The problematic of assimilation is central to modern Jewish history. In E. A. Dupont’s silent film The Ancient Law (1923), the Orthodox Jew Baruch Mayer leaves Galicia for Vienna, where he pursues a career in acting. The Jazz Singer (1927), Alan Crosland’s pioneering sound film, is a loose adaptation of The Ancient Law with a twist. The film’s main character is played by the American Jewish actor Al Jolson, who performs in blackface. Initially praised by many African-Americans, The Jazz Singer has recently been disparaged as racist. In this lecture Professor Charles Musser addresses the historical and the contemporary perspectives on both films. He situates the two films in the wider context of the cinema of the 1920s, and he considers how each film addresses antisemitism as well as the burning question of the history of blackface as a theatrical convention. Musser is a professor of American Studies, Film & Media Studies and Theatre Studies at Yale University and the author of numerous articles and books including the prize-winning The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907.
The lecture is followed by a panel discussion moderated by Frank Mecklenburg (Leo Baeck Institute New York) and features Deborah Hertz (UC San Diego), Paul Lerner (USC), and Cynthia Walk (emeritus UC San Diego).
Sponsor: Holocaust Living History Workshop at UC San Diego and Leo Baeck Institute New York | London