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By David Finkelstein | July 17, 2010

Roger Deutsch’s “Jews” is a silent film which consists entirely of edited footage from home movies taken of a lower middle class Jewish family, cavorting in front of their Chicago homes, and at various summer vacation spots by the water. The anonymous filmmaker is unusual for making home movies from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. (Some of the late footage is even in color.) He strives for an effect somewhere between documentary, posing, and casual reenactment. The children and adults here are all on their best behavior, as we see them at play, or at parties, dances, and arrivals and leave-takings. They are highly aware of posing and showing off for the camera, yet there are also many spontaneous moments recorded. The kids, in particular, are full of exuberance, freedom, and joy, and are freely given affection by their parents. The entire extended family is highly expressive, warm, and full of fun. This is striking, considering that one knows for certain that the lives of immigrant groups are always filled with much hardship, sorrow, and conflict. Yet it does not appear that all of this exuberant celebration is merely a cover-up for a dark underside; this is also a genuinely close and happy family. Deutsch’s contribution is mainly to edit the footage for the highlights and themes, and the film comes off as a celebration of a vibrant and joyful way of life, now vanished.

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