The Best Jewish Director You've Never Heard Of

Considering the Unjust Obscurity of Michael Roemer

Camera Obscura: The common thread of all of Michael Roemer’s scripts is a quintessential American theme — family dysfunction.
Harold Shapiro
Camera Obscura: The common thread of all of Michael Roemer’s scripts is a quintessential American theme — family dysfunction.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Published January 31, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I’ve seen only two features written and directed by Michael Roemer — “Nothing But a Man” (1964), restored by the Library of Congress and “The Plot Against Harry” (made between 1966 and 1968, but released only in 1989 and recently revived at New York’s Film Forum ). Either of these would suffice to make him a major American filmmaker.

And two other Roemer scripts I’ve read — one of which he managed to film (“Pilgrim, Farewell,” 1982), the other of which he hasn’t (“Stone My Heart” — undated, but apparently from the late ‘60s and/or early ‘70s) — show equivalent amounts of conviction, originality, density and courage. But there’s a fair chance you’ve still never heard of him. And I think one of the reasons why could be that he’s a man who knows too much.

What do I mean by this? Partly that these films are politically incorrect, meaning that they all grapple with life while posing diverse challenges to people who think mainly in established and unexamined political and ethnic categories. Partly also that in filmmaking we often confuse advertising and hustling with other kinds of talent — most obviously when it comes to the Oscars, but also when it comes to how we categorize and package various achievements.

Some filmmakers tell us more than we know how to process and cope with, unlike Hollywood fantasies that, by design, are much easier to consume.

And apart from being a bit of a pessimist, Roemer is a fanatical believer in research. For “Nothing But a Man,” he traveled extensively through the Deep South during the height of the civil rights movement, staying with black families; and for “The Plot Against Harry,” a comedy about a Jewish gangster based in the Bronx, he spent a year working as a caterer’s assistant at bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings and following an attorney around Manhattan law courts to investigate the numbers racket.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.