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Many Hands Make Light Work; Or, Changing Our Exhibits

Posted on June 26th, 2015 by

The Amazing Mendes Cohen closed on June 14th, and Cinema Judaica opens on July 1st. In between, while one exhibit comes down and the other goes up, our visitors have one less gallery to see.

Authorized personnel only, please!

Authorized personnel only, please!

Let’s lift that veil of secrecy* for a moment, and reveal a little of the behind-closed-doors work of  changing out an exhibit. Alas, no magic wands or helpful elves are involved; all the dismantling, painting, fabrication, artifact prep, and label writing requires the work of many hands.

Eight of the dozen or more people who helped take down Mendes in a single day.

Eight of the dozen or more people who helped take down Mendes in a single day.

Some exhibitions are straightforward, and easy to plan far in advance. Others require a little more on-the-spot decision making. The traveling Cinema Judaica exhibit was created by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from the extensive collections of Ken Sutak. HUC-JIR sends out an assortment of posters, depending on what’s available at any given time, and the borrowing museum can choose the titles (and poster sizes) that will best suit their plans and their gallery. Unfortunately, in this case the posters couldn’t arrive at the JMM more than a few weeks before the exhibit opened. When they arrived, Intern Kaleigh and I had fun opening up the boxes, discovering which posters had been sent, and starting on the condition reports. . . then the planning had to begin in earnest.

After making an initial cull of the poster options – and keeping in mind the images coming from other lenders – I wrote up a list and recruited three of our summer interns to help plan the exhibit layout in situ, using stand-in handwritten notes taped to the walls. After the first round, we ran out of room: still too many posters! It was decision time. Do we like Kirk Douglas better in “The Juggler” or in “Cast a Giant Shadow”? Was there room for all six versions of “The Ten Commandments” posters? (Answer: no.)  Could I get all five George Sanders movies on the walls? (Answer: yes.) Which large images would look best on the high-visibility walls, and which smaller items were less impactful? Once those questions were sorted, we started hanging up the real things.

Planning potential layouts.

Planning potential layouts.

Thankfully, this is where my skills and labor were less needed. I like hanging pictures, and I pride myself on doing a good job – but a gallery of this size, with over 50 items to hang, requires more than just a tape measure, a hammer, and my ‘eye’ for spacing.  We called in our expert consultants (courtesy of Mark Ward and his team) who have been working hard to prepare the posters, hang them securely and evenly, and generally ensure our exhibit looks as fantastic as possible.

Mat cutting! Laser levels!

Mat cutting! Laser levels!

Things are coming together nicely; we’re not there yet – but hey, we have until Wednesday morning, when the “no entry” signs come down.  Meanwhile, you can prepare for the opening of Cinema Judaica by spending the weekend watching your favorite old movies (might I suggest a personal favorite, “Foreign Correspondent”?), then visit us next week when the Feldman Gallery doors are open wide once again!

Installing "The Ten Commandments."

Installing “The Ten Commandments.”

*Since the work is frequently rather loud, and there’s no way to sneak all the artifacts and labels and equipment into the room without going through the lobby, it’s not really all that secret a process; many visitors get their own, in-person behind-the-scenes look – if they happen to visit at the right moment. We’ve also featured the exhibit installation process many times on the blog, such as here, here, and here.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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JMM Insights: The Silver Screen

Posted on March 20th, 2015 by

Oscar season may be over but we’ve still got movies on our mind here at the JMM. Beginning this spring with our partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival to a new summer exhibition, the silver screen is making a big appearance here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

 

Herbert M. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration

First off, we are pleased to announce the Ninth Annual Herbert M. and Irma B. Risch Memorial Program on Immigration which will be presented in special partnership with the William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival (which begins this Sunday, March 22nd – see below for more details).  This year’s Risch program includes the Maryland Premiere of the film Stateless and a talk with the film’s director Michael Drob.

Stateless

Stateless

In the late 1980’s, on the brink of the collapse of the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Soviet Jews were finally allowed to leave the USSR. What these people did not expect was that their final destination, America, no longer welcomed them with open arms. In 1988, American policy suddenly changed and thousands of Soviet Jews were stranded in Italy.

Stateless relies on firsthand accounts from these émigrés, exploring the difficulty of deciding to leave, the discrimination faced, and the consequences of both.

The film and talk will be held on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 3:00pm. Tickets can be purchased HERE.

Support for the Risch Memorial Program is provided by Frank and Helen Risch through the Risch Memorial Endowment Fund at THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

You can read a little about last year’s Risch program here.
Baltimore Jewish Film Festival
This weekend marks the opening of the William and Irene Weinberg Family’s 27th annual Baltimore Jewish Film Festival! This year’s festival includes eleven films from six different countries. As described in the Jewish Times: Themes this year, both meaty and provocative, tackle Israeli/Palestinian relations and delve into modern Israeli culture … and explore the Holocaust and its aftermath. Several evenings feature after-film question-and-answer sessions with guest speakers and filmmakers [read more from this article.]

With such a diverse slate of films, there is sure to be something for everyone.  The festival begins March 22 and runs through April 28th. You can view trailers for each film and get the whole schedule for the festival over at their website HERE. All films will be screened at the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue, Owings Mills, MD 21117. Contact Danielle Feinstein at dfeinstein@jcc.org / 410.500.5909

Still from Run Boy Run, screening April 20th at 7:30pm.

Still from Run Boy Run, screening April 20th at 7:30pm.

Cinema Judaica

catalog cover 400dpi no author

Cinema Judaica catalog

We are thrilled to announce our next exhibit: Cinema Judaica, opening on July 1, 2015. Cinema Judaica was created by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. This is an unprecedented exhibit of iconic Hollywood film posters and memorabilia from 1939 to 1971 and contains more than 100 original motion picture posters, movie stills and trade announcements. The exhibit highlights the connections between American Jews and the motion picture industry as well as how films from this time period shaped public opinion issues of importance to the Jewish community such as World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel.

Our program staff has been working hard to organize a dynamic and engaging series of related programming. As part of the opening festivities we welcome exhibit curator Ken Sutak, who will be speaking on the evening of July 2nd. Later in July we will host historian Amy Davis, who will speak on the historic movie houses of Baltimore, many of which were owned by Jewish families. In August we will present “Cinema Sundays on the Backlot,” an outdoor film series here at the Museum, located in our “backlot” i.e. our fabulous parking lot. These film showings will be free to the public.

Help Us “Make It Maryland!”
In addition to the movie posters and advertisements that make up the Cinema Judaica exhibit borrowed from Hebrew Union College, the JMM will add material that explores how Maryland Jews experienced Hollywood movies from this time period. The experience of going to the movies is as much a part of this exhibit as the movies themselves, and we’d love to include your memories and stories.

small 4 Gentlemans Agreement

Movie poster

Do you remember watching “Gentleman’s Agreement” or “Ben-Hur” when they first came out?  Visiting your favorite neighborhood movie theater every week? Discussing “Son of Liberty,” “The Search,” or “Exodus” with your family, friends, or youth group?  If you are interested in sharing your stories and related memorabilia, please contact Joanna Church, Collections Manager, at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org or 410-732-6400 x226.

Cinema Judaica will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from July 1 to September 6, 2015

 

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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.

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