TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT September 1989

THE CROOKED ROAD OF JEWISH LUCK

SOME MODERNISMS ARE MORE modern than others: the delay with which “advanced” esthetic ideas penetrated the Czar’s frozen empire only heightened the passion with which Russian artists rushed to embrace them. The years immediately preceding and following the October Revolution saw movements that had taken half a century to unfold in the West replayed in Moscow and Petrograd (and even Vitebsk) with a stunning compression—as in a Futurist movie based on time-lapse photography.

Doubly isolated and oppressed, Russian Jews were the yeast in this cultural ferment, particularly after 1917. But while Russia’s leading exhibition group of the early teens, the painters known as the “Knave of Diamonds,” split into rival camps of folk-nativists and cosmopolitan “Cézannists,” Yiddish modernism was defined by the struggle to integrate these two tendencies. “Our first imprimatur is our modernism, our leftism, and our youth. Our second imprimatur is our orientation towards the people, our traditions, and our old age,” the critic Abram Efros proclaimed in his 1918 essay “Aladdin’s Lamp.”1 Such active ambivalence gave Yiddish modernism its particular incandescence. This striking out on two apparently contradictory paths, with the violent superimposition of one religion upon another, had its equivalent in the political sphere as well. In his story “The Rabbi’s Son,” Isaac Babel catalogues a dying revolutionary’s “hodgepodge” of belongings:

The portraits of Lenin and Maimonides were neighbors—the gnarled iron of Lenin’s skull and the dim silkiness of Maimonides’ picture. A lock of woman’s hair marked a page in a bound volume of the Resolutions of the Sixth Party Congress, and crooked lines of Hebrew verse were crowded into the margins of political pamphlets.2

Among the Jewish artists that Efros’ manifesto spoke for (and whose conflicts Babel’s passage evokes) were the painters Nathan Altman (born 1889), Marc Chagall (born 1887), Robert Falk (born 1886), and, briefly, El Lissitzky (born 1890). The composers Lev Pulver (born 1883), Alexander Krein (born 1883), and Moshe Milner (born 1882) created analogous work, as did a wide range of poets and writers, from the arcane symbolist Der Nister (born 1884) to the peripatetic cabaret director and “performance artist” Moshe Broderzon (born 1890). Painters Boris Aronson (born 1898) and Isaacher Ber Ryback (born 1897) were among the younger members of the school. The most important theorist was Efros, but the citadel of Yiddish modernism—an institution bringing together a number of disparate talents—was the Moscow Jewish State Theater, or the GOSET, founded and, until 1928, directed by Alexander Granovsky (1890–1937).

Most of these men were futurists—at least in its “everyday meaning,” defined by Altman in a 1918 manifesto as encompassing “all leftist tendencies in art.”3 Still, their interests mirrored the fascination with ancient icons, peasant crafts, and the art of children that characterized the Russian avant-garde between 1908 and 1912:

While the western European artists were discovering the masks and fetishes of Africa and Oceania, the Russians, followed by the Jews, found their need for the “primitive” and their search for pure form led to their own unexplored past. Ethnology, anthropology, folklore, and esthetics went hand in hand in exalting the artifact which a few short years earlier would have been discounted as unworthy of artistic or cultural attention.4

For Jewish artists in particular, such neoprimitivism was as fraught with political implications as cubofuturism. The preservationist impulse valorized a popular folk tradition in addition (or even in opposition) to the high culture of Hebrew clericalism.

In this context, a generative event in Yiddish modernism was the 1911–14 expedition headed by the former social revolutionary S. Anski for the Jewish Historic-Ethnographic Society of Saint Petersburg. Armed with cameras and recording equipment, Anski and his associates plumbed the tiny hamlets of Belorussia and the Ukraine, transcribing stories and legends, noting spells and remedies, collecting songs and proverbs, photographing old synagogues, historic places, and gravestones, purchasing ceremonial objects, jewelry, clothing, and all manner of antiquities. This material became the core of the Jewish Ethnographic Museum, established in Petrograd in 1916. The fruits of Anski’s research also included Der Dibuk (The Dybbuk), the poetic drama of possession and exorcism he wrote in 1914 and which, after its premiere five years later, was to become the single most important text of the modern Yiddish theater.

