
plains, 'a fairly seedy world;' but one
with little hierarchy and lots of en-
trance mats. For people who had
spent time in vaudville or the theater,
going to Hollywood was just more of
the same, only a little different. It was
all entertainment.
The result? By the 1920s,
Hollywood's golden age, every major
studio save one was headed by a Jew.
These moguls — Harry Cohn, Louis
B. Mayer, the Warner brothers, Irving
Thalberg — were like the screen im-
age itself, larger than life.
"They were men who were sear-
ching for a way to achieve their ver-
sion of the American dream," says
Friedman. "I think they had very
highly developed antenna. They were
street-wise immigrants."
They understood the enormous
power they possessed in entertaining
the great masses of the American
public. And, like the movies they pro-
duced, they were men with multiple,
sometimes contrary, visions that
would be seen by millions.
This is one of the themes explored
at the festival. "What we're trying to
do is show how the attitudes of the
Hollywood moguls altered reality to
conform with their conceptions of
America and what they thought
would be acceptable," says Brody, who
has been a film producer himself.
The relationship between
Hollywood and its audience was com-
plex. "It's a double whammy," ex-
plains Friedman, "Films reflect socie-
ty and lead it too."


Special to The Jewish News


.hen it comes to the movies,
Ann Arbor deserves star
billing. Besides the usual
commercial theaters, it has eight not-
for-profit film groups that feature
anything and everything a film buff
may desire.
And now Ann Arbor is playing
host to a film festival called "Jews in
American Cinema, 1898-1988." Until
the third weekend in October, there
will be lectures, screenings of classics,
an exhibit filled with hundreds of
movie stills, old reviews and other
ephemera. "And there's sure to be
lively debate:' says Lester Friedman,
a film historian who will moderate
one of the discussions.
From the very beginning, from
that moment when light and motion
were joined, Jews have been deeply in-
volved with the film world. "So much
of the creative talents — producers,
directors, actors, were Jewish; ex-
traordinarily so," says Steve Brody,
director of television, radio and film
at the Anti-Defamation League of
B'nai B'rith, one of the sponsors of the
festival. "And it exists still today"
The people of the book were also
people of the moving picture. On the
screen, behind the camera, writing,
composing, producing and directing,
Jews have been a sustaining force.
The Jewish contribution is not
merely representative, it's substan-
tive. And compelling. From a movie
like the 1909 Yiddisher Cowboy to the
latest Warner Brothers release, Cross-
ing Delancy, Jews are an integral part
of the film world. "It's like a Satur-
day matinee," says Friedman, pro-
fessor of English at State University
of New York, who has written two
texts on the subject. "The celluloid
Jew continues. There's one more
How did it all begin? According to
film historians like Friedman, the
rough-and-tumble world of the early
cinema — of one-reelers and shorts,
made with little money and less sop-
phistication — was a place where
anyone could try his luck.

Rod Steiger, who played the rabbi in The Chosen, will be a guest at the "Jews in American
Cinema" film festival.

A film festival celebrates the love
affair between Jews and celluloid


he attitudes projected by
Hollywood certainly did
. change over the decades.
"There's a definite pattern that
emerges over the years," says Brody.
Early films about Jews were a
dime-a-dozen. Hundreds of comedies,
sentimental melodramas and so-
called ghetto films were made. To
modern eyes more than a few are
striking in their stereotypical por-
traits of Jews = Jew as Victim; Jew
as Shlemiel.
Friedman says he's struck by cer-



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