This year, Israel unleashes two of its first zombie films. Is there some meaning behind this outbreak, other than the worldwide popularity of the genre?
On December 3, 1956, “Night of the Auk” landed on Broadway. An audacious work by Arch Oboler, the play was set aboard the first manned spaceship to return from the moon and was written in blank verse. The talent behind the production was stunning. Sidney Lumet directed, Kermit Bloomgarten (“The Diary of Anne Frank”) produced, and the play starred Christopher Plummer, Claude Rains and Dick York.
On February 13, 1948, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency announced that film director Sergei Eisenstein, “the son of a Jewish merchant,” was dead at the age of 50. Eisenstein’s father was a prosperous German Jew and his mother Russian Orthodox. Eisenstein grew up highly assimilated, though he was aware of his Jewish heritage. He was friendly with Isaac Babel, and he learned to use Yiddish slang and humor. But Eisenstein’s Judaism had always been marginal to his work as an artist. In his first feature, “Strike,” a serious propaganda film, there is humor, although it is influenced more by Charlie Chaplin than Sholom Aleichem.
The East German anti-Nazi films “The Murderers Are Among Us,” “The Gleiwitz Case,” “I Was Nineteen,” and “Naked Among Wolves” have all been released on DVD before, but now they are being released together in a box set. Naturally, the juxtaposition of the four films invites comparisons. While “Murderers” and “Gleiwitz” are interesting, “Nineteen” and “Wolves” stand out as truly exceptional. Frustratingly, nearly all of the films are scarred by Soviet ideology.
Comedy, explained Aristotle, has a vague history, because at first no one took it seriously. We cannot know for certain if Aristotle was deadpanning, but his observation would amuse Saul Austerlitz. According to Austerlitz, American film comedy has not been taken seriously, either. In fact, the author quips, it is American film’s “bastard stepchild.” With his latest book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” Austerlitz gives us a broad survey of the genre, hoping to spark debate.
On October 30, the one-man theatrical adaptation of Benny Barbash’s novel “My First Sony” premiered in Seattle with two performances, the first in Hebrew, and the second in English. Performed by Roy Horovitz, the play revolves around Yotam, a precocious 11-year-old who copes with his crumbling family life by recording every painful event on his Sony tape recorder.
“Escape,” an exciting World War II-era anti-isolationist thriller and romance, was released to great acclaim nearly 70 years ago, but for years has been difficult to get a hold of. Fortunately, the film, which anticipated “Casablanca,” snuck quietly onto DVD last April.
‘Irving was a natural-born storyteller. He had a flair for telling movie stories, and he knew about the medium — more than most writers knew.” Quite a compliment, from no less than Ben Hecht, one of Hollywood and Broadway’s greatest writers. What makes Hecht’s praise unusual is that he said it not of a fellow scribbler, but of a Hollywood studio executive.
Arch Oboler’s “This Precious Freedom” (1942) is the first film ever made about a Nazi takeover of the United States. It was suppressed by its producer, an automaking company better known today for financial than moral bankruptcy: General Motors Corp.