In January 1918, the Bolshevik regime gave Jewish nationality legal status. Later that year, the Communist Party formed the Yevsektsia (Jewish section) to implement policy and orchestrate propaganda. For the first time in history, Yiddish became the language of an official culture. The heavy concentration of Jews in the Ukraine and Belorussia, where a Yiddish inscription appeared on the state coat of arms, was particularly conducive to the creation of Yiddish schools, publishing houses, and cultural institutions. The combination of Red blandishments, White atrocities, and the vacuum left by the departed Russian intelligentsia created unprecedented opportunities for Jews in the new order. In Vitebsk, Chagall was appointed commissar of art; in Petrograd, where Commissar Altman (designer of the first Soviet postage stamp) was directing the reenacted storming of the Winter Palace, Granovsky was authorized to form a revolutionary Yiddish theater.

Initially, the cosmopolitan Granovsky—a former student of Max Reinhardt—conceived of his theater as Yiddish in form but universal in content: “The Yiddish Theater,” he wrote, “is first of all a theater, a temple of shining art. . . . The functions of this theater are those of a world theater and only in its language . . . differs from other theaters.”5 Thus his first Petrograd production was a Yiddish-language version of Maurice Maeterlinck’s “The Blind.” But in Moscow, where the GOSET moved in 1920 under Efros’ sponsorship (setting up a 90-seat auditorium in a liberated “bourgeois townhouse”), Granovsky realized that in order to set apart his theater from the dozens of companies competing for audiences in the new capital, he would need to develop a distinctive repertoire. Thus the man who had been recruited to revolutionize Yiddish theater would have to work his way back to Yiddish, rather than out from it.

It was Efros who stimulated this development, by bringing the assimilated, “universalist” Granovsky, disciple of Reinhardt and Stanislayski, together with Chagall, the shtetl-born child of Hasidim. “I felt that, at least in the beginning, there would be no accord between us,” Chagall wrote in his memoirs.

I, always anxious and worried about the least thing; he, confident, assured, given to mockery.

And—this is the essential point—not at all Chagall. I had been asked to paint murals for the auditorium and scenery for the first production.

Ah! I thought, here is an opportunity to do away with the old Jewish theater, its psychological naturalism, its false beards. There on these walls I shall at least be able to do as I please and be free to show everything I consider indispensable to the rebirth of the national theater.6

Emblazoning the theater’s interior walls and ceilings, Chagall’s eight allegorical paintings created a festive atmosphere suggesting the Jewish carnival of Purim. In a similar spirit, Chagall used traditional Jewish figures to represent the various arts—a torah scribe for poetry, a badkhn (wedding jester) for theater. The largest mural, “Introduction to the Yiddish Theater,” depicted Efros bearing the painter himself to a waiting Granovsky. The inference was coy but apt, for the new theater’s first success, Sholem Aleichem Evening, 1921, was a kind of three-dimensional Chagall that dazzled audiences with the combined brilliance of actor Solomon Mikhoel’s stylized clowning and the painter’s prismatic sets.

This initial collaboration would prove decisive. After this first success, Granovsky would continue to use avant-garde stratagems to rework traditional Yiddish sources, including the primitive operettas of Avrom Goldfadn and the shtetl satires of Mendele Mokher Sforim. But it was to remain the cast of characters first fashioned by the quintessential Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem—the homespun dairyman Tevye, the feckless luftmensch (one who drifts from occupation to occupation, literally an “air man”) Menakhem-Mendl, the irrepressible orphan Motl Peyse—who would come to life so vibrantly in Granovsky’s productions that they almost seemed more tangible to his audience members than did their actual neighbors.

Raising the theater’s subsidy, the authorities provided Granovsky with a new 500-seat auditorium in a building that included living accommodations, a school, and a museum. As the Yevsektsia implemented the party’s campaign against religion, the GOSET was being privileged as a Jewish realm untainted by clericalism. For even as Granovsky worked with traditional Yiddish sources and celebrated Jewishness, his productions deconstructed it. His 1922 production of folk-playwright Goldfadn’s quaint Koldonya: or, the Witch, for example, transformed this sentimental tale of a beleaguered orphan and evil stepmother into a kind of Yiddish commedia dell’arte. The American artist Louis Lozowick was “spellbound” by the “sophisticated” handling of this hackneyed material. Although he thought that “the exaggerated makeup, the near frenzied movement, the acrobatic grotesquerie, and the background music” all but “obliterated whatever message the play meant to convey,”7 the piece included a burlesque of Hebrew liturgy and much topical satire, including a parody of the theatrical company Habima, the GOSET’s Hebrew-language rival, which had recently premiered Anski’s The Dybbuk.8

