Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film: "A yingl mit a yingl hot epes a tam?"

Like the Jewish punks I mentioned in my last post, Jewish lesbians and gays have a similar set of challenges in defining themselves on their own terms and redefining the terms of the larger society. Eve Sicular, drummer/bandleader of Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos, presented "The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film: "A yingl mit a yingl hot epes a tam?" Lesbian & Gay Subtext from a Cinema of Diaspora" at at Haverford College today, April 28, 2010. I wasn't there, though I wish I could have been. Even having missed the presentation, I wanted to make sure I got the word out about it. The richness of the Jewish community is lessened by not having all the stories told, and Sicular is doing a great job telling this story. And it's a story that wraps around and through the Jewish music tradition, not just in the form of Sicular's Isle of Klezbos band, but in the form of a long list of contemporary and historic Jewish musicians and music. As Sicular describes in the abstract for her presentation....

"Despite the taboo surrounding homosexuality, the topic was too intriguing to be left entirely out of the Yiddish picture. An exploration of lesbian & gay subtext in Yiddish cinema during its heyday, from the 1920's to the outbreak of World War II, reveals distinctly Jewish concerns of the time intertwined with a striking array of allusions to this highly-charged subject. From musical comedies such as YIDL MITN FIDL (Yidl With His Fiddle) and AMERIKANER SHADKHN (American Matchmaker) to classic dramas DER DIBUK (The Dybbuk) and DER VILNER SHTOT-KHAZN (Overture To Glory), queerness reached the screen in various guises, emerging as an alternate take on themes of conflicted identity, passing and same-sex attachments. Discussion of these and other gems of the Yiddish screen, as well as such features as RADIO DAYS, COLONEL REDL, CROSSFIRE, and GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, will be accompanied by clips from selected films and period home movies."To give us all a taste of what the full lecture covers, Sicular sent me the following video....
"Metropolitan Klezmer's "Yiddish Celluloid Closet" version of Muzikalisher Tango. Live band footage intercuts with pivotal revelatory moments in the nightclub scene of Yiddish screwball comedy "American Matchmaker" [Americaner Schadchen, 1940]. This bittersweet lyric from the film is revealed to have a coming-out subtext, and while onscreen text elucidates some of the film's wordplay and plot twists, the band plays fabulous horn section and accordion solos in the octet's arrangement of the same song. Leo Fuchs plays dapper closet case Nat Gold in the original soundtrack version, meeting his matchmaking client (Judith Abarbanel) at a swank New York nightclub. Director Edgar Ulmer and his cast enjoy plenty of onscreen in-jokes, even feygele triple entendres. The "musical" tango can be enjoyed on many levels... an homage to Vito Russo's original 'Celluloid Closet.' [Note -- Fuchs was known as the 'Yiddish Fred Astaire'... a different spin on the Hollywood formula.]"
Metropolitan Klezmer Muzikalisher Tango
Yiddish Celluloid Closet

If you're in NYC next week, be sure to stop by for Sicular's show, "Music from Yiddish Celluloid" at the 92nd Street Y (NYC) on May 7, from 2pm - 3pm in the Warburg Lounge.

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