“The American Jewish Story through Cinema” by Eric A. Goldman— The Realities of the American Jew

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Goldman, Eric A. “The American Jewish Story through Cinema”, (Jewish Life, History, and Culture), University of Texas Press, 2013.

The Realities of the American Jew

Amos Lassen

Cinema can be a valuable tool especially when it comes to telling a story. Jews in America have been linked to the movies from a very early time and when we look at the industry we see one that has been strongly influenced by Jewish filmmakers who have been responsible for what kinds of films are produced. We also see something of the social, political and cultural realities of American Jews as well as the evolving nature of the American Jew and his impact on American cinema and how Jews are represented on the silver screen. Goldman in his book looks at selected mainstream films from the beginning of sound films and helps us understand the American Jewish experience through those films.

The first half of the twentieth century in Hollywood was dominated by Jewish movie moguls who chose not to project a Jewish image on the screen lest they be too identified by it. As time moved forward, however, they grew more comfortable with the concept of a Jewish hero and as Israel became a military hero so did the depiction of Jews in the movies. The Holocaust became the single event that had the greatest effect on American Jewry’s identity. Now, it is safe to say, Hollywood Jews (producers, screenwriters and directors) due to this, provide the movies that are about Jewish protagonists, Jewish experiences and challenges to the Jewish people.

While this is an academic text, it is totally readable and should bring the reader to the point that he will be able to rethink the Jewish experience in cinema. There are also the stories of some of the Jewish icons in film such as Barbra Streisand and others.

Goldman’s research is extensive as is his analysis. The book is basically a history of Jews in cinema from assimilation to renewal and it approaches its subject from two angles—the American Jewish experience itself and its relationship to popular culture. Goldman brings together the history of cinema, religion and culture. His interviews include information about the process of making films and the motivation for doing so.

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