If Habima’s The Dybbuk depicted a ritual exorcism, the GOSET was one. The postrevolutionary Russian vanguard felt itself living out the future: the collapse of old Europe seemed imminent—to be followed by the coming of a classless society and a withering away of the state. In this heady atmosphere, the GOSET’s youthful performers might well imagine themselves as revolutionary purimshpilers (players in the traditional folk pageant celebrating the Jewish festival of Purim), acting out their rejection of the pre-October past. This psychodramatic liberation, however tinged with ambivalence, made the theater unusually compelling, as the GOSET’s exuberantly grotesque—if not alienated—vision of shtetl life struck a responsive chord in Moscow’s rapidly swelling Jewish community. Describing the “cubistic liveliness” of the GOSET’s 1923 Bolshevized production of Sholem Aleichem’s 200,000, in which the impoverished Shimele (played by Solomon Mikhoels) wins the lottery and betrays his class, Berlin critic Alfred Kerr found the performers preternaturally expressive. The actors, he wrote, “talk not only with their hands but almost with their hair, their soles, their calves, and their toes. . . . The ghetto-figure and ghetto-manner appears in concentrated form—until it almost frightens the Western burgher.”9 And another German critic wrote, “These were Jews of a higher temperature, Jews who were more Jewish. Their passion was by several degrees more passionate, their melancholy even became fierce and savage, their sadness fanatical and their joy rapture.”10 To channel such intensity, Granovsky had applied Vsevolod Meyerhold’s “biomechanics”—stylized units of movements—to the gestures and expressions of shtetl life. One of the most famous bits in 200,000 had the performer playing the unctious shadkhn (matchmaker) literalize his luftmensch status by actually making his entrance out of the air. To the delight of the audience, actor Benjamin Zuskin “floated” onstage, using the marriage broker’s traditional umbrella as a parachute.

Hardly restricted to the Yiddish-speaking community, the GOSET’s popularity had the aspects of a craze. After 200,000, “Comrade” Shimele’s songs and sayings, his speech patterns and walk, were widely imitated; the stars Mikhoels and Zuskin were so famous they gathered crowds in the street. Moscovites vied with foreign dignitaries to book tickets; two-thirds of the audience required Russian-language synopses. (The GOSET’s heavily musical offerings were especially attractive to foreign tourists, particularly those who understood German and could thus follow some Yiddish.) The GOSET’s fascination for non-Jews suggests the slumming parties that visited Harlem during the Jazz Age: like the Cotton Club, the GOSET was the highly stylized cultural effusion of an exotic race. (One contemporary Russian critic even made this analogy, calling Chagall’s murals “Hebrew jazz in paint.”11) Before the revolution, as the academic B. Gorey observed,

authentic Jewish life remained a book behind seven seals for the Russian intelligentsia, which [did not have] its Livingstones capable and desirous of penetrating this domestic Africa.12

Yet Jewish reaction to the GOSET was, understandably, mixed—and not just because of the theater’s hardline anticlericalism. Even more than most vanguards, Yiddish modernists marched ahead of their constituency. The Yiddish audience that had only recently entered the secular realm of art was scarcely prepared to see its naturalistic precepts inverted. Moreover, Granovsky and his troupe were clearly turning the idiom of the shtetl against the shtetl—most ferociously with a controversial 1925 production of Y. L. Peretz’s previously unstageable poetic drama, Night in the Old Marketplace, which, in Lozowick’s words, represented the “dying world of priests and rabbis, traders and prostitutes, writhing in its last agonies and clinging desperately to its old superstitions.” Here, Yiddish modernism turned convulsively in upon itself: “The dead regulate the customs of the living and the living are putrid with the germs of decay.”13 Still, the GOSET was a popular theater. Each summer the company toured the Yiddish heartland of Belorussia and the Ukraine, and it was in that “domestic Africa” that Granovsky set his remarkably accomplished Jewish Luck—the first and only film he would make in the Soviet Union.

