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Sholem Aleichem: Laughing In The Darkness 2012
Description: A riveting portrait of the nice writer whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness says the tale of the rebellious genius who created an entirely fresh literature. Plumbing the depths of a Jewish globe locked in crisis and on the cusp of profound change, he captured that globe with brilliant humor. Sholem Aleichem was not just a witness to the creation of a fresh modern Jewish identity, but one of the very boys who forged it.
Released: 08 Jul 2011 Director: Joseph Dorman Writers: Joseph Dorman Actors: Rachel Dratch, Hillel Halkin, Jason Kravits, Dan Miron Genres: Documentary
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Sholem Aleichem: Laughing In The Darkness Reviews:

Greetings again from the darkness. Typically a documentary on an individual is either presented as a look back at their life or an observation of their lasting impact. Director Joseph Dorman provides both of these PLUS critical reviews and analysis of the writings of Sholem Aleichem, the writer whose work inspired Fiddler on the Roof. It is an absorbing look at who most would consider to be the most popular Yiddish writer and humorist. His work really bridged the gap between the old globe Jews and the rapidly changing and evolving modernists from the turn of the 20th century.At times the movie plays like a classroom presentation for 8th graders in Globe History, but look closer and you'll see many fascinating, rare photographs and video. There is even one bit of audio featuring Aleichem himself reading his own words. Mostly we receive Alan Rosenberg as the narrator and Peter Riegert as the voice of the readings.What makes this enthralling, interesting and educational are the terrific interviews with Yiddish experts, and the on camera presence of creator Bel Kaufman, Aleichem's granddaughter. There is no fluff or filler here. These folks deliever true insight and analysis and perspective on his life and writings. The image montage of the funeral procession with 200,000 Fresh Yorkers is a sight to behold.Maybe you have read the original literary work "Tevye the Dairyman". Perhaps you have seen the 1939 movie Tevye. Maybe you were fortunate enough to have seen the original Broadway run of "Fiddler on the Roof". Most likely you have seen the 1971 movie musical with the nice Topol as Tevye. This movie points out that the words and message of Aleichem have been twisted and shifted over the years, but there is no questioning the lasting impact and his determination to document ... Tradition!


I first became acquainted - I don't know how - with the stories of Sholem Aleichem 50 years ago, when I was a teenager growing up in Milwaukee. After this film got a nice review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer - I wasn't able to drive up to see it - I tried to receive it on DVD, which has taken almost two years. Worth the wait. A very well-done documentary about the life of this creator of short stories and, evidently, novels.The one thing I want it had explored in greater feature was the nature of Yiddish literature before SA begins to write in that vernacular. Yes, Eastern European Jews all spoke Yiddish. But how many of them should read it? Of course, young Jewish men learned to read enough Hebrew to go through their barmitzvah, but did that familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet plus a familiarity with spoken Yiddish enable them to read Yiddish? How much of a written language had Yiddish been before SA started to write in it? That is not a fault with the movie, which I strongly recommend, just a question that struck me.


This biography and discussion of the work of Sholom Aleichem is very well made. However, you can say that the filmmaker assumed that only Jewish folks would wish to watch the documentary, as MANY of the people being interviewed talk about Jewish traditions or test Yiddish words that a non-Jewish audience would very possibly not understand. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and so I know about sitting shiva, shabbat and words like goyim and shtetl. But it seemed very strange that the movie did not explain these things (and much more). In fact, there are probably many Jewish folks who have lost contact with their Jewishness who don't understand everything these experts say. It's a shame, as Gentile audiences would benefit from learning about Sholem Aleichem as well--especially since "Fiddler on the Roof" (made up of different stories by Aleichem and starring his hero 'Tevya') was a hugely famous movie embraced by a wide audience, not just Jews. It's really a shame, as the documentary was otherwise exceptionally well made and interesting. Because of this, I give it a qualified recommendation.



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