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Yiddish Cinema. Depiction of life in the “Big City”. Maurice Schwartz (1889-1960). Born in Ukraine, died in Israel. American Yiddish actor, scriptwriter, director, and producer. Founder of the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York.

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Yiddish cinema

Yiddish Cinema

Depiction of life in the “Big City”

Maurice schwartz 1889 1960
Maurice Schwartz (1889-1960)

  • Born in Ukraine, died in Israel.

  • American Yiddish actor, scriptwriter, director, and producer.

  • Founder of the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York.

  • Played in countless theatrical productions in Yiddish and English, and in over twenty films, including Uncle Moses.

  • “The best of all Yiddish actors” (in the USA).

Uncle moses 1932
Uncle Moses (1932)

  • Made in the USA.

  • First important Yiddish sound film in America.

  • Based on a novel by a Polish-American Yiddish writer, starring a Polish-American actor.

  • Polish-American Yiddish background and themes.

Uncle moses
Uncle Moses

  • What meanings does the name of the title character create in the film?

  • What themes does the film tackle?

  • How is the conflict of the “old” and the “new” worlds is presented?

  • What role does the music play?

Yiddish cinema in poland
Yiddish Cinema in Poland

  • First Yiddish (silent) films produced in 1911. Ex., The Cruel Father (Der vilder Foter, dir. Andrzej Marek).

  • About 10 films made in 1911-12.

  • The first sound Yiddish film, For Sins (At Chejt, dir.Aleksander Marten) produced in 1936.

Yiddish cinema in poland1
Yiddish Cinema in Poland

  • Several production companies.

  • Polish-American cooperation (ex., Joseph Green, director/producer).

  • Intended for international public (Yiddish speakers regardless of geographic location).

Yiddish cinema in poland2
Yiddish Cinema in Poland

  • Ups and downs in the 1920s-early 1930s (due to political and technological changes).

  • Input by Polish and German filmmakers.

  • Documentaries (ex., Sabra, dir. Aleksander Ford, 1932).

  • “The golden age” from 1936 to 1939.

Yiddish cinema in poland3
Yiddish Cinema in Poland


  • Conflict of old and new values and/or generations;

  • Life in a shtetl;

  • Love; religion; traditional beliefs.


  • Musical comedy

  • Melodrama

  • Tragedy

  • Documentary

    Aesthetic sources:

  • Theatre

  • Yiddish literature

  • Yiddish folklore

  • Klezmer music

  • European culture

Mamele 1938
Mamele (1938)

  • Musical comedy.

  • Adaptation of a play by Meyer Schwartz that was a hit on Second Avenue in New York.

  • Polish-American co-production.

  • Directed by Joseph Green and Konrad Tom.

  • Starring Molly Picon.

Molly picon 1898 1992
Molly Picon (1898-1992)

  • American theatre and film star.

  • Had talent for singing, dancing, and acrobatics.

  • In the 1930-s, had a Broadway theatre of her name.

  • Specialized in roles of tomboys.

Joseph green yoysef grinberg 1900 1996
Joseph Green(Yoysef Grinberg, 1900-1996)

  • Polish-born American actor, film director, script-writer, producer.

  • Studied and worked in Europe until 1925, when he moved to America.

  • While in Hollywood, conceived the idea of making Yiddish talking films.

  • Bought Yiddish-film rights in America and brought them to Poland.

  • “Father of the Golden Age” of Yiddish cinema

Joseph green s principles of filmmaking
Joseph Green’sprinciples of filmmaking

  • Technical perfection and high quality of production;

  • High standards of acting;

  • The subject: Jewish yet universal;

  • Avoidance of stereotypes;

  • Purity of Yiddish language;

  • Elements of folklore and ethnography;

  • Authenticity of setting;

  • Humour and music.


  • Made on the brink of World War II.

  • Shows the “Atlantis” of Polish Jewry before its disappearance.

  • The setting shifted from New York to Lodz(Poland). Local “flavour.”

  • Attempts of using modern cinematic techniques (ex., overlapping images).


  • Urban setting;

  • Modern way of living: gentile clothes, young men without beard, uncovered married women;

  • Universal subject;

  • Influence of Hollywood musical comedies.


  • Cinderella story;

  • Yiddish cultural “flavour.”

  • The place of women in traditional culture.

  • Satirical take on idling men.

  • Strong women.


  • Social problems: strikes, unemployment, gangsters.

  • Tradition and modernity: prayer replaced with games; a religious holiday vs nightclubs.