By 1924, with the failure of the German revolution and Lenin’s death, the Soviet Union entered, briefly, a more placid era. The internal power struggle that would preoccupy the party leadership through 1927 precluded the formulation of a single cultural line. Thus esthetic modernism continued unimpeded. In 1924 as well, the Soviet film industry became fully operational. As of 1921, only a dozen features had been completed; three years later, the annual production had risen to 76 films—among them Lev Kuleshov’s satiric The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of Bolsheviks and Yakov Protazanov’s stylized space-opera Aelita. By the time Granovsky wrote to a colleague in New York that he hoped to make “a grandiose Jewish film,” he was far from the only theatrical director drawn to the new medium. The youngsters of Leningrad’s Factory of the Eccentric Actor were preparing their first short film, while Sergei Eisenstein (who had already incorporated a brief movie into his Proletkult production of Enough Simplicity in Every Wise Man) was completing Strike. Moreover, in the spring of 1925, 18 members of Habima were set to appear in an elaborate adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s novel of the 1905 revolution, The Deluge.14

Granovsky’s Jewish Luck was also adapted from Sholem Aleichem—drawing on the same Menakhem Mendl stories that had inspired one of the skits in his epochal Sholem Aleichem Evening. In addition to Mikhoels and Altman, who designed the production and received prominent credit on the film’s advertisements, Jewish Luck involved several other prominent Jewish artists: Lev Pulver composed the musical accompaniment, while the highly idiomatic titles were written by Isaac Babel, whose violent, sardonic stories of the Polish-Soviet war had recently been published to great acclaim.

Opening in Moscow in November 1925, Jewish Luck appears to have been both a popular and a critical success. Though Pravda’s critic Boris Gusman was somewhat cautious, terming it a “transitional” work, overly episodic and theatrical—as well as lacking that “element of propaganda which is essential to the Soviet film”—he deemed it intelligent, lucid, and ingenuous nonetheless: “Seeing the film, one can think that something worthwhile has been contributed to cinema. . . a good ‘theatrical’ film is better than a slapdash cinematographic ‘original.’”15

In fact, Jewish Luck is anything but “theatrical.” Startlingly fresh and superbly controlled, the film tempers the savage parody of Granovsky’s stagework—eschewing the grotesque makeup, gymnastic cavorting, and percussive tempo that had been the GOSET’S hallmark. Aelita, with sets by Koldonye’s designer Isaac Rabinovich, had already brought such expressionistic devices to the Soviet cinema; Granovsky cannily reversed field. Now, turning a camera on the actual shtetl would be modernism enough.

Shot mainly in exterior and frequently on location, as in a tumbledown section of Berdichev, the Ukraine’s archetypal Jewish town, Jewish Luck is almost documentary in its representation of provincial Jewish life. Where Altman had given Habima’s production of The Dybbuk a stylized cubofuturist flavor, his production design here is virtually ethnographic. Inspired by the Anski expedition, the artist had spent the summer of 1913 in Volhynia making rubbings from Jewish tombstones and copying the patterns of synagogue textiles, and although Jewish Luck is pointedly a portrait of pre-October misery, much of it is underscored by a similar preservationist spirit. Religious ritual may be conspicuously absent, but the lengthy open-air wedding that ends the film is a veritable précis of the traditional elements that had inspired Chagall’s murals—including a chanting badkhn (wedding jester), itinerant klezmerim (musicians), and ecstatic Hasidic dances.16 No subsequent Soviet movie would cast so sympathetic an eye on the culture of the shtetl—or represent it so straightforwardly.

Jewish Luck was also less overtly political than Granovsky’s stage work. But, as the archetypal luftmensch drifting from one failed get-rich-quick scheme to the next, the protagonist Menakhem Mendl serves as a useful emblem for the Jewish plight under the tsars. The screenplay—credited to Granovsky’s assistant director Grigori Gricher-Cherikover, Boris Leonidov (specialist in action dramas), and the prerevolutionary Odessa director I. Teneremo—shows this hapless optimist as an instrument of the bourgeoisie and a victim of the ancien régime.

We first meet Menakhem Mendl amid the domestic chaos of his large underfed family. Driven to put bread on the table, he sets out on “the crooked road of Jewish luck,” leaving Berdichev for Odessa, where he hopes to sell corsets. After the slapstick failure of even this modest enterprise, Menakhem Mendl stumbles upon a book that contains a list of prospective brides and grooms and decides to become a matchmaker:“Shadkhn—that’s a real profession!” In the film’s climax, this new career goes spectacularly awry as the would-be “king of the shadkhonim” inadvertently arranges a wedding between two brides. Although this blunder ultimately unites the film’s young lovers, Menakhem Mendl is betrayed by his wealthy (ostensibly pious) employer and left to wander off alone.

