Life as a Silent Movie.

Author:Duffy, Michael


Jay Neugeboren

Texas Tech University Press

2013, $24.95, pp. 176

We all want to be in the movies. But not always because we want to be famous. We all want to see ourselves on screen. But not always because we're narcissists. There's just something fascinating in becoming an image, a play of light and shadow, a shimmering surface as well as a real person. At least that's the impression we get from Jay Neugeboren's new book about a Jewish family that owns and operates a motion picture company in the silent movie era. Joey, the young boy and the lens through which we experience the magic of movie-making from 1915 to 1930, knows there is also a change we undergo when we're put up on the big screen. Seeing ourselves projected there as images, we realize that film offers us the opportunity to be quite literally what we imagine ourselves to be. The right framing of a shot, the right juxtaposition of scenes, allows us to look a certain way even as we remain who we are--no acting, no fakery necessary just another angle of vision on reality It's no wonder we like this change; it's no wonder Joey lives for it. Living out your life as if everything imaginary were able to be made real would take some time, and Joey can see things in this way so very easily because he grows up M good company--The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company. His mother Hannah is the star, his uncle Izzie does the stunts, his brother Ben is the cameraman, his father Simon produces, his uncle Karl directs. We learn, through Joey's point of view, that in this family reality can turn into something imaginary at any moment. Because no verbal story or dialogue is needed in their silent films, any gesture, any movement, any accident could prove meaningful if stitched together later. So they film everything, all the time. "We shoot our moving picture," Karl says, "whether it rains or whether it snows or whether it storms or whether it stinks." This is a family eager to seize on and play with moments when just being oneself is also being someone else, when an unintended action turns into what was just necessary for a story to make sense. Neugeboren relates an unforgettable tale of Joey's upbringing, and his efforts to apply what he learns in his adventures alone in the real world.


Neugeboren's many books--such as his volume of stories News From the New American Diaspora--are remarkable for their combination of...

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