Semitic Cinematics: An Intern’s Discoveries at the JMM

Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by

Hello! Ben Israel here. This winter, I am the Collections intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, but I have another responsibility as well… I am conducting research on a new exhibit coming to the museum this summer called “Cinema Judaica.”

Caption: The cover of the companion book to the exhibit. Some of the films featured on the cover, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy were shown in Baltimore. Image courtesy of ccarnet.org.

The cover of the companion book to the exhibit. Some of the films featured on the cover, like Confessions of a Nazi Spy were shown in Baltimore. Image courtesy of ccarnet.org.

“Cinema Judaica” is a traveling exhibit that sheds light on how public perceptions of Jewish issues, from American isolationism in World War II to the State of Israel, were impacted by Hollywood movies. So, you might ask, why are you conducting research if the exhibit is already put together? Good question. My job is to connect the films detailed in this exhibit with Jewish life in Maryland.

Here are ads in the Jewish times for Anatole Litvak's Confessions of a Nazi Spy (from the BJT 5/26/39 issue, p. 18, vol. 40) and Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (from the BJT 11/2/40 issue, p. 18, vol. 43). Both films were controversial as they challenged ideas about American isolationism.

Here are ads in the Jewish times for Anatole Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy (from the BJT 5/26/39 issue, p. 18, vol. 40) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (from the BJT 11/2/40 issue, p. 18, vol. 43). Both films were controversial as they challenged ideas about American isolationism.

One of the primary sources I have been using is the Baltimore Jewish Times. Luckily for me, the JMM has bound copies of nearly every issue of the newspaper from the 1920s to the present day. I’ve been flipping through these old papers looking for anything I can find that relates to the exhibit. The research is slow going. By the time you read this I will likely have gotten up to the end of WWII. It’s a lot tougher than you might think too. My main problem is that I have three levels of constraint in what I am looking for:

1. Articles and advertisements should relate to Hollywood films.

2. Articles and advertisements should relate to Baltimore, or the greater Maryland area.

3. Articles and advertisements should focus on Jewish reaction to films or highlight Jewish issues.

Even in a Maryland-based Jewish newspaper, this is a very limiting scope when searching for information. Thankfully, I have learned some things about Jewish Maryland, and its reactions to Hollywood. One of the most prominent was the existence of the Schanze (later, the Cinema) theater at 2426 Pennsylvania Ave.

An image of the Schanze/Cinema theater today. You can still clearly see the decorative facade. Image courtesy of Kilduffs.

An image of the Schanze/Cinema theater today. You can still clearly see the decorative facade. Image courtesy of Kilduffs.

From what I have come to understand, this theater was a bastion of Yiddish cinema at a time when Jewish films were a relative rarity because of the emphasis on isolationism.

Ads for the films Kol Nidre (from the BJT 10/13/39 issue, p. 19, vol. 41), a lively Yiddish musical, and The Jolly Matchmaker (from the BJT 2/6/42 issue, p. 18, vol. 45), a Yiddish comedy. Except for Yiddish films like these, portrayal of Jews in Hollywood films of the period was uncommon.

Ads for the films Kol Nidre (from the BJT 10/13/39 issue, p. 19, vol. 41), a lively Yiddish musical, and The Jolly Matchmaker (from the BJT 2/6/42 issue, p. 18, vol. 45), a Yiddish comedy. Except for Yiddish films like these, portrayal of Jews in Hollywood films of the period was uncommon.

The theater is also notable for another reason. Soviet film buffs (like myself) will be pleased to learn that the Baltimore premieres of both Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Grigori Aleksandrov’s Volga-Volga, sometimes said to be Stalin’s favorite film. occurred at the Schanze/Cinema theater.

Ads for the drama, Alexander Nevsky (from the BJT 9/5/41 issue, p. 19, vol. 44) and the musical comedy Volga-Volga (from the BJT 11/7/41 issue, p.19, vol. 45). Both films were popular in the Soviet Union.

Ads for the drama, Alexander Nevsky (from the BJT 9/5/41 issue, p. 19, vol. 44) and the musical comedy Volga-Volga (from the BJT 11/7/41 issue, p.19, vol. 45). Both films were popular in the Soviet Union.

Volga-Volga is of particular note as it was incredibly unusual for a Stalinist musical comedy to reach American soil, let alone at a time before the two countries were officially allied against the Axis. One must wonder why the owners of the Schanze/Cinema chose to present these particular films, but that is work for another research project…

I adore film history, and this opportunity to look into local Maryland film history has been very enlightening. At this point in time, I have no idea how my research will be incorporated into the final exhibit. I can only hope that when you come to see “Cinema Judaica” this summer, you will find the subject matter as engaging as I have.

Ben IsraelThis is Ben Israel, signing off.

You can read more posts from JMM interns HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Once Upon a Time…06.13.2014

Posted on February 17th, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

2011029141Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  June 13, 2014

PastPerfect Accession #:  2011.029.141

Status:  Partially Identified! An unidentified event at Levindale Hebrew Hospital. Left to Right: 1. Unidentified 2. Betty Waghelstein 3. unidentified 4. Stan Alliker

Special Thanks To: Rachel Kramer

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Once Upon a Time…06.06.2014

Posted on February 10th, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

2011078059Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  June 6, 2014

 

PastPerfect Accession #:  2011.078.059

 

Status:  Unidentified! Do you recognize anyone in this Beth Shalom Congregation (Carroll County) Hebrew School Class Vav-Zeyn, 2007?

 

 

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




« Previous PageNext Page »