Bridge of Light

Hoberman’s well-illustrated encyclopedic survey divides Yiddish cinematic history into five periods. The first, is centered in czarist Russia, where films relied heavily on the Yiddish stage. Many movies were adapted from plays, and some actually recorded theatrical productions. After the Russian Revolution the Soviet Union remained an important source of Yiddish films, which increasingly endorsed Communist ideology.

Austria and Poland also began making Yiddish movies in the postwar era. In all three countries producers drew heavily on novelists like Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Babel to present the conflict between traditional values and modernism. This seconds phase of Yiddish film incorporated the artistic vogues of the time, such as Symbolism and Futurism.

Throughout, Hoberman notes how political developments affected Yiddish filmmaking. Stalin’s policies discouraged Yiddish cinema, so that by 1929 America had become the major producer, especially of Yiddish talkies. This third phase, which lasted into the mid-1930’s, yielded many films, but in quality they do not rival those that appeared in the fourth, Golden Age of Yiddish cinema. New York and Warsaw created such classics as DER DIBEK (THE DIBEK, Poland, and GRINE FELDER (GREEN FIELDS, United States, World War II ended this flowering of Yiddish culture, and the Yiddish film industry never has recovered, despite a number of attempts.

Hoberman has provided a useful account of a neglected art form and an important reference work filled with details about specific films, actors, and directors. His book contributes to the understanding of both film and twentieth century Jewish life.