Hava Nagila: The Movie

Movie Information

In Brief: This year the Fine Arts Theatre's presentation of the Asheville Jewish Film Festival changes formats. Instead of a concentrated dose of films, they're running one film a week — every Thursday evening with a matinee on Friday — over the course of four weeks. The opener is this enjoyable and rather playful documentary. (Connie Francis admits to being 10 percent Jewish "on my manager's side.") Hava Nagila: The Movie traces the history and the sociological impact of the ubiquitous Jewish song in all its many aspects — from origin, to standard, to parody. It's to the point, educational, entertaining and blessedly doesn't overstay its welcome.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Robert Grossman (Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh)
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell, Connie Francis, The Klezmatics
Rated: NR

Being neither particularly keen on documentaries, nor the song “Hava Nagila,” I approached Have Nagila: The Movie with some trepidation. (Indeed, I put it off as long as I could.) Now, mind you, I have nothing against the song, but it’s one of those things that you’ve heard once — or 40 times — too often. Any movie that includes a Jewish celebration — sometimes just a reference to Jews — there it is. It’s a wonder DeMille didn’t work it into The Ten Commandments, though that would have been historically absurd — even to a degree that DeMille might’ve demurred. Turns out, the song is not all that old. That’s just one of the many things we learn in the film’s playful — often charming — 72-minute running time. I’d be lying if I said you’re not likely to be “Hava Nagila’d” out by the end of the movie, because you’ll hear the song — a lot and in a lot of forms. We get it in its original form, its modern form, its pop music form, its parody form and even in forms that protest its very existence. (I should warn the faint of heart that while the parody’s include Allan Sherman’s clever take on the song, it also means you’ll be exposed to Joanne Worley’s version. I just don’t think people should be exposed to Joanne Worley without fair warning.) But mostly, you’ll just be entertainingly informed. It’s really a lot of fun.

The Fine Arts Theatre’s opening film for the Asheville Jewish Film Festival, Hava Nagila: The Movie, plays as a special event — with a reception and food from Fig Bistro and entertainment by Bandana Klezmer — starting Thursday, April 25 at 6 p.m. at Blue Spiral 1 (the film shows at the Fine Arts). A 1 p.m. showing is Friday, April 26. For more info go to: www.ashevillejewishfilmfestival.com

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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