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Wick's Review

Created Apr 13, 2013 02:07PM PST • Edited Sep 16, 2021 05:15PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    The “Jewish Mark Twain” reanimates in this engaging and illuminating biography. Why the Yiddish Twain? Because the two contemporaries were known by pen names and pioneered writing about regular people in vernacular language. However, only Sholem Aleichem has a huge musical hit to his name.

    That would be Fiddler on the Roof, drawn from his stories about Tevye the Milkman. Fiddler illuminated Eastern European Jewish life for new generations of mass audiences, just as Sholem Aleichem originally illuminated a seminal culture for those who lived in it and for those in the diaspora that sprang from it.

    He was also the great popularizer of Yiddish literature, a medium that flowered for decades thereafter.

    Does this sound academic? Not for Fiddler fans and those interested in Ashkenazic Jewry, who will find Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness an enjoyable and enlightening 90 minute viewing experience.

  3. Great 4.0

    Alan Rosenberg does a fine job as the Narrator. I realize he’s had a long career, but I still think of him as Eli from Civil Wars.

    The expert commentators are particularly strong.

    • Hillel Halkin brings a wry insight to Sholem Aleichem’s life and literature.
    • Dan Miron is the Leonard Kaye Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.
    • David Roskies and his sister Ruth Wisse are gently wise. She is especially insightful.

    The voices of Sholem Aleichem’s famous characters are also notable.

    • Rachel Dratch as Shayne Sheyndl
    • Jason Kravits as Menachem Mendl
    • Peter Riegert as Tevye
  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Great 4.0
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Great 4.0

    The film deftly uses the now standard Burnsian method of panning and zooming across still images, voice-overs of key characters and interspersion of expert commentary.

  9. Direction Great 4.0
  10. Play Great 4.0
  11. Music Great 4.0
  12. Visuals Great 4.0
  13. Content
  14. Tame 1.2
  15. Sex Innocent 1.0
  16. Violence Gentle 1.3
  17. Rudeness Polite 1.3
  18. Natural 1.0

    You gotta love that Sholem Aleichem got his start by creating an alphabetic glossary of his stepmother’s epithets. The sweep of this documentary covers that Bar Mitzvah-aged accomplishment all the way to having the then-largest funeral in New York City history. It’s also documented in less engaging style on his Wikipedia page.

  19. Circumstantial Natural 1.0
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


Subscribe to Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness 2 replies, 2 voices
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Apr 16, 2013 7:48AM

Regarding Wick’s Review
Thanks. Yeah, not sure I knew they’d met. Imagine the quips.

Apr 16, 2013 12:41AM

Regarding Wick’s Review
Nice review. Makes me want to see it. Two cool pieces of trivia you may or may not know. First of all, Aleichem and Twain met. Aleichem told him “They say I’m the Jewish Mark Twain” to which Twain responded, “Correction, I am the American Sholom Aleichem” Number two: when Aleichem died in 1916 his funeral in Queens attracted(this is true) 100,000 plus mourners, making it the biggest funeral ever held at that time.