ABSTRACT

Screen sources, such as film, television, and new media, are valuable resources for studying both the Jewish past and the present. This is, in part, because of their reliance on visual stereotypes to communicate information quickly and easily. Stereotypes are regularly repeated, simplistic, easily understood, and (often) inaccurate categorizations of a social group (Abrams et al. 2010: 365). Stereotypes in general, and Jewish ones in particular, fulfill many functions and much has been written about this especially in terms of how they perform cultural work in demonizing minority groups from the outside, and perpetuating group solidarity and continuity from the inside. Since stereotypes do not stay static and because screen media tend to rely on them, they

allow us to map and track wider changes in the society from which those texts originate. They “change because the cultural patterns on which they are based are becoming anachronistic” (Antler 1998: 256). Likewise, screen stereotypes of Jews, existing almost as long as the media themselves, have evolved, and a diachronic study of screen media allows us to map the metamorphosis of the Jew/ess and what this tells us about the societies in which they live at any given point in time. For these reasons, then, the study of Jewish film, television, and new media is a highly pro-

ductive field with its own specific histories, identities, agents, productions, production contexts, industries, and festivals. Reflecting this, university film and media courses and programs, adult education programs, film festivals, and so on, have rapidly expanded over the last few decades. To date the field of Jewish film studies can be divided into two key areas. First is the chan-

ging history and problematic nature of the representation of the Holocaust since the first documentary films and footage appeared and continuing right up to the present (Avisar 1988; Doneson 1987; Shandler 1999, Insdorf 2003; Hirsch 2004; Baron 2005; Lichtner 2008). The second field is that of the “image” of “the Jew” (Friedman 1982; Erens, 1984; Hoberman and Shandler 2003; Taub 2005; Bartov 2005). In the case of the latter, scholarship is primarily focused on the shifting formulation of US cinematic Jewishness as a response to the ongoing crisis in the construction of Jewish-American identity during the twentieth century. Furthermore, these studies are largely confined to the period before 1990. Two such important and valuable works stand out in this respect: Lester D. Friedman’s Hollywood’s Image of the Jew (1982) and Patricia Erens’ The Jew in American Cinema (1984). Taking a diachronic and chronological

approach, both books cover a vast range of cinematic representations of American Jews from the silent era to the early 1980s, but their commendable breadth of coverage is undermined by lack of detail so the analysis of each particular film is restricted. There have also been studies of the American Jewish moguls (Gabler 1988; Cohen 1983) and Hollywood and anti-Semitism (Carr 2001). More recently, these studies have been joined by existing and forthcoming publications on countries as diverse as France, Germany, Poland, Russia, the UK, Mexico, and Israel (see Baron 2011). Newer books have built upon this pioneering work, as well as having updated and expanded

it (Baron 2011; Abrams 2012a; Reznik 2012). Abrams and Reznick in particular focus on the “contemporary” period, which Abrams defines as commencing in 1990 and continuing to the present. Unlike Reznik, who restricted himself to Hollywood and American Jewish identity, Abrams took a wider and more ambitious remit than just “American Cinema” to redress the curious lack of writing on “how Jews have been depicted through cinema as a whole” (Zimerman 2002: 934; emphasis added). Certainly the US entertainment industries predominate in terms of the production and distribution of films and television programs, particularly in terms of Jewish representations; studies have tended to ignore products beyond that country. Rosenberg’s superb overview of film production and scholarly approach to it, for example, is marred only by its limitation to the United States reflecting the dominant proportion of Jewish film produced there in comparison to the rest of the world (Rosenberg 1996). To this can be added Lawrence Baron’s anthology The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema (Baron 2011). Baron assembled an ambitious collection aiming to cover more than a century of cinematic representations of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism dispersed over a wide geographical area. In addition to the twin Jewish filmmaking poles of the United States and Israel, films from the United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, Mexico, and Argentina are considered. The book also spans the history of cinema from Yiddish silents through to A Serious Man (2009) in fifty-four chapters. In so doing, Baron is to be congratulated for acknowledging that the world of Jewish cinema is in fact “global” and that there is indeed a world of cinema beyond the United States and Israel, and which is not entirely based on either anti-Semitism or the Holocaust. This global scope and context allows for comparative themes to emerge, showing how, for example, national cinemas have developed in contrast with one another and by not suggesting a simplistic model in which the United States, as the paradigmatic cinema in Jewish terms, is copied across the world. Thus the collection allows readers to compare the specificities of different Jewish cinematic experiences, at varying points in the twentieth century, in one volume for the first time. A series of political, sociological, and economic changes, which the above books cover, led to

the appearance of more Jews on global screens than ever before, as these new Jewish identities were increasingly mapped onto cinematic, televisual, and other representations. Jews increasingly felt confident and comfortable. They were wealthier, more middle class, better educated, both in secular and Jewish terms, and more integrated into their countries of origin. They no longer saw themselves as immigrants, or had to fight for their rights, and were appointed to high level positions in most areas of public life. The growth of multiculturalism and cultural pluralism encouraged Jews to not only maintain, but also to exhibit pride in their ethnic identities. They began to define their Jewishness in different ways to those of their parents and grandparents, no longer feeling that they are “in the Diaspora” but rather that they are “at home” (Aviv and Shneer 2005). They are increasingly “post-denominational,” rejecting institutional and communal norms in favor of something more fluid, labile, and spiritually and intellectually fulfilling. Their middle-class backgrounds, film-school training and access to national and international financial support assisted them.