The City Without Jews

The City Without Jews ★★★★½

Between this and Sarah Sherman on SNL, I’d say it was a good day for the Jews.


VERY fascinating movie. Especially for one made in 1924 to head on say “uuuuuh this whole anti-semitism thing is no good” is pretty staggering. It’s just so unapologetic and upfront and sadly prescient. It’s also very funny! Movies this old are fascinating in the ways their limitations breed other forms of expression with the motion picture. Surrealism and expressionism and acting. Amazing. As well as some cross cutting that builds a very unique emotional effect that really struck me. It was also amazing for me personally to see a movie where a genuine orthodox Shul service is happening. Even though this was 100 years ago, there were actions, gestures, behaviors, and feelings that I’ve experienced first hand! That’s major! And for those who haven’t experienced them first hand, this is an important as a cultural document. 

From a filmmaking standpoint, to see in such a boiled down way, the effectiveness of color and camera angles and ways to capture human behavior on screen is almost revelatory. Like the Rosetta Stone or something. Afterwards, my mom remarked “it’s amazing how all the characters feel so modern” and I get what she meant, but I think the misconception is that relating to other human beings is a novel concept. The power of art is as a direct thread through time to say “Hey! People are people and while the everything else changes, human behavior doesn’t!” The acting in this is just electric and it feels modern because it’s tapping into timeless feelings and expressions.

This movie in particular was thought to be lost for some time. Fragments of it were found in the 90s but a full version was discovered in a Paris flea market in 2015. A crowdfunding effort was made to digitally scan and restore it so that it can be seen all over the world. My screening actually had the two musicians who created an original score for the restoration (which is beautiful) in person performing the score live. I understand that this was a very privileged experience, but it shouldn’t be. When Marty Scorsese talks about the importance of film restoration and how films are treasures that we the people need to protect (because their owners either can’t or won’t) these are the moments he’s talking about. It all culminates in the presentation of the film to an audience. It’s a sublime experience that really broadens your view on movie history and the current movie culture. Hundreds of random people all over the world gave money to save this gem of a film and we as a culture are better off for it.

Extremely grateful tonight.

“IN OTHER NEWS, LOCAL WET BLANKET COLIN JOST IS KEEPING TRACK OF THE AMOUNT OF JEWS AT ‘SNL’ HE’S MAKING A LIST AND HE’S CHECKING IT TWICE”