Trailers Schmailers

Following up on her prior "Homo Promo" and "Afro Promo" packages, Jenni Olson's "Trailers Schmailers" compiles 30-odd previews from six decades of Jewish screen representation. Result offers an entertaining, lightly provocative diversion of interest to Jewish fests, cinematheques and other specialized cinephile venues. First up is the Marx Bros.' 1937 "A Day at the Races," included (like George Burns' 1975 hit "Oh, God!") as a nod to the performers' roots in Yiddish-stage humor, which doubtless few mainstream auds perceived. Roughly chronological order then leaps to 1956's melodrama "Singing in the Dark," with Moishe Oysher --- unfortunately the only title repped here from a once-flourishing, if modest, U.S. niche industry of films catering to Jewish auds. (Also MIA are previews for such groundbreaking major-studio titles as "Gentleman's Agreement" and "The Pawnbroker.")

A series of Holocaust-themed prestige pics begins with 1959’s “The Diary of Anne Frank,” proceeds through two (“The Shop on Main Street,” “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis”) among very few non-U.S. features here, and ends with the near-wordless reel for “Schindler’s List.” In a more lighthearted vein, varied ’70s titles range from wholesome “Fiddler on the Roof” and racy “Portnoy’s Complaint” to smaller, more personal projects like Joan Micklin Silver’s period piece “Hester Street” and Paul Mazursky’s autobiographical “Next Stop Greenwich Village.”

Bowing to their iconic status as superstars who didn’t (and couldn’t, anyway) bury their Jewish identity like so many other bigscreen names, Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen are repped by several trailers each. Following the unintentional camp of Sidney Lumet’s 1992 “A Stranger Among Us” (with NYC cop Melanie Griffith “infiltrating” a Hasidic community to solve a crime), package ends with “Torch Song Trilogy,” “Swoon” and the fashion docu “Unzipped,” with curious effect of suggesting most recent film depictions have been of gay Jewish life.

Numerous apparent dead ends in locating trailers for crucial pics result in an erratic overview, but some insights emerge between the lines anyhow. One is Hollywood’s frequent tendency to cast gentile (or gentile-looking) actors in Jewish roles; despite some diversifying progress in recent years, screen “glamour” remains largely defined by Northern European standards.

Another is the promotional tendency to avoid spelling out anything so “controversial” (or just aud-narrowing) as a specific ethnic or religious identity. Even a work as unabashedly Jewish in theme and milieu as “Hester Street” was advertised in overcautious terms (“It’s everybody’s street — and everybody’s story!”). In that regard, “Trailers Schmailers” echoes the often skittish soft-sell tactics seen in “Homo Promo” and “Afro Promo.” (Interestingly, sole mention here of the J-word comes in Tom Kalin’s arthouser “Swoon,” whose brash graphic — “Murderers. Jews. Queers.” — suggested pic’s envelope-pushing take on infamous 1920s child-killers Leopold and Loeb.)

Changing societal and biz attitudes aren’t quite so dramatic in this compilation, however. In U.S. cinema at least, anti-Semitism manifested itself mostly in the absence of Jewish screen images over many years, whereas racism and homophobia were more overt.

Clips are all from 35mm sources, in variable but mostly good condition. Some still have original tags — “Singing in the Dark” is noted as coming soon to Lake Cinemas, Ozarks

Trailers Schmailers

Production: A Jenni Olson production. Produced, directed by Olson. Color, 35mm. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, July 1, 1997. (In S.F. Jewish Film Festival.) Running time: 81 MIN

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