Still from The Dybbuk. Poland, 1937, 123 minutes, B&W Yiddish. Directed by Michal Waszynski. Based on the play by S. An-sky.
The 1937 film version of The Dybbuk directed by Michal Waszynski is considered a masterpiece of Yiddish cinema and an important work of interwar Polish film as well. The film features performances of leading figures in the Vilna Troupe, notably Lili Liliana as Leah, and was enhanced by contributions from leading figures of interwar Polish Jewish culture: Historian Meyer Balaban served as technical advisor, Judith Berg as choreographer, and author/photographer Alter Kacyzne collaborated on the screenplay. While it draws on the stage craft of the Vilna Troupe, most memorably in the dance sequences during Act II, the film also makes noteworthy use of the cinematic medium, both in special effects (the Messenger's sudden appearances and disappearances) and in cinematic storytelling (including the haunting use of location shooting in the Polish countryside), providing an elaborate prologue that enacts the story of Sender and Nota's friendship and vow.
Screenshot from The Dybbuk directed by Michal Waszynski. Based on the play by S. An-sky. The Dance of the Beggars.
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Screenshot from The Dybbuk directed by Michal Waszynski. Based on the play by S. An-sky. The Bridal Benediction.
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Compare the original play with the 1937 film. What happens when a theatrical text intended for a live performance is transformed into another medium?
Hoberman, J. (1991) Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds. Chapter 20. New York: Schocken.
Sicular, E. (1994) “'A yingl mit a yingl hot epes a tam': The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film,” Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review, 16(1), pp. 40-45. (Sicular discusses homoerotic themes in Yiddish film, including The Dybbuk)
1938 NYTimes review of the film:
Nugent, F.S. (1938) The Continental Brings in a Film of 'The Dybbuk' New Pictures at the Criterion and the Rialto. The New York Times, January 28.
A copy of the film is available for institutional use through the NCJF.
The film is also now on DVD:
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