Flicks - Deconstructing Hollywood

Hollywood, to the Jewish movie moguls who built it, was like some "golden shtetl" recreated on the Pacific Ocean, says Simcha Jacobovici in his by-turns fascinating and aggravating documentary Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream.

Hollywoodism is just one of the many diverse offerings in the third annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which runs through Feb. 2. This doc about the creation of Hollywood by a cadre of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe is an alternative look into film as something as influenced by studio moguls like William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor, Carl Laemmle as by the stars or directors who made them.?

Hollywoodism is concerned with how that Jewish immigrant experience may have seeped into popular consciousness through the movies. Jacobovici starts out convincingly. He sees a direct line between these moguls' points of view and the all-American success stories and tales of outsiders triumphing over the system produced by their studios, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to the Andy Hardy films. ?

Ultimately, Jacobovici tries to attribute too much to a Jewish sensibility. And his arguments move from merely speculative to insulting when he turns to the treatment of African-Americans on screen. The director argues Jewish moguls identified with these terminal outsiders, though Hollywood's often racist (and anti-Semitic) history tells a different story of how black Americans have been portrayed in the movies. ?

There is an inherent contradiction in this fascinating film. The sensibility that Jacobovici calls Jewish that so imprinted these films was a Jewishness these men, in every other regard, denied. As the director points out, many of these men eventually abandoned first Jewish wives to marry gentiles and raised their children without knowledge of their heritage. And when the ultimate test of solidarity with Jewish intellectuals came during the Un-American Activities Committee trials of the '50s, the moguls buckled and volunteered their sacrificial screenwriters and directors to the committee.?

What Jacobovici loses sight of is the fact that above and beyond being Jewish, these movie moguls were businessmen, and it's that truth that may explain their often contradictory and hypocritical actions and their films' celebration of the American dream more than their religion. Image Image Image Image Image

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screens Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream Jan. 30 at 2 p.m. at the Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. $7. 404-949-0658. www.atlantajewishfilm.org.