Bucolic in spite of itself, Jewish Luck is affectionate but unsentimental. The tone is scarcely nostalgic—if anything, Granovsky’s vision of the shtetl has certain affinities to the American comedies that, along with Hollywood detective thrillers and melodramas, would dominate the Soviet market during the mid ’20s, captivating Russian workers and intellectuals alike. Briskly paced, skillfully alternating sight gags and character farce, Jewish Luck is dynamic rather than elegiac. Indeed, the movie begs comparison with 1925’s most celebrated (and somewhat more sentimental) film comedy, The Gold Rush, with which it shares not only a common theme (substituting Odessa for the Klondike) and time frame (the late 1890s), but a similar sense of wistful knockabout and a kindred use of dream sequences. The diminutive Mikhoels gives Menakhem Mendl a Chaplinesque aura of shabby gentility and scurrilous pathos. Obsequious yet irrepressible, he cuts an endearing figure. Unlike the Little Tramp, however, he is never permitted to triumph—even temporarily—over his social betters.

In the film’s marvelous set piece, shot in and around the Odessa harbor, Menakhem Mendl dreams that he is a shadkhn of international proportions—recruited by the legendary Jewish philanthropist Baron de Hirsch to “save America,” where a shortage of eligible Jewish brides has prospective grooms “climbing the walls.” As Menakhem Mendl mobilizes Berdichev, the vision grows increasingly elaborate—its extravagant plentitude of marriage-minded women rivaling the climax of Keaton’s Seven Chances (another 1925 release)—and in hindsight, more than a little sinister, as boxcars filled with Jewish maidens, already dressed in their wedding gowns, arrive in Odessa for export overseas. Liveried footmen hold the super shadkhn’s trademark umbrella and derby as he inspects the brides (“Good enough for Rothschild!”), has them classified as “special order” or “wholesale,” then loaded by crane onto waiting steamships.

The elaborate treatment of the brides as merchandise has some of the cool 20th-century callousness of American slapstick—as does Mikhoels’ brilliantly ideogrammatic performance. Whether bathing in the river (still in his hat and selling insurance all the while) or simply riding on a train, Mikhoels deploys his body with fantastic, mincing precision, often managing to tilt his body at two opposed angles. More than a master of pantomime, he is the film’s most stylized aspect. Here is “the Jew of a higher temperature,” “the ghetto-figure in concentrated form.” Mikhoels’ every movement is a deftly choreographed miniature: throughout, Granovsky lavishes close-ups on the actor’s elaborate hand gestures. When Jewish Luck opened in New York several years later, the Marxist critic Harry Alan Potamkin praised it as “one of the few films to have treated the folk-Jew legitimately.” Potamkin recognized Granovsky’s method as essentially analytic. Jewish Luck “has organized [folk-Jewish] movements in a design of gestures and body-motions.”17

Mikhoels himself was to play Menakhem Mendl once more, in Granovsky’s last Soviet stage production, The Luftmensch, which had its Moscow premiere in early 1928 and was performed by the GOSET in various European capitals when they made their first international tour later that year. By then, the relative liberalism of the mid ’20s had passed. Even before departing Moscow, the GOSET was under political scrutiny for its alleged chauvinism. When Soviet authorities canceled the GOSET’s tour after three months, Granovsky chose not to return with his troupe. (Altman, who accompanied them, remained in Paris until 1931.) The GOSET directorship passed to Mikhoels—along with the task of guiding the theater through the perilous shoals of the Stalinist cultural revolution.

Granovsky’s 1928 defection, and the NKVD murder of Mikhoels 20 years later, have doubtless contributed to the near-total erasure of Jewish Luck from Soviet film history. Jewish Luck was not simply the only movie Granovsky would direct in the Soviet Union but the least tendentious representation of traditional Jews ever to appear in a Russian film. In this sense, we might say, it was insufficiently modernist. By the time the Ukrainian studio VUFKU released two further adaptations from Sholem Aleichem, the Yevsektsia and its successors, supporting the Soviet Union’s first five-year plan, preferred to see movies about the struggle against anti-Semitism (or Jewish petit-bourgeois nationalism)—or the lives of postrevolutionary Jewish workers. Thus, ironically, Granovksy’s “unproductive” view of the Jewish past, his valorizing of humor and folk culture over ideology, were rendered obsolete—even before the shtetl was obliterated.

