Joan Micklin Silver Laurence Green - Essay

Laurence Green

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The astonishing Hester Street] by independent film maker Joan Micklin Silver is a deeply personal work, based on her own family's ethnic experiences as first generation settlers in New York. But the film derives its real strength from its deliberate understatement—nothing is forced or artificial—and the feeling of total involvement with characters and situations.

Pathos and humour are carefully balanced….

Officialdom is gently ridiculed while at the same time showing the impracticality of formal procedure when dealing with individuals….

The period atmosphere is so scrupulously accurate—from the bearded machinists wearing skull caps, sitting sewing at small tables in the garment factory, to the bustling market atmosphere of this tightly packed ghetto street flanked by tenements and lined with stalls, where the range of activity taking place varies from selling second-hand clothing to plucking chickens—that it has the effect of an animated family album.

The authenticity is further heightened by the use of black-and-white photography and by having half the dialogue spoken in Yiddish and sub-titled in English so that the film captures the true flavour of well researched documentary. (p. 34)

In short, then, this is a simple, glowing, beautifully observed film, totally devoid of sentimentality which must rank as a minor classic. (p. 35)

Laurence Green, "'Hester Street'" (© copyright Laurence Green 1976; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 22, No. 4, January, 1976, pp. 34-5.