In the 1970s and 80s, one of the few women filmmakers working in Hollywood was best known for her Jewish-themed films set on the Lower East Side of New York.
Joan Micklin Silver, the best known American filmmaker for the Jewish-themed romantic comedy Crossing Delancey and the immigrant romance Hester Lane, mainly Yiddish-language, died at the age of 85. Silver’s daughter Claudia had vascular dementia as the cause of death, as reported by the New York Times. In the 1970s, Silver was both one of the few female directors employed in U.S. cinema and one of the few filmmakers to directly tackle Jewish content – still a novelty in a Hollywood historically dominated in production and studio operations by Jewish figures. Silver attempted to get her movie debut off the ground after producing a series of documentary shorts and winning a writing credit for the Hollywood film Limbo (1972), about the wives of soldiers serving in Vietnam. Hester Lane, an adaptation of the novel Yekl by Abraham Cahan, portrays the experiences of New York immigrants speaking Yiddish; the film was named after the street that was then part of the Jewish Lower East Side. At the time, Hollywood studios were famously hesitant to endorse a female director; instead, Silver’s husband, Raphael, a real estate developer, produced the film, which featured an early role for Carol Kane, who raised over $300,000 for the budget.
Hester Street was an indie success upon its release in 1975, recouping its budget several times over, cleverly evoking the look of 1930s Yiddish cinema, with black-and-white visuals and melodramatic acting. After a television movie based on F. For their second feature, Between the Lines, Scott Fitzgerald’s tale Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Silver and her husband teamed up about the struggles of an independent Boston newspaper taken over by a conglomerate.
Released in 1977, the film starred a roster of future major stars, including Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, and Marilu Henner. Silver’s third film, an adaptation of Ann Beattie’s 1979 novel Chilly Scenes of Winter, marked a step up financially and was funded by the United Artists Hollywood studio, but proved problematic; after the initial positive ending and title were scrapped, it became something of a sleeper hit. Silver spent time making more TV films until 1988, when she returned to feature films with what is stylish.
Set on the Lower East Side, like her debut, this film revolves around a female protagonist experiencing the conflict between tradition and assimilation; Amy Irving, then married to Steven Spielberg, is a movie star.
With When Harry Met Sally, which reached theaters a year later, and with the TV sitcom Seinfeld, which also began its nine-year run in 1989, Crossing Delancey shares significant parallels. Silver produced mediocre Hollywood comedies like Loverboy and Big Girls Don’t Cry in 1989… They’re getting even. With a series of productions, television offered more fertile land, including the Warsaw ghetto drama In the Presence of Mine Enemies (1997) starring Armin Mueller-Stahl and Charles Dance, and the eating disorder drama Hunger Point (2003), which became Silver’s last film, with Barbara Hershey and Christina Hendricks.