Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, October 14th, 2011
Run Time: 93 minutes, Not Rated
Written & Directed by Joseph Dorman (Arguing the World)
“Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” is a feature-length documentary on the great Jewish author, Solomon Rabinovich, who’s pen name was Sholem Aleichem. He is best known to non-Jewish audiences as being associated with the famous musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” as his writings were the basis of the play. But as this documentary shows, he was much more than a popular playwright. Sholem Aleichem helped shape the modern Jewish culture and was a voice of a generation.
The documentary is told straight-forward enough, and is definitely an educational experience…I am by no means a scholar of Jewish history or culture. Amazing restored footage from the turn of the 1900s accompanies several photos shaping this bio-doc. As a poor Jewish kid living in poverty, Sholem’s story parallels that of many Jews in Europe, making his rise in stature even that more remarkable. As we learn about his upbringing, we learn about an important revolution in World history, ground work being laid in what would become a new way of thinking.
Part of his legacy, is his use of the Yiddish language in his writing…before that, the language had been more of a common-person’s language. This made his work instantly relatable, but also controversial, as this was a less “formal” use of words.
He was a humorist, making slight observations of modern-day Jewish life, and musing on a wide range of subjects important to his generation of Jews. His humor and style is evident in comedy over the past 2 centuries, from Jack Benny and George Burns to Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. More than that, his story and the story of the Jewish people that we learn about here is not limited to Jews...nearly every civilization throughout history has experienced some sort of cultural revolution, making the film relatable to Jews and non-Jews alike.
That being said, to non-Jews, “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” plays as an immersive and important history lesson…a portion of history and a story of a man who helped forge a new way of life. To those that are Jewish, I would suspect this film will mean even more…it is a story that likely represents their own story, and that of their ancestors.
NOTE: The filmmaker has ties to Michigan, having grown up in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from Cranbrook School.
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