Tuesday, February 27, 2007
MICHAEL FOX: REVIEW OF YIDDISH THEATER: A LOVE STORY
Michael Fox, the harsh critique of the SF Weekly gave us an amazing review in the San Diego Jewish journal.
As Borat would say : WOWA WEEWA.
Michael Fox is an uncompromising film critic, so getting such warm words from him, blew my mind.
Thank you Michael Fox for the amazing review. I am deeply touched.
Here's the actual review:
YIDDISH THEATER: A LOVE STORY
"WHAT'S MOST STRIKING ABOUT "YIDDISH THEATER: A Love Story," Dan Katzir's valuable documentary about a crucial week in the life of the last Yiddish stage company in New York, is its refusal to wallow in bathos.
Although Katzir is potentially recording the end of an era, one that some viewers will be amazed to learn was still extant when the film was shot in December 2000, he eschews a funereal tone in favor of a briskness that frequently tilts toward irreverence, but not disrespect. In a sense, Katzir's spirited aproach is th perfect match for octogenarian actress Zypora Spaisman and her cohorts, for it aptly mirrors their unwavering drive to live, to create and to share with an audience.
"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" screens Sunday Feb 11 at the AMC La Jolla in the San Digo Jewish Film Festival. Katzir, a garrulous young Israeli who lives in Los Angeles is slated to be on hand for the screening.
As the film opens, the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, the last survivor of the dozens such enterprises that prospered in New York City before World War II, is performing Peretz Hirshbein's 1916 shtetl romance "Green Fields" to sparse adiences. Spaisman and producer David Romeo are determined to boost the house and keep the play running, but the odds are mighty long. For one thing, the troupe is performing at a venue on the Lower East Side. Once upon a time this was the hub of immigrant Jewish life, of course, but it's a major shlep from the Upper West Side and the other neighborhoods where Manhattan's Jews now reside.
From a braoder cultural perspective, it's the frenetic holiday season, and the "Green Fields" is fighting for a sliver of attention amid the crunch. The film shows the ubiquitous Christmas trees and lights, hinting at the David and Goliath battle that Folksbiene is fighting against the dominant culture. This isn't Katzir's most convincing ploy, however, for Manhattan is the last place where you can depict a Jewish Entity- albeit a Yiddish troupe- as a minority venture. Katzi uses the Hanukkah menorrah, and the metaphor of the dwindling oil that miraculously lasted eight days, to count down the days and gently build the tension as the endearing Romeo pursues last minute investors in order to extend the "Green Fields" run.
Meanwhile, the filmmaker taks us into Spaisman's daily life and shows us what the theater means to her. It represents the overriding majority of her professional career, for one thing.
Equally important, it's a concrete bridge to her roots in the Old Country and a defiant homage to her 150 family members who perished in the Holocaust.
But even more than that, the Folksbiene is what gives shape to the widowed Spaisman's hours and meaning to her days. So the documentary, by staying focused on teh personalities in the present, is a vital portrait of Jewish lives rather than an elegy for an abstract concept like the demise of Yiddish Theater. To be sure, the Yiddish songs that Katzir sprinkles on the soundtrack are the essence of melancholia. But if the idefatigable Spaisman and her fellow actors express a little frustration and a lot of disappointment, they give no voice to self pity.
One suspects that that was part of the attraction for Katzir, who narrates the film and can be heard asking questions of camera. He's typically brusque and unsetimental Israeli, which doesn't mean that he is without empathy but simply that he's more attunded to the future than the past. He mght not be the obvious candidate to make a make a documentary called: " Yiddish Theater: A Love Story", but he proves to be the right one. "
Michael Fox, Page 48, San Diego Jewish Journal, February 2007, Shevat/Adar 5767
Posted by Dan Katzir at 1:39 PM