Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: American Jewish Films: The Search for Identity

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: McFarland (April 22, 2013)

Larry Epstein, the author of The Haunted Smile, which tells the history of Jewish comedians in America, pens a book on searching for the Jewish identity in films.  As funny as it may sound, I had never heard of some of these movies that he writes about.

I did learn something new in the course of reading the book, the original founder of the Fox Film Corporation, William Fox, was a member of the tribe.  Due to bankruptcy, he had to sell the company in the late 1930s but of course, it lives on.  Darryl Zanuck's 20th Century Films would later aquire Fox and thus became 20th Century Fox.

In writing this book, Epstein explores various themes relating to Judaism.

In the introduction, Epstein discusses why American Jews were attracted to the movie industry be it as audience members, actors, or even the folks behind the scenes at the studios.

One of the big things that Epstein looks at is Jewish identity verses an American identity or a broader human identity.  This is one way to look at how the Jewish characters in film have evolved over time.

One cannot have a discussion about Jewish identity in films without talking about the Lower East Side or films relating to Jewish history.  Some of the topics that Epstein explores here are assimilation and acculturation, interfaith relations, Israel, marriage and family relations, the role of women, Jews and American politics, and anti-Semitism including the Holocaust.

In the end though, one cannot really define what the Jewish identity in film is but that doesn't make this book not worth its while.  There are a countless number of films mentioned.  Some might not be in print but the ones that are--there is a good bet that Netflix will have them as rentals.

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