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!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • 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.