A museum experience outside of the traditional space: more film from the Russian Jewish Theater

Yesterday, we wondered “What’s the main function of a museum?” One answer that occurred to me this morning is: to always be pushing beyond the boundaries of its traditional physical space. As the New York Jewish Film Festival wraps up over the next week, get ready to check out a fascinating exhibit that takes shape in different venues and media.

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Last week, I wrote about an exhibitChagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater–at the Jewish Museum that coincides with the screening of two historic, Soviet-era films in the New York Jewish Film Festival. Writing about the films featuring Moscow State Yiddish Theater innovator Solomon Mikhoels, Jewish Museum Senior Curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman says:

“GOSET’s exploration of the provincial aspects of Jewish experience, often considered with avant-garde aesthetic sensibilities in its productions, created a highly stylized and popular Yiddish modernism.  For Jewish Luck, director Aleksei Granovsky chose to renounce the carnivalesque features that had by 1925 become the hallmark of the Yiddish theater. The familiarity of the characters and setting for the film, which was shot, for the most part, on location in Berdichev and other areas in the former Pale of Settlement, instill an anthropologic quality in the motion picture.  Berdichev, a large Jewish community in the previous Russian empire, with its humble buildings, is seen as a hopeless and half-dead place and the  crude, grainy film quality to make Berdichev appear downtrodden and obsolete.  Lest the audience miss the message, Granovsky used cinematic tricks to highlight it; one scene shows the streets of Berdichev dissolving into a cemetery.  The graveyard is used as a metaphor for the shtetl.  “

Solomon Mikhoels appears in another important film screening this weekend in the NYJFF: The Return of Nathan Becker. In the film (the only Yiddish “talkie” that survives the Soviet era), an American Jewish bricklayer returns his Belorussian village, Socialist industrial productivity is exulted and shtetl life critiqued as grotesque and backward.

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The exhibit at the Jewish museum is an incredibly detailed testament to a moment in history where making art really was a matter of life-and-death, and the screening this Sunday allows a new dimension of understanding of this incredibly dramatic historical moment. Take them in together and enjoy a rare museum experience that transcends the traditional boundaries of the museum space.

Buy tickets to The Return of Nathan Becker: Sun Jan 25: 5:15

See Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater through March 22

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One Comment on “A museum experience outside of the traditional space: more film from the Russian Jewish Theater”


  1. David Markish, whose father Peretz Markish was a Yiddish writer murdered by Stalin, will attend the screening of The Return of Nathan Becker on Sunday. Peretz wrote the screenplay. David, who now lives in Israel, is attending the festival because another NYJFF film, The Gift to Stalin, is a based on his biography.


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