By Marijan David Vajda

"Jewish immigrants came from the shtetls and ghettos out to Hollywood ... in this magical place that had no relationship to any reality they had ever seen before in their lives, or that anyone else ever saw, they decided to create their idea of eastern aristocracy ... The American Dream - is a Jewish invention" - Jill Robinson

Looking for films for the Jewish Film Festival Belgrade through my movie library, I came across a dear book: "An Empire of Their Own-How the Jews invented Hollywood" by Neal Gabler. Given that today Jews make up only two percent of the total American population, with a tendency to decrease this percentage, the question arises as to why the Jews are so prominent in Hollywood? Why are they so successful? Is Jewish culture connected to film? Is there a tradition of Jewish narrative that gives the Jews a leading role in the film industry?

In Jewish homes, stories and books play a major role. Charles Lewinsky, a successful scriptwriter and novelist, emphasizes the value of writing that has always been for people from the book. "Reading has always been important in Judaism, and where there is a lot of reading, there is a greater chance of writing." Education is worth the goods in Judaism. Not only because of the long tradition of biblical interpretation, but also because education can be taken everywhere. "For people who have been persecuted in history, this is an important factor." But the main reason for their success is not the writing of tradition. The determining role played by social conditions in the United States.

Harry Cohn, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Louis B.Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, Adolph Zukor, founders of major studies in the 1910s and 1920s: Universal, Paramount, Columbia, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and Warner Brothers together created what which is still called Hollywood. Biographies of the founding generation are similar, all immigrants or children of immigrants. People of modest origin who wanted to escape discrimination and persecution from the countries of Eastern Europe, seeking happiness in the country of unlimited possibilities.

Poster: Saul Bass, 1961.
Poster: Saul Bass, 1961.

In addition to the textile industry, the film was one of the rare jobs that was at that time available to Jews in the United States. The film had a very different status at the beginning. In Catholic countries, the film was a serious art form from the start. In France, the middle class invested in the film, in Italy, aristocracy was the main donor. In Protestant-Puritan America, the film was a suspicious and bad job. There was no cinema, but a playhouse of machines where only a stand could see a short cut of the film. While feature films were filmed in Europe in the 1910s, the film in the United States was more than a short of fascinating attractions, especially for immigrants who did not speak English. Described as "dodgy" work, the film business was not attractive to famous Americans. Even Thomas Edison, who regarded himself as the inventor of a film, did not see any culture in it, only primarily the technical achievements his patents jealously guarded. It gave a chance to socially marginalized groups such as Jewish immigrants. The fact that the Jews were successful is not only because of their abundance; thousands of immigrants had to live from something. At that time, the Jews played an important role in intelligent occupations that were considered rude, from movie to boxing, to mafia. Hanno Loewy, director of the Jewish Museum in Austria, also mentions the board industry. "The history of the film and the music industry is almost identical. In both cases, the Jews are the inventions of Edison, a phonograph and film camera, mass media".

The situation was similar in Germany, where the film was critically recognized, and Jews, unlike France and Italy, attracted the masses to theaters. It is the irony of history that Jewish filmmakers, such as Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg or Fred Zinnermann, who shaped German cinema in the 1920s and 1930s, later emigrated to Hollywood, where they had a great influence. Lubitsch, "The Vain Star", emigrated in 1922 and a decade later did many others, like Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak, fleeing the Nazis. For Hollywood, this mass transfer of talent was a Christmas gift. On the other hand, the German film never recovered from the loss.

"The Jews realized very early that they needed to unite fun and business," said Hanno Loewy. Although this sounds like an anti-Semitic cliche, it can also be interpreted positively: "It's great if you have the ability to see something nice and give it to others."

The film was not attractive to all immigrants. Finally, are not all Americans immigrants? The Jews produced films for the audience from which they themselves belonged to.

The desire for acceptance was also reflected in the films. In his book, Gabler says that Hollywood's Jews saw in the film more than just the possibility of social progress. Accordingly, they tried to turn what was a fairground attraction into a recognized art form. One of the ways was to produce films with famous actors. Great names were meant to attract the viewers to the cinema, while the theatrical plays have attracted the middle class. The film has been transformed from potentially harmful entertainment of a low level to a serious entertainment for the whole family.

Gabler claims that the desire to leave their past behind in order to become a recognized part of American society has led Jewish producers to idealize the new homeland in their films. Just because they did not belong to the elite, they created their dream of America. Since the film became the most important medium in the 20th century, this vision of the United States has encompassed the entire American culture.

"The American dream was the invention of Jewish immigrants."