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Movie Review: Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Alternate Title: Tradition, Tradition!

Story: If I were a rich man (you know the rest) was from the pen of Sholem Aleichem, whose actual words were, If I were a Rothschild, but were updated by lyricist, Sheldon Harnick for the vastly popular play and movie, 'Fiddler on the Roof.' . This is just one gem of information gleaned from the very absorbing and entertaining new documentary by writer and director, Joseph Dorman.

The film explores the life of Sholem Aleichem, born Soloman Rabinovotz, in a shtetl in Czarist Russia in 1859. How he single handedly established a new literature, using the Yiddish language, and became world famous with his singular genius.

It was thrilling to see old photographs from those shtetls in Russia. When I was a kid, my grandfather would regale us with tales of how his mother hid him in a trunk so that the scimitar wielding cossacks would not kill him. And here in this film, we saw photos of just such massacres during these pogroms. It was chilling.

We follow the rags to riches to rags to riches life of Sholem Aleichem which parallel the ups and downs of European Jewry. The talking heads bring to life his words, their meaning and the importance of his stories to a people in trouble. When he died, he happened to be in NYC and over 200,000 people came to the funeral march. It was one of the first time that the idea of Jews as a political force was noticed. He brought a besieged people together and he should be remembered.

Will this play in Peoria? Does Peoria have Jews? Then it will do just fine. I hope this rich film gathers steam and the word is spread. We really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it to all. It couldn't hurt! So go ---

Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnkEhXG2wek

I think that Sholem Aleichem would have laughed as hard as I did when Michelle Bachman mangled the pronunciation of the Yiddish word 'chutzpah' this week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZhMUj808xo

Enjoy Zero Mostel singing If I were a rich man..


Acting: There is no acting because it is a documentary but the talking heads were wonderful including: Bel Kaufamn (see trivia below), Sheldon Harnick, Aaron Lansky, Mendy Cahan and Ruth Wisse.

Predilection: I like documentaries.

Trivia: Sholem Aleichem was often referred to as the "Jewish Mark Twain" because of the two authors' similar writing styles and use of pen names. Both authors wrote for adults and children, and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. When Twain heard the writer called "the Jewish Mark Twain," he replied "please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem."

Bel Kaufman (Up the Down Staircase) is the grand-daughter of Sholem Aleichem. At 100 she was interviewed by the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/12/nyregion/bel-kaufman-at-100-still-a-teacher-and-a-jokester.html

Opening Titles: A clip from Fiddler on the Roof and then the title.

Visual Art: Wonderful vintage film and photos throughout.

Theater Audience: Fairly crowded for an early show. I am willing to bet that the crowd was 100% Jewish. There was a long line for the next showing.

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: Anti-semitism is very squirmy.

Drift Factor: I paid attention throughout.

Predictability Level: I learned a lot and had several surprises.

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: no

Big Screen or Rental: If you can find it on the big screen go for it.

Length: 90 minutes