Back again and holding its own-HESTER STREET” IN 4 K RESTORATION from COHEN MEDIA GROUP opens at The Quad at 34 W. 13th St. in Manhattan and at The Nuart in Los Angeles on Oct 1, 2021
” Are you Jewish?” Such was my unexpected greeting last Thursday morning as I was emerging from the subway at Union Square from a gentle Chassidic young man offering me a Holiday blessing ( Sukkot) and was dashing toward The Quad film art house two blocks away to cover the press screening of the restored Joan Micklin Silver’s 1975 debut masterpiece ,” Hester Street “. Not wishing to be late, I did not respond as I usually would to such a question with,'” Only on my mother’s and my father’s side”, which I adopted from the legendary producer, Mike Todd, immediately, once I first encountered it in print.
The irony of that young man’s query in regard to my hurried destination could not escape me. I’d first seen this remarkable film when it debuted 46 years ago and marveled at it then at a time when I happened to be employed as a performer for The Chicago Board of Rabbis and the CBS affiliate there. However, with the expanse of years and accompanying perspective, I am joyous to report that this cinema work of art is just that: an artwork which not merely stands up, but rather towers in it poignancy, edification, and pervasive verisimilitude. Most importantly it remains riveting in its entertaining charm, and ability within its 90 minutes, to transport us to New York’s Lower East Side of 1896 with an authoritative confidence that is utterly indefatigable.
Carol Kane as Gitl, the waif wife from Czarist Russia coming with her five-year-old-son to this bewildering new environ, received an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actress and I cannot recall such an accolade being more warranted. Not since Bette Davis’ ocular gifts of communicating to a screen audience volumes in but a moment, did Ms. Kane similarly command the attention of us to every thought, concern, fear, relief, disgust, resignation, and prevailing persistence with seemingly the absence of any effort on her part whatsoever.
Steven Keats, as Yankel, or Jake as he prefers to be called in this new land, is her husband from the old country who arrived at Ellis Island five years earlier. Keats conveys a frustrating amalgam of an eager young immigrant yearning for assimilation, who’s been pursuing various sexual liaisons chiefly with the ballroom dancer, Mamie (Dorrie Kavanaugh), while not suspecting that his wife and child were en route after a five-year separation. Keats’ was able to display a nearly despicable being with sympathetic charms in a bold portrayal. Like Kane, his film career was auspiciously launched with this work, and he had a promising series of appearances in the next decade or so, but alas this very able actor eventually succumbed to despair in real life, and ended his own. It is our good fortune that Ms. Silver burnished his talents with this testament to late 19th century Jewish life in New York and now can be seen in a pristine restoration from Cohen Media.
So many others worthy to mention: Mel Howard as the Yeshiva Bucher friend, Bernstein of Jake’s family that becomes all the more involved with the goings on; the late great Doris Roberts, the Emmy Award winning mother from” Everybody Loves Raymond”, as the wise and instructive neighbor, Mrs. Kavarsky, and a superlative cameo by the late Anna Berger as the Poultry Lady, who with a brief appearance, conjured up the Lower East side with her wise smile alone.
Cinematography in Black and White by Kenneth Van Sickle,Editing by Katherine Wenning, and with authoritative music selections and adaptations from Herbert L. Clarke and the great William Bolcom, add to this extraordinary first film of Joan Micklin Silver who was encouraged vigorously to put this forth by no less than John Cassavetes and initially distribute herself what all the major studios had turned down and became among the most unexpected box-office and artistic triumphs of the 1970’s.
Playing now in 4K Restoration at THE QUAD 34 W. 13th St. in Manhattan and NUART in Los Angeles beginning Oct. 1st for a limited run, GO!
Photos: Courtesy of Cohen Media Group