J. Hoberman, who contributes regularly to Artforum, has written the catalogue for the season of Yiddish films, scheduled for early 1990, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The author wishes to thank Sharon Rivo of the National Center for Jewish Film, as well as Mel Gordon and Slava Tsukerinan for their invaluable assistance.

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NOTES

1. Quoted in Nicoletta Mister, “The Future in Search of Its Past: Nation, Ethnos, Tradition and the Avant-Garde in Russian Jewish Art Criticism,” in Ruth Apter-Gabriel, ed., Tradition and Revolution: The Jewish Renaissance in Russian Avant-Garde Art 1912–1928, Jerusalein: Israel Museum, 1987, p. 149. For Efros, this dual principle was exemplified by Marc Chagall, Nathan Altman, and Robert Falk, all of whom reworked Jewish folk motifs in the light of European Modernism.
2. Isaac Babel, “The Rabbi’s Son,” in Lyubka the Cossack and Other Stories, New York: New American Library, 1963, p. 131.
3. Nathan Altman, “‘Futurism’ and Proletarian Art, 1918” in John E. Bowlt, ed., Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism, 1902–1934, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988, p. 161.
4. Seth L. Wolitz, “The Jewish National Art Renaissance in Russia,” Apter-Gabriel, p. 25. Among Jewish artists, this impulse was first manifest in the Society for Jewish Folk Music, founded in Saint Petersburg in late 1908 both to collect Yiddish folk songs and promote the work of Jewish composers. The Society subsequently financed other expeditions, including one in 1916 for Isaacher Ber Ryback and El Lissitzky to document wooden synagogues along the Dnieper.
5. Quoted in Avram Kampf, “Art and Stage Design: The Jewish Theatres of Moscow in the Early Twenties,” ibid., p. 140.
6. Marc Chagall, My Life, trans. by Elisabeth Abbott, New York: Orion Press, 1960, p. 162.
7. Louis Lozowick, quoted in “Moscow Theater, 1920s,” Russian History, vol. 8, #1-2, 1981, p. 143.
8. The theatrical collective Habima (Hebrew for “the stage”) was founded in 1917 by Nahum Zemach and David Vardi and, despite the Bolshevik antipathy toward Zionism, continued to perforin in Hebrew through the mid ’20s. In 1920, Joseph Stalin, then commissar for nationality affairs, overruled the Yevsektsia and resumed Habima’s yearly subsidy: the theater was put under the direction of Stanislayski’s protégé, Yevgeny Vakhtangov. An Armenian with no knowledge of Hebrew, Vakhtangov staged The Dybbuk as pure theater—or nearly. To accentuate the play’s class consciousness, the celebrated Beggar’s Dance was given a heightened importance, with the bent, contorted creatures who attend the shtetl wedding representing the oppressed masses, siding with the wronged student against the bride’s rich and sinful father.
9. Alfred Kerr, in the Berliner Tageblatt of 12 April 1928, quoted in Lois Adler, “Alexis Granovsky and the Jewish State Theatre of Moscow,” in The Drama Review 24, No. 3, September 1980, p. 37.
10. Alfons Goldschmidt, quoted in Kampf, p. 140.
11. Walter Erben, Marc Chagall, New York: Praeger, 1957, p. 73.
12. V. Lvov-Rogachevsky, “Russian Literature and the Jews,” A History of Russian Jewish Literature, ed. and trans. Arthur Levin, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1979, p. 16.
13. Ibid., p. 143.
14. Enlisting the talents of Falk and Moses Milner, as well as Habima, this ill-fated production ran through three directors before it was finally released, in 1927.
15. Quoted in Jean-Loup Passek, ed., Le Cinéma Russe et Soviétique, Paris: Centre Georges Poinpidou, 1981, pp. 122–23. Jewish Luck was among the first Soviet films made available for export; within 15 months of its domestic premiere it was shown in the Baltic states, Hungary, and China.
16. The closest Soviet movies would come to the Yiddish modernism of the Chagallinflected GOSET was in the silent Ukrainian cinema, where former painters Alexander Dovzhenko and Ivan Kavaleridze similarly reworked folk motifs to avant-garde ends. (This Ukrainian modernism was revived in the 1960s by Serge Paradjanov and Yuri Illyenko.)
17. Daily Worker, 9 May 1930. Babel, whose playful Yiddish-inflected titles support Mikhoels’ delicate exaggerations, has Menakhem Mendl say the same thing: “Without fingers . . . you can’t build anything.”