Documentary the Komediant
the shetls of Eastern Europe to the toast of the Yiddish theater
is the journey Pesach’ke Bernstein makes in Arnon Goldfinger’s
remarkable documentary The Komediant. Beautifully made
and meticulously researched, this highly evocative movie will
appeal to all theater and film buffs.
The film introduces Pesach’ke’s flight from his orthodox parents
as a kid through clever use of vintage silent clips from Yiddish
films and narration by his wife the still-vibrant Lillian Lux.
He eagerly joined the circus and worked with itinerant European
troupes before impresario Boris Tomashefsky recruited him in 1923
for New York’s Nora Bayes Theater, where he transformed the U.S.
Though younger than Pesach’ke, veteran Yiddish theater actors
Fivush Finkel and Shifra Lerer still can recall the old days when
Second Avenue was lined with theaters and actors in the Hebrew
Actors Union, a snobbish group, rejected Stella Adler.
Pescha’ke became famous with his recording of “Zedele Meines,”
(Yiddish “Sonny Boy”) for Columbia Records and his talent for
whistling like a bird. Lillian, twenty years younger, joined his
troupe and they fell in love and traveled the globe. Married in
Uruguay, they narrowly escaped the Nazis marching on Poland.
The birth of twins–a son Mike Burstyn and a daughter Susan–changed
their lives. From here, the movie looks at the family’s life from
each person’s viewpoint, which is quite funny. None of the Bernsteins
remember the same incident like the other. The kids become part
of the act, with Susan showing considerable talent as a ventriloquist.
Eventually, the itinerant actor’s life is too much for Susan,
who leaves to marry a much older man. The ceremony is held at
midnight, so the family won’t miss a performance. Mike became
famous in Israel for a movie musical, “The Two Kuni Lemls,” but
also realizes that he must leave the dying Yiddish stage behind
and get on with his career. This film won the best documentary
drama in Israel in 1999. It will win your heart!
(85 minutes, Released by New Yorker Films, English and Yiddish,
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.