Gertrude Berg, First Lady of Entertainment
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
Whether or not you remember Molly Goldberg, the character so warmly and slyly played by Gertrude Berg on her radio and television shows, you probably know only a fraction about the character’s creator. A sophisticated Park Avenue woman—without a Bronx tenement accent—Berg was a creative artist and entrepreneur who wrote, produced, directed and marketed her work. Director Aviva Kempner shows how the popularity of Berg’s character transcended ethnicity (www.mollygoldbergfilm.org).
Faces of Israel: A Discussion about Marriage,
State & Religion in the Jewish Homeland
Amy Beth Oppenheimer’s no-frills documentary asks questions of a wide spectrum of Israelis, from secular to Masorti, Reform to ultra-Orthodox: Should there be civil marriage in Israel? How does the chief rabbinate see its role? The organizations ITIM and Tzohar, which work with couples to make the traditional marriage ceremony flexible and innovative, want to see change, while the rabbinate bemoans a lack of funds (www.facesthemovie.com). —Susan Adler
Death in Love
The tragic consequences that befall the sons of a Holocaust survivor mother are viscerally—and erotically—portrayed in Boaz Yakin’s dialogue-rich film. There are fine performances by Josh Lucas and Lukas Haas as brilliant but damaged underachievers; Jacqueline Bisset is their beautiful, disturbed mother who, as a concentration camp inmate, had a love affair with a Nazi. Adam Brody, as a former Mormon proselytizer, adds a light touch of slick charm to this painful story (www.screenmediafilms.net). —Z.S.
Taste of Eternity: A Musical Shabbat
This liturgical Shabbat feast explores works from the 17th through 20th centuries. Part I, with Cantor Alberto Mizrahi and backed by the pitch-perfect Western Wind, hits 20 Friday- night service and Shabbat zemirot highlights—including Louis Lewandowski’s stately “L’cho Dodi” and Salomone Rossi’s “Barechu.”
On Part II, Mizrahi shares the morning service with Cantors Jacob Ben Zion Mendelson and Faith Steinsnyder in 22 selections ranging from Salomon Sulzer’s traditional “Veyehi Binso’a” to Sol Zim’s “Avinu Shebashamayim.” Even standards such as “Adon Olam” become extraordinary (www.westernwind.org).
Conversations With Chagall
Seth Weinstein’s original solo piano works, which he both composed and performed, create a dialogue between music and the art of Marc Chagall. “Conversations” compares Chagall and Elvis Presley through a fusion of classical Russian melodies, klezmer, ballads, rock, blues and gospel. The eight-part Chagall Suite weaves together the themes of Chagall’s life and paintings: hope, peace, love and reconciliation. Commissioned by Vivian and Ralph Jacobson (www.sethweinstein.com). —R.M.
Both of Rudi Wolff’s new computer-generated series are striking, vividly colored abstractions. “The Creation” is inspired by the Hebrew words of Genesis, calligraphied across the images. The graphics show physical order being brought into the universe—circles within circles that indicate internal energy shooting out beyond its bounds.
“Ten Commandments” creates a moral order: right and wrong, good and evil.
On view in New York beginning August 31 at the Yeshiva University Museum and beginning September 1 at the Union Theological Seminary (www.yumusem.org;www.utsnyc.edu).
In this age of technology, the Western Wind vocal ensemble stands out for its devotion to the art and beauty of a cappella music. “It’s the primal sound of voices singing together,” explains cofounder and countertenor William Zukof, who directs the group with cofounder and baritone Elliot Levine. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the sextet has made 19 recordings, from early American and Renaissance music to a Judaica series of 8 CDs featuring holiday and Shabbat music.
True to the mission of Western Wind to enlighten and educate the public, the Judaica project presents the finest in Jewish repertoire, focusing on high-art cantorial and choral settings rather than sing-along music. It is produced elegantly and respectfully, conducted by Matthew Lazar with narration by Leonard Nimoy, Theodore Bikel and Tovah Feldshuh.
“We have a great tradition and we want to present it in a way of which we can be proud,” says Levine.
The exquisite blend of voices offers pure and thrilling renditions of sacred texts. Unaccompanied by instruments, the soaring beauty of the music resides in the exposed voices. “There is something so vulnerable and brave about it,” Levine explains. “You’re on a tightrope, totally interdependent with other people, reacting and supporting each other.”
“Our task is to sing every note beautifully and remain attuned to others, listening and breathing together,” says Zukof.
The group has performed at venues from New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall to as far away as Japan. Its artistic and commercially successful programs are perennials on public radio. The Judaica series includes: The Passover Story; The Chanukkah Story; Chanukkah in Story and Song; Mazal Bueno: A Portrait in Song of the Spanish Jews; Birthday of the World, Parts I and II (Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur), and most recently, Taste of Eternity, A Musical Shabbat, Parts I and II. Western Wind’s next project is We Are Still Here, a recording of Holocaust music. —Rahel Musleah
Edward Zwick’s film about the Bielski brothers showed viewers another side of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe: Jews who fought the enemy and protected and saved fellow Jews in the Belarussian forests. Extras include interviews with Zwick and actors Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell about the history of the Bielskis and the making of the film. Paramount Home Entertainment. —S.A.
The Diary of Anne Frank
Despite the many film and stage productions that followed it, the original George Stevens’ production (now released as a 50th-anniversary edition) was the first to touch moviegoers. Beyond the story of the 13-year-old and her family hiding from the Nazis in an attic in Amsterdam are extras about the making of the film, which starred Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Lou Jacobi and Ed Wynn. Twentieth Century Fox (www.foxhome.com). —S.A.
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan
Adam Sandler, in the title role, is Israel’s top counter-terrorist agent, who can leap tall buildings, swim faster than a jet skier, save burning buildings by spraying hummus on the fire, and wipe out Hamas with his bare hands and feet. But the film also deals with two disputatious issues. Q: Who are the most virile super studs in the world? A: Israelis. Q: Will Arabs and Jews ever get along? A: Yes, if both sides move to Brooklyn and start doing business with each other. As the plot unfolds, Zohan fulfills his secret dream of becoming a New York hairstylist and compensates for his lack of experience by performing other personal services for his grandmotherly clients. There are not that many belly laughs, but some chuckles at the even-handed putdowns of Israelis and Palestinians. Columbia Pictures (www.sonypictures.com).
Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix), an aspiring Jewish photographer, reluctant worker in his father’s dry-cleaning business and twice-failed suicide, is torn between good-Jewish-girl Sandra Cohen, whom his parents would like him to marry, and bad-non-Jewish-girl Michelle Rausch, a new neighbor with a married lover and a load of other baggage. Director James Gray once again reveals the texture of contemporary Jewish life, as he did in his 1994 debut film, Little Odessa. The excellent cast includes Isabella Rosselini, Gwyneth Paltrow and Israeli actor Moni Moshonov. Magnolia Pictures (www.twoloversmovie.com). —Renata Polt
Having traced her family tree back to the horrors of Auschwitz, heroine Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) finds herself taking a crash course on bastardized Jewish folklore and mysticism, relying on a reluctant rabbi (Gary Oldman, who has often said he’d rather have been born Harry Goldman) to lead an interfaith exorcism against an evil dybbuk. If the idea of a Star of David medallion being wielded like Van Helsing’s crucifix delights you, then you’ll be entertained by this pop horror nugget. Otherwise, it could be the longest 87 minutes of your life. Platinum Dunes and Phantom Four (www.theunbornmovie.net). —Tom Blunt
Being Jewish in France
The relationship between France and its Jews is complicated. This two-disc set, which begins with a reenactment of the humiliation of Alfred Dreyfus, shows both the immense Jewish pride in French citizenship as well as the treacherous streak of anti-Semitism that led to the betrayal of Dreyfus and the betrayal of Jewish natives in Vichy during World War II.
The documentary by Yves Jeuland and Michal Rotman notes that 77,320 French Jews died in the Shoah, but also tells how the village of Chambon hid Jews during the war. The National Center for Jewish Film (www.jewishfilm.org). —Z.S.
Dreyfus Revisited: A Current Affair
This film works as a companion piece to Being Jewish in France. Lorraine Beitler’s 17-minute film compresses information and images taken from posters, newspapers, postcards, caricatures and photographs to flesh out how Alfred Dreyfus was unjustly convicted of treason in 1894 on the basis of false evidence and the passions that were subsequently stirred. Still-relevant issues, such as anti-Semitism, Zionism and the role of the media, are examined as well. The National Center for Jewish Film (www.jewishfilm.org). —Z.S.
Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust
Peter Bergson, a militant Palestinian Jew, came to the United States in the early 1940s to arouse America and its Jewish community to the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews. Drawing heavily on long-buried interviews with Bergson (born Hillel Kook), documentary filmmaker Pierre Sauvage chronicles Bergson’s rare triumphs but mainly his inability to break through to the don’t-make-waves mentality of the Jewish establishment, hostility of the United States State Department and the political caution of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (www.varianfry.org). —Tom Tugend
One morning a dozen elderly residents of a kibbutz in the Galilee wake up to discover they are the only ones remaining on their bankrupt kibbutz. In this humorous film by director-producer Jonathan Paz, the seniors are energized by the memories of their youthful pioneering spirit that built the kibbutz to regroup to defend the kibbutz from a takeover by a constructor. Written by Joshua Sobol.
Seven Minutes in Heaven
A psychological thriller of the first rank, the debut film by Israeli writer-director Omri Givon explores what happens to a young woman, who survives a Jerusalem bus bombing in which her fiancée is killed and whose emotional scars run even deeper than her physical ones. Transfax Film Production. Look for it in film festival across the country. —T.T.
Our Disappeared/Nuestros Desaparecidos
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Juan Mandelbaum left Argentina after the March 1976 military coup. Recently, he was drawn to investigate that terrible period after discovering that a girlfriend of his was among the 250 students who disappeared—altogether 30,000 were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Their stories are told through family interviews, home movies, photos and archival film—against the background of the events of 1976-1983. Among the heartbreaking stories are those by a survivor of a secret detention center and a woman who was only 8 months old when her parents disappeared.
On PBS September 21 at 10 P.M. (check local listings;www.pbs.org/ourdisappeared is an interactive companion Web site). —S.A.