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.
About the Author
ERIC A. GOLDMAN is Adjunct Associate Professor of Cinema at Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He is a film educator who lectures on Yiddish, Israeli, and Jewish cinema, and is founder and president of Ergo Media Inc., a video publishing company specializing in Jewish film. A former director of the Jewish Media Service, he is also the author of Visions, Images, and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present.
Table of Contents
- Preface. Film as Haggadah: Toward a Better Understanding of America's Jews
- Chapter 1. Introduction: A Century of American Jewish Life
- Chapter 2. The Jazz Singer: Out of the Jewish Ghetto (The 1920s)
- Chapter 3. Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire: Films That Took on Anti-Semitism in 1947 (The 1940s)
- Chapter 4. The Young Lions: Guaranteeing Acceptance (The 1950s)
- Chapter 5. The Way We Were and The Prince of Tides: Barbra Streisand and the Evolving American Jewish Woman (The 1970s and 1980s)
- Chapter 6. Avalon and Liberty Heights: The Spirit of Family—Remembering Better (The 1990s)
- Chapter 7. Everything Is Illuminated: A New Direction in Film—Searching for a Usable Past (The Twenty-First Century)
- Selected Bibliography
- Selected Filmography
What People are Saying About This
"If I had to select one book to accompany a course on American Jewish history through film, it would be this book. Goldman is a fine writer and a master of the subject."
"Goldman’s book is quite unique in the cinema studies/Jewish studies field. Broadly synthetic, the book is well-researched and amply documented. It skillfully blends primary archival sources, memoirs, biographies, and secondary academic studies in sociology, literature, and cinema to create engaging narratives about the development of the representative films he discusses. I particularly liked . . . how Goldman makes their characters and stories relevant to the overarching question that animates this studythe full emergence of American Jews into American society."
"Through careful research and analysis of prominent American films, Eric Goldman takes the reader on a fascinating journey from Jewish assimilation to Jewish renewal, providing a dual lens on both the American Jewish experience and its relationship to popular culture. A rare work of serious scholarship that is singularly both informative and entertaining."