Between 1931 and 1941, roughly fifteen Yiddish film musicals were produced. Since most of these films were produced in America and used American actors and crew members, they offer an invaluable glimpse into the range of the transitioning psyches of the American Jewish immigrant population and their children. This body of work both educated and entertained; it reminded its audience of a geographically distant past while also establishing a distinct, new culture and fund of collective cultural knowledge.This project explores the different layers of memory, sense, and nostalgia embedded within the realm of the sonic. While, on the visual level, Yiddish film generally aspires to the same kind of continuity editing standardly deployed by Hollywood, this study explores how the multitude of soundscapes evident in 1930's Yiddish musical cinema transcends the seemingly `continuous' (i.e. `invisible') sound design by providing stirring reminders of the past, while actively helping shape future identities. These rupturous transitions between the films' `internal reality' and the `bridge moment,' where the sound "reaches out," as it were, to the viewers, summon the audience to reflect on their own status and plight while emblematising the cultural experience of the new American Jew. Four distinct aspects of Yiddish film musical sound occupy the core of this study: 1) its roots in and relationship with the Yiddish musical theater; 2) the role and performance of the khazn (cantor) in these films (most of which deal either directly or indirectly with this all-important figure); 3) dialogue and dialect: the intriguing interplay between inflection and accent as the protagonists often toggle between Yiddish and English, frequently employing "Yinglishisms" that add a level of "ethnic" humor to the films; and 4) the role of nostalgia in these films' musical interludes. Taken together, these various aspects of American Yiddish film created a sound world that linked the audience back to its ethnic roots in Eastern Europe, while at the same time directing its members on the road toward their new, American-Jewish identity.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2012. Major: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society. Advisor: Leslie Morris. 1 computer file (PDF); xvi, 184 pages, appendix 1.
Weiss, Rachel Hannah.
Harbinger and echo: the soundscape of the Yiddish-American film musical.
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