In the ring with Jewish boxers at SFJFF

Nancy Fishman July 19, 2007

"The Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language contains 392 synonyms for the word ‘hit,’ including k’nack, patch, tzettle and zetz," says San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Program Director Nancy Fishman. " We are showing five great films that showcase the moxie and smart fighting style of Jewish boxers, both old and new." She notes that a lot of people don’t know that Jews have participated in boxing more than any other professional sport in the U.S. One of her favorite films, "My Son, the Hero," by Edgar G. Ulmer, is, she says, an incredibly funny farce by one of America’s greatest immigrant directors and features fighter turned actor ‘Slapsie’ Maxie Rosenbloom. Fishman notes the audience gets a rare opportunity to see the film with Ulmer’s daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes in attendance at the screening on Sunday, July 22, at 9:45p.m. at the Castro. Also noted: There’s also a panel on Jewish boxers following the screening of "Orthodox Stance" on Sunday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at the Castro, and a silent classic, "His People," with a live jazz score by Paul Shapiro on Saturday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Castro. What follows are Fishman’s and the JFF’s notes on her fave five films in the festival, which happen to be the five films in the "Jewish Boxers: Shtarkers and the Sweet Science" program.

1. (and 2.) "My Son, the Hero" (Edgar G. Ulmer, U.S., 1943)
A slapstick farce that showcases boxer "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom’s meat-and-potatoes acting talent as well as the zany and enchanting comedic performances of Roscoe Karns and the great Patsy Kelly. Karns plays Big Time, a con man who pretends to be wealthy during his war hero son’s furlough. Preceded by "Max Baer’s Last Right Hook," a boxing history film with a twist. (Sun/22, 9:45 p.m., Castro; Mon/30, 2 p.m., Aquarius, Wed/1, 2 p.m., Roda)

3. "Body and Soul" (Robert Rossen, United States, 1947) A classic, this film features Jewish boxer Charlie Davis (John Garfield in an Oscar-nominated performance), who has fought his way out of poverty to become middleweight champion. But the corrupt world of professional boxing and his own lust for money and fame have nearly destroyed everything he has worked for. In Abraham Polonsky’s riveting screenplay, Charlie must choose between redemption and self-destruction. (Mon/23, 1:30 p.m., Castro, Mon/30, 4:15 p.m., Roda)

4. "His People" (Edward Sloman, United States, 1925)
This one-time-only musical event with live jazz score is a silent Jewish boxing classic, accompanied by Paul Shapiro’s New York-based sextet. It’s a nostalgic and entertaining tale of life on the Lower East Side of New York, circa 1925. Two sons of poor immigrant parents take very different paths in their efforts to achieve the American dream. One becomes a lawyer and the other a professional boxer. Themes of love, loyalty, tradition and assimilation permeate. (Sat/21, 7:30 p.m., Castro)

5. "Orthodox Stance" (Jason Hutt, United States, 2007)
Dmitriy Salita, formerly of Odessa, Ukraine, is a 24-year-old fervently Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn, who scrupulously follows the customs and traditions of his faith. He keeps kosher, studies Torah and prays every day. Dmitriy Salita is also an undefeated professional prizefighter managed by a Hasidic rabbi. Is that a contradiction? Hardly, as revealed in this intimate, fascinating journey inside the two worlds of a remarkable young American immigrant. Castro screening followed by a panel on Jewish boxers. (Sun/22, 7 p.m., Castro, Mon/30, 6:30 p.m., Roda, Wed/2, 8:30 p.m., Aquarius, Sat/4, 12:15 p.m., Rafael)