Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Hava Nagila (The Movie)

Comprehensive yet lighthearted dissection of one very popular song is a pretty surefire audience winner.

Feb 28, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372608-Hava_Nagila_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Inextricably woven into the lives of Jews—as well as anyone else who has ever attended one of their weddings or bar mitzvahs—is the song “Hava Nagila,” with its joyous, propulsively accelerating vibe. Roberta Grossman has fashioned a warmly appealing documentary about it, as well as other musical aspects of Jewish life in America, which presents a fascinating, colorful picture of a people’s assimilation.

Who actually wrote the song, whose origins can be tracked to Ukrainian shtetls, is a matter of some controversy, and the impassioned opinions of two different families who claim credit are offered here. What is undoubted, however, is its incredible durability and versatility over the last century or so. A wedding/bar mitzvah bandleader comments that it’s the surefire reliable he pulls out whenever he feels he’s losing his crowd (“When do we drop the bomb?”). It’s been covered by artists as diverse as Elvis, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Lena Horne, Glen Campbell, Celia Cruz, Chubby Checker, Connie Francis and Harry Belafonte, who made it an integral part of his repertoire. Grossman happily has Belafonte and others talking about it with obvious deep affection and respect, and even more happily, sprinkles her film with wonderful performance clips. My favorite version has to be Allan Sherman’s parody “Harvey and Sheila,” which hilariously encapsulates an entire Boomer era.

Along the way, we also learn about the development of the song’s ubiquitous accompanying dance, the hora, which originated in the Balkans and became such an integral part of the celebration of Israel’s formation in 1948. The bar mitzvah, which originally was a simple celebration of a boy’s coming of age, became, with the post-World War II ethos of safety and prosperity and burgeoning suburban culture in America, an ever more elaborate ritual, rivaling weddings for showy bacchanalian excess. Other Jewish traditions became incorporated into the most unlikely forms of popular culture, as when former synagogue boy Leonard Nimoy recalls how he used the traditional gesture for blessing the congregation on “Star Trek” (“Live long and prosper”).

The film is an extremely hamishe (cozy) affair, and although I could have done without the cutesy interviewee titles (“Really Smart Historian”), there’s no denying that Hava Nagila (The Movie) sneaks into your consciousness and heart in much the same fashion as the imperishable ditty it covers.


Film Review: Hava Nagila (The Movie)

Comprehensive yet lighthearted dissection of one very popular song is a pretty surefire audience winner.

Feb 28, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372608-Hava_Nagila_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Inextricably woven into the lives of Jews—as well as anyone else who has ever attended one of their weddings or bar mitzvahs—is the song “Hava Nagila,” with its joyous, propulsively accelerating vibe. Roberta Grossman has fashioned a warmly appealing documentary about it, as well as other musical aspects of Jewish life in America, which presents a fascinating, colorful picture of a people’s assimilation.

Who actually wrote the song, whose origins can be tracked to Ukrainian shtetls, is a matter of some controversy, and the impassioned opinions of two different families who claim credit are offered here. What is undoubted, however, is its incredible durability and versatility over the last century or so. A wedding/bar mitzvah bandleader comments that it’s the surefire reliable he pulls out whenever he feels he’s losing his crowd (“When do we drop the bomb?”). It’s been covered by artists as diverse as Elvis, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Lena Horne, Glen Campbell, Celia Cruz, Chubby Checker, Connie Francis and Harry Belafonte, who made it an integral part of his repertoire. Grossman happily has Belafonte and others talking about it with obvious deep affection and respect, and even more happily, sprinkles her film with wonderful performance clips. My favorite version has to be Allan Sherman’s parody “Harvey and Sheila,” which hilariously encapsulates an entire Boomer era.

Along the way, we also learn about the development of the song’s ubiquitous accompanying dance, the hora, which originated in the Balkans and became such an integral part of the celebration of Israel’s formation in 1948. The bar mitzvah, which originally was a simple celebration of a boy’s coming of age, became, with the post-World War II ethos of safety and prosperity and burgeoning suburban culture in America, an ever more elaborate ritual, rivaling weddings for showy bacchanalian excess. Other Jewish traditions became incorporated into the most unlikely forms of popular culture, as when former synagogue boy Leonard Nimoy recalls how he used the traditional gesture for blessing the congregation on “Star Trek” (“Live long and prosper”).

The film is an extremely hamishe (cozy) affair, and although I could have done without the cutesy interviewee titles (“Really Smart Historian”), there’s no denying that Hava Nagila (The Movie) sneaks into your consciousness and heart in much the same fashion as the imperishable ditty it covers.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Small Time
Film Review: Small Time

You might not buy a used car from the guys in Small Time, but you will enjoy the movie about their exploits, even their exploitations (of others). More »

Fading Gigolo
Film Review: Fading Gigolo

Some top screen talent gets lost in the silliness surrounding the amorous adventures of an unlikely gigolo and his even more unlikely pimp, with writer/director/actor John Turturro the shtupper “ho” co-starring with Woody Allen as the mercenary shtup-enabler. Yarmulkes off to Turturro’s brave but deeply ill-conceived comedic foray into Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community and other alien territory. More »

A Promise
Film Review: A Promise

Handsomely filmed but wan period romance. More »

Final Member
Film Review: The Final Member

Breezy documentary about the aging owner of a small Icelandic museum dedicated to penises and his quest for one last, coveted exhibit is a charmer, thanks to the warmth and sly sense of humor the protagonist brings to his unusual hobby. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Transcendence
Film Review: Transcendence

Johnny Depp is an idealistic researcher whose consciousness is uploaded into an artificial intelligence in this slick techno-thriller with delusions of seriousness from Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. More »

Draft Day
Film Review: Draft Day

Pro football manager faces crises on the most important day of his career in a well-tooled vehicle for Kevin Costner. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here