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!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • 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.