Academy Museum focuses on Viennese Jews in Hollywood – The Forward


When the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened earlier this year, it was criticized for neglecting the fundamental role American Jewish immigrants played in the film industry.

His recent series of symposia and screenings, “Vienna in Hollywood”, served more than a corrective, highlighting the contributions of European Jewish writers, directors, technicians and actors who fled the Nazis, arriving to remake Hollywood with their own images. .

“At the turn of the 20th century, the burgeoning film industry in Hollywood was largely built by Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe,” the symposium and series website said, “including many Austrians regions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire ”.

This well-known truth may seem obvious and in no way overwhelming. But it was a belated appreciation of the enormous impact Jewish emigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as Billy Wilder, Vicki Baum, and Erich Korngold, had on Hollywood.

What the Viennese and Austro-Hungarian Jews brought to Hollywood was the adaptability of an exile and a survivor, a world weary cynicism born of experience, an appreciation for breaking the rules and overcoming the probabilities, and an optimism in the face of danger, death and rejection. . Examples abound in Billy Wilder’s spectrum who easily wavered between murderous dramas (“Double Indemnity”, “Sunset Boulevard”) and taboo-breaking comedies (“The Major and the Minor”, “The Apartment”) and Moralist Fred Zinnemann performs on westerns such as “High Noon” as well as entertainment such as the musical “Oklahoma!”

A session of the symposium, which took place over two days at the museum and USC, focused on the contributions of Austrian writers and exile networks. These include Salka Viertel, Greta Garbo’s favorite screenwriter, who used her Santa Monica home as a Hollywood living room, and Vicki Baum, whose “Grand Hotel” has become an ever-green Hollywood concept.

Donna Rifkind, author of “The Sun and Her Stars”, a recently published biography of Viertel, recounted the important role Viertel played in Hollywood in the late 1930s and during World War II in establishing the European Film Fund with Agent Paul Kohner, who helped bring European Jewish artists, including Heinrich Mann, to the United States.

But the best example of the exile’s contribution was Billy Wilder, at the center of a day two symposium. Wilder was a master of the art of channeling the frustrated desire of an exile, said Noah Isenberg of the University of Texas at Austin, whether it led to deadly conclusions (“Double Indemnity”, “Sunset Boulevard”) or to comedic results (“The Apartment”, “Some I Like It Hot”).

Eisenberg recounted that Wilder was so immersed in the cutting edge comedy of the Berlin cafe society that there was a sign in his office in Hollywood that asked, “How would Lubitsch do it?” in reference to the Berlin-born urban director Ernst Lubitsch who directed Wilder’s “NInotchka” with Greta Garbo.

Watching Wilder’s genius perform in “Some Like It Hot”, a comedy about artifice and sex (wanting it, not having it, not being able to have it), struck me as sparkling as it was. a Viennese kaffe mit schlag (coffee with whipped cream), where the sweetness tempers the bitterness. In Wilder’s work, humor is a shield against desire.

As in “Some like it hot”, love also triumphs in “Casablanca”, which the museum has projected to close the second day of the symposium. But under the direction of Michael Curtiz, the director trained in Budapest and born Mano Kaminer, Humphrey Bogart does not go to bed with Ingrid Bergman, but with Claude Rains for “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

The contributions of the exiled Jews were not limited to directing, playing and writing. The panelists also explored the Hollywood sound creation of Max Steiner, featuring Austrian Jewish composers like Erich Korngold and Hanns Eisler, and another panel examined the relationship between Vienna and Hollywood today.

Over time, the majority of European Jewish refugees who fled the Nazis and came to Hollywood became American citizens, and their films are today considered some of the greatest American films of all time. “Vienna in Hollywood” celebrates their work, reminding us that Austrian Jews are as indelibly linked to Hollywood as kaffe is. mit schlag.

For a full list of films and to get tickets, check out the Academy’s website.