2019 - 2020

  From The Dybbuk to the Coen Brothers: Tradition and Modernity in Yiddish Cinema                      
Zehavit SternMexico - Arts209Sun1200-1400 Sem  2
University credit hours:  2.0

Course description

This course will discuss interwar Yiddish cinema in Europe, the USSR, and the USA, and the ways in which this quintessential modern form of expression at once constructed and questioned conventional images of traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe. We’ll examine the various tensions that shaped this cinema: between a negation the traditional way of life (in Soviet cinema) to the nostalgic and paternal positions of American cinema, between tradition and revolution, isolation and cosmopolitanism, religion and secularism, commercial cinema and avant-garde art movements. We’ll investigate the challenges and dilemmas of immigration as represented in the American-Yiddish cinema of the thirties, and especially the myth of “A Star is Born,” which re-enacts the American ethos of social mobility, in the Hollywoodian Jazz Singer (1927) and its Yiddish parallels. The renown Polish-Yiddish film The Dybbuk (1937), a cultural icon in contemporary culture, will serve to discuss notions such as orientalism and exoticism in Yiddish film, and the allusion to The Dybbuk in the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man (2009), will bring this discussion into the 21st century. We’ll also engage with gender images, the performance of motherhood, subversive and queer elements in Yiddish cinema, and Barbra Streisand’s adaptation to Yitskhok Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl the Yeshiva Student,” a feminist interpretation that softens the subversive elements in the queer original, and celebrates ethnic difference while erasing it. Finally, we’ll examine the comical and satirical dimension of Yiddish cinema, well as the echoes of Yiddish/Jewish humour in Hollywood cinema and their meaning in the context of American identity politics.

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