A young Jewish woman (Kane), comes to America in the 1890's, only to discover that her husband, Jake (Keats), has given up the ways of the old country, and taken up with a new girlfriend, and a new life. By Turns heartbreaking, comic, and sharply observed, this remarkable film garnered Kane an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actress in 1975, and launched director Joan Micklin Silver's career.
“With one tuchas you can’t dance at two weddings.”
It takes great courage to pack up your family and the scant few belongings you have and travel half way across the world to a new land based simply on the idea that it is a better world than the one you’re currently living in. This isn’t a new phenomena, immigrants have come to America in this way since this country was founded. Also forgotten is how when people arrived to America they were confronted with extreme culture shock. The people dressed differently, spoke an entirely different language, and presented themselves according to different social customs - and you didn’t fit in. It’s only natural then that you would seek out those people that reminded you of the old world.
‘Hester Street’ is about Russian Jews living in New York’s Lower East Side who came to America with the belief this this it is the land of infinite opportunities and promise, and it is, but just not as they were expecting. Some were able to conform and anglicize in order to fit in. Others find this new world conflicts with their religion, way of life, and their personalities. Some fish aren’t meant for all ponds - but that doesn’t mean they don’t belong or shouldn’t be here either.
Steven Keats plays Jake - a man who, once he stepped off the boat, gave up all of the ways of the old world in order to become a true American - including changing his name. He hangs out at dance halls and carouses with numerous ladies, in particular a fellow dancer named Mamie played by Dorrie Kavanaugh. She’s just like Jake. Both immigrants who adopted the ways of the new country they called home and went for broke. Their relationship blossoms and they become closer and closer, that is until Jake’s learns his wife, Gitl, Carol Kane, and young son are set to arrive any time.
At first Jake is overjoyed to learn that his wife and child are coming. He moves into a new apartment and barrows money from Mamie to furnish a real home for his family. His joy gives way to despair from the first moment he sees his wife and child again. They are a bitter reminder of the old world he left behind and simply aren’t “American.” Where he was once relaxed and a fun guy to be around, he’s now fidgety, agitated, and constantly tries to convince his wife, son, and a close friend just how much better American ways are than the ones they were brought up in. Instead of enrolling them in his ideals, he only pushes them away. But this is America the land of opportunity, so if there’s something wrong, you can fix it, one way or another.
‘Hester Street’ is a sweet-natured drama about people doing everything they can to adjust to a stressful situation. Set during the late 1890’s, the film works as an incredible reminder where most of our families came from and how they had to adjust. The performances feel painfully authentic. You see and understand Jake’s despair at his situation, he’s a man that want’s it all and is reminded there are just some things that can’t be. Your heart aches for Gitl as she slowly chips away at her ways just to please her husband. A scene that is particularly tough to watch is when Gitl gets new clothes and a makeover. It’s played to charming light-hearted music, but really it’s a scene of a woman giving up her heart and soul to make her husband happy, if even for a moment. From this scene alone it’s easy to see why Carol Kane was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 1976 Academy awards.
This is ultimately a movie about hope. Then first time writer and director Joan Micklin Silver showed true talent behind the camera deftly moving the story along in a way that while some scenes are painful and heartbreaking, there is still great joy and happiness on display. Life comes with a lot of ups and downs. If there is a lesson this wonderful movie has to offer it is that you must always make the best of a situation and in a place where you have any number of opportunities to improve your situation, you can't let those opportunities pass you by.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Hester Street’ arrives from Kino Lobber and Scorpion Releasing in a standard keepcase on a Region A locked BD-25 Disc. The disc loads straight to the main menu that gives you only4 a “play now” and “chapters” options.
‘Hester Street’ comes to Blu-ray with a beautiful 1.78:1 1080P transfer. Shot in black and white, it makes you appreciate the film all the more. Detail is robust as every stitch of clothing, Jake’s mustache, and even the worn brick of the sweat shop comes through with terrific clarity. Contrast is spot on and black levels are nicely rich lending itself to a great sense of depth. Grain is visible but controlled, so it never appears like your screen is being attacked by insects.
There is some odd jostling of the image at the beginning, but I have a hunch that is part of the source since it only appears during the opening credits. There is some occasional print damage visible, but nothing to ruin your experience watching the movie. A fantastic HD presentation.
‘Hester Street’ enjoys a solid English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that really lends itself well to the film. Voices for the most part have no trouble coming through - however there are some instances during extended dialogue scenes where it can be a bit difficult to hear what is going on - especially since the cast intermittently speaks English or Yiddish. It isn’t very problematic, but I thought it deserved a mention.
There isn’t any noticeable hiss or sound oddities present, but I noticed the audio did drop out here and there randomly. Imaging also isn’t the strongest as there isn't much in the way of audible sound effects - but that seems to be part of the movie itself rather than an issue with his track.
No supplimentary material present.
‘Hester Street’ turned out to be an unexpected delight. It was a movie I’d known of for years, but had never taken the time to sit down and watch it. I’m glad I did. It’s a charming drama about people in a situation that should be easily relatable to a great number of people. The talented cast and strong direction bring the film home making it a great addition to any collection. With a wonderful HD transfer and a fine audio track, this is an easy recommend in spite of being void of any extra features.