A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.
I must admit to having never been terribly impressed with the Bursteins. When I saw Lillian Lux and Pesach Burstein on stage in Israel they were presenting very poor material, sticky sugary and over nostalgic schlock. The single exception was Itzik Manger's `Megille Lider,' the only memorable work the Bursteins staged post World War II. `The Komediant' describes this single success of the family quite well, but spends the rest of the time on such flops as `A Khasene in Shtetl' and marginal vaudeville acts that were not taken seriously even in their own time. Yiddish theater before and after World War II - in Europe, the US, and Palestine/Israel - had a much better fare to offer than the mindless Burstein acts. Overall, the Bursteins seem to have done relatively little of Ansky, Peretz, Goldfadn, and Sholom Aleichem (and probably no Shakespeare or Ibsen in Yiddish at all) but produced a lot of nonsense such as `A Khasene in Shtetl'.
The Bursteins are survivors, and so we hear about their trivial conquests rather than about the much more substantial contributions to Yiddish theater of, say, Maurice Schwartz and Ida Kaminska (or groups like Artef). Even in Israel of the 1960s it was much more interesting to go to Yiddish programs presented by Dzigan, Shumacher, Segal and Rodensky, than to the miserable productions of this tired bunch. Much time is wasted in `the Komediant' on the insignificant `career' of Mike Bursteyn, the ventriloquist Susan, Susan's wedding celebration, and similar marginalia.
Bursteyn's complaints in the movie about hostility to Yiddish by Israeli authorities are grossly exaggerated. Israel of the 1950s and 1960s had Yiddish newspapers and Yiddish theater. The official radio station (`Kol Yisrael') had two Yiddish broadcasts every day. Somehow, scores of Yiddish performers managed to work and make a living in Israel at that period in spite of the alleged `hostility'. In general, the relative lack of success of Lux/Burstein in Israel was due to the low quality of their acts, not the `inugim' tax and similar excuses. When the Bursteins finally had good material, as in the `Megille Lider,' they experienced great success.
There was some controversy over Finkel's Anne Frank joke in `the Komediant'. I did not find this joke as offensive as the obviously concocted and insincere stories of Lux on the family's `miraculous' flight from Europe. Most offensive was Lux's narrative on concentration camp victims allegedly singing her silly repertoire on their way to the gas chambers. This last tale was really bad exploitation of the holocaust for purposes of self-aggrandizing. Even if the story were true (and I do not think so) it was highly inappropriate to exploit it in this vulgar and base manner.
It is regrettable that `the Komediant' would now become in the mind of many the `historical' record of Yiddish theater on film. Yiddish Theater was much deeper, interesting, and multi-layered than this not terribly important tribute to this not terribly